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Demise of a tech maverick - RIP John McAfee

Peter Griffin, Contributor. 24 June 2021, 10:25 am

For millions of office workers the name McAfee is synonymous with the virus scanning their computer performs every day to keep malware from hijacking their machine.

In the last decade or so however, the name is more associated with unsolved murders in obscure central American backwaters, drugs, suitcases of cash and guns, lots of guns. 

The remarkable life of the antivirus software magnate John McAfee ended yesterday in a prison cell near Barcelona, where he was found dead aged 75.

Spanish authorities say McAfee is suspected to have taken his own life. His death came hours after a court in Barcelona approved his extradition to the US, where he was to face serious tax evasion charges.

It's a sad end for a visionary tech entrepreneur who was a pioneer of antivirus software back in 1987 when he founded McAfee Associates as an antidote to the rise of illicit efforts to access the growing numbers of personal computers that were hitting the market every year.

He had written the core McAfee antivirus software program himself, infecting his own computer with the Brain virus that was targeting IBM PCs at the time and attempting to detect it with his own code. Success in doing so led to a flourishing business which saw many Fortune 500 businesses come to rely on his security software. 

But McAfee left the company in 1994 when it was acquired. Later McAfee would merge with other companies to form Network Associates and in 2010 was bought by chip maker Intel, which attempted to change its name to Intel Security, a move John McAfee welcomed.


John McAfee's final years saw him dogged with legal and financial troubles. 

Free of McAfee

"I am now everlastingly grateful to Intel for freeing me from this terrible association with the worst software on the planet," he said in 2014, by which point antivirus software was frustrating users with overzealous alerts, costly subscriptions and a propensity to impact a computer's performance. 

"These are not my words, but the words of millions of irate users," he added. But the McAfee name was too strong to kill off. It remained and Intel later spun the company off - it was listed on the Nasdaq last year and has nearly 7,000 employees around the world.

In the 1990s, McAfee put his newfound wealth into a series of tech ventures, including PowWow, the first instant messaging program for Windows computers. There were plenty of other entrepreneurial ventures, but none had the success of his original idea and by 2008, McAfee was weathering the impacts of the global financial crisis, which hit the value of his significant property investments.

It was soon after that his life took a turn for the surreal, which he documented as he took to Youtube and Twitter with monologues on everything from politics to cryptocurrency. In 2012 when he was living in Belize, attempting to produce antibiotics from plants in the jungle there, he was implicated in the murder of his neighbour Gregory Viant Faull, who was found dead at his home on Ambergis Caye.

McAfee denied involvement, but soon after fled to Guatemala, claiming he was being framed because he'd refused to pay bribes to Belize police. He ended up being sent not to Belize, but back to the US where he soon ran into more legal and money troubles. He was never charged with Faull's death. 

A final run

But he still had time to run for president in 2016. Towards the end of his life, McAfee was on the run from US authorities for alleged tax evasion and hiding his assets. He was about to leave Spain for Istanbul when he was arrested. 

Before he went on the run, he'd attempted to return to his tech roots promoting cryptocurrency schemes and providing commentary on the rising tide of cybercrime. But his troubles overwhelmed him and he left the US for the last time on his yacht Great Mystery in 2019, eventually making his way to Europe.

McAfee was undeniably a tech visionary and a maverick.

"I'm a mad man to some people because I don't follow the normal rules," he told ABC News in 2017. 

He certainly went his own way, which led him down a winding path through some dark territory from which he was ultimately unable to escape. 

RIP John McAfee 1945 - 2021.

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Noel Reid 27 June 2021, 5:30 pm

It's a real shame for a genius' life to end like this.

How did he land in a Spanish prison?

Perhaps those responsible for that should accept some accountability!

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