The rise, fall and death of an antivirus software pioneer

The rise, fall and death of an antivirus software pioneer

Seventy-five-year-old John McAfee, the creator of the McAfee antivirus software who allegedly killed himself in a Spanish prison on Wednesday, called himself an iconoclast. His run-ins with governments saw him don the life of fugitive many a time in the final years of his life. In between all the running away, he found his political expression in the Libertarian Party, though he was unsuccessful in his attempt to be its nominee for the presidential elections of 2016. He wanted to give it another shot in 2020 but pulled out eventually.

“Decriminalise marijuana, bring our troops home, end the madness of our education system, reduce the size of government, hamstring the DEA (Drug Enforcement Administration), and let all people out of prison (who are there) for non-violent crimes.”

McAfee said, in his 30-second introduction at the party’s presidential debate in 2016. “What we insert into our bodies or our minds is our own business,” he would go on to say.

His death came hours after a court ordered his extradition back to the U.S., where he is wanted for tax evasion. He was arrested last year at the Barcelona airport while he was reportedly about to board a flight to Istanbul. “The words ‘Arrested’ and ‘McAfee’ are frequently found together in the same sentence,” he once tweeted.

He made his name and money in business. He was considered a pioneer in the field of security technology. His McAfee Associates, which sold anti-virus software, was started in 1987. And by 1994, two years after taking it public, he exited the company. It wouldn’t be until 2010 that Intel bought the then-avatar of this company, by which time, however, the McAfee name was starting to get controversial.

Loss of wealth

McAfee, it was reported, lost a lot of his wealth in the financial crisis of 2007. At that time, he had financial interests in the real estate sector. He could never replicate the success of his anti-virus software despite dabbling in many businesses — from an instant messaging platform to herbal antibiotics, from secure computer network devices to Bitcoin mining — over the years. His cryptocurrency business interest only got him more troubles from the authorities.

His problems with law spanned many countries. He once ran away from Belize where authorities considered him a “person of interest” in connection with the murder of a neighbour. He was then arrested for illegally entering Guatemala. In 2019, he refused a court order that directed him to pay $25 million to the murdered neighbour’s estate. He tweeted, “I have not responded to a single one of my 37 lawsuits in the past 11 years.”

On Twitter, his tryst with controversies continued — in the form of his posts on everything from masks during the time of coronavirus to the Deep State. He had pondered about getting killed as also, more recently, about death. On September 18, 2020, his last birthday, he tweeted, “75 years of a roller coaster ride between Heaven and Hell… Constantly passing ‘normal’ as a speeding train might pass an intersection. I would have it no other way.”

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