There was a time when the words ‘computer virus’ went hand-in-hand with ‘McAfee Antivirus’.
The software developed by tech expert John McAfee in the 1980s found its way on to millions of home computers, and made McAfee Associates one of the biggest tech companies of the 1990s.
But what about its inventor? Well, he’s led a pretty wild and crazy life. How wild and crazy? Read on to find out!
He Was Born In England
Born on a US Army base in Gloucestershire, England on the 18th of September 1948, John McAfee moved back to the States with his family at a very early age to the town of Salem in Virginia. His father – an alcoholic – committed suicide when John was fifteen years old – a fact the tech legend says he wakes up and thinks about every day.
An Early Eye For Business
In the late 1960s, McAfee attended Roanoake College, studying Mathematics. McAfee was an enterprising man from a very young age, with a keen eye for business and a knack for spotting an opportunity. His first business venture was selling magazines door-to-door – a venture which he later claimed made him a small fortune.
Working On Computers
After graduating from Roanoke College, McAfee landed a job with a company that coded punch card systems, which taught him the basics of computing and helped him land a job with the Missouri Pacific Railroad. Here he worked on an IBM computer that was used by the company to calibrate its timetables.
A Typical ’60s Guy
Like a lot of young men at the time, McAfee experimented with mind-altering drugs. One day, according to the Wired website, he downed a whole bag of DMT and suffered such a bad trip that he ended up running out of his job and hiding behind a trashcan in downtown St. Louis. He never returned to his job at Pacific Railroad, instead spending his days tripping on his couch listening to Pink Floyd. McAfee later said that he thinks a part of him is still on that DMT trip.
Drugs And Alcohol
In the 1970s, McAfee worked as a software programmer for companies such as Xerox and Univax. He also had a stint at NASA’s Institute for Space Studies in New York. He later admitted that he continued to abuse drugs during this time, even taking to snorting cocaine and drinking a bottle of scotch at his desk while working for Omex. He wouldn’t seek help for his drug and alcohol problems until the early 1980s.
The Brain Virus
While working for Lockheed in the 1980s, McAfee received a copy of the ‘Brain’ computer virus. This was an entirely new type of program that replaced an IBM computer’s floppy disk boot sector with a virus. Intrigued, Mcfee began working on a software program that would combat this new type of hi-tech threat.
Founding McAfee Associates
In 1987, McAfee founded McAfee Associates. The company was a success, allowing McAfee to quit his job at Lockheed in 1989 and focus full time on his anti-virus business. It wasn’t long before McAfee Associates was making $5 million dollars a year, with some of the world’s biggest companies using McAfee’s antivirus technology to combat the growing threat of malicious software.
The Michelangelo Virus
In 1992, the ‘Michelangelo’ virus hit computers around the world. McAfee described it as one of the worst viruses he’d ever come across. Not many computers had antivirus software installed at the time. Michelangelo changed all that, and McAfee was ready and waiting with the technology everyone suddenly realized they needed to keep their computers safe.
Making Millions And Moving On
Michelangelo changed everything. Thanks to this malicious piece of software, McAfee associates made millions and millions of dollars, allowing the company to be incorporated in 1992 and float on the stock market in 1994. Despite the company’s phenomenal success, McAfee was restless. He resigned from the company he had founded in 1994.
Selling His Shares
McAfee’s resignation came as quite a surprise to the industry, but to McAfee himself, it was the right thing to do. Not long after resigning from McAfee Associates, he sold his shares in the company, netting him an eye-popping 100 million dollars.
Leading The Quiet Life
For a while after resigning from McAfee Associates, John McAfee kept a low profile. He occasionally gave lectures at the Stanford Graduate School of Business, and had a hand in two social network projects called Tribal Voice and PowWow. Neither venture was successful.
Losing His Fortune
John McAfee invested heavily in tech start ups and technology companies in the 2000s. This would come back to haunt him when the global financial crash and subsequent recession of 2008 wiped billions off stock prices. It was rumored that McAfee’s personal fortune of 100 million dollars was reduced to just four million.
Moving To Belize
Following the loss of most of his money, McAfee decided to sell up his property portfolio in the late 2000s and move to the Central American country of Belize. Here, he founded a company called Ourumex. McAfee founded the company with the help of microbiologist Allison Adonizio. He believed he could develop new types of antibiotics from plants found in that part of the world.
Paranoia Sets In
Unfortunately, things took a turn for the decidedly weird after McAfee’s move to Belize. McAfee became convinced that he was being watched by sinister forces and his behavior started to become more and more erratic. He became obsessed with watching the customers of a bar called Lover’s Bar go in and out of the entrance, and would spend hours watching them. “My fragile connection with the world of polite society has, without a doubt, been severed,” he wrote at the time. “My attire would rank me among the worst-dressed Tijuana panhandlers. My hygiene is no better. Yesterday, for the first time, I urinated in public, in broad daylight.”
Person Of Interest
In 2012, McAfee became a ‘person of interest’ to Belize police following the murder of American expatriate, Gregory Viant Faull. Faull was McAfee’s neighbor, and police suspected the tech wizard may have been involved in Faull’s murder. Paranoid that the police wanted to murder him, McAfee fled Belize, never to return.
Arrested In Guatemala
McAfee fled to Guatemala, still keeping in touch with friends, family and followers via the Internet. He agreed to an interview with the website Vice, who unfortunately left GPS satellite metadata locations on two of the photos they published of McAfee to accompany their story. The Guatemalan authorities used these coordinates to track McAfee down, and arrested him for entering Guatemala illegally. While he was waiting a decision on whether or not to deport him to face charges in Belize, McAfee faked two heart attacks which gave his lawyers enough time to stall the deportation process. In the end, McAfee was deported back to the United States.
The Bizarre YouTube Video
In 2013, McAfee released a bizarre video on YouTube called ‘How To Uninstall McAfee Antivirus’. McAfee had long since washed his hands of his most famous invention, calling it a virus itself. The video went viral mainly because it contained a shirtless McAfee surrounded by scantily-clad girls, guns and what appeared to be drugs. As you do.
Arrested In Tennessee
In August 2015, McAfee once again hit the headlines when he was arrested in Henderson County, Tennessee and charged with driving under the influence and possession of a firearm while intoxicated. McAfee denied the charges, saying he was actually driving under the influence of Xanax, and blamed his doctor for not warning him about taking the drug and driving.
Starting His Own Political Party
Following his arrest, McAfee once again took to the Internet to announce that he was starting his own political party called ‘The Cyber Party’. McAfee aimed to become the official presidential candidate of the Libertarian Party, but failed to secure enough votes at the Libertarian Party National Convention. The nomination eventually went to Gary Johnson, a former governor of New Mexico.
What He Did Next
In 2016, McAfee was appointed CEO of MGT, a social gaming company. McAfee changed the company’s focus from social gaming to cyber-security, leading to many investors demanding McAfee be dismissed, especially after this most erratic of characters became obsessed with mining for bitcoins and other cryptocurrencies. McAfee eventually left the company in 2018. So what’s next for one of the most bizarre tech executives who has ever lived? Only time will tell!