The Rock Star of Cybersecurity: A Brief Look at John McAfee’s Life

John McAfee was instrumental in the cybersecurity sector. He also had one of the most bizarre lives of any entrepreneur we've seen. And that's saying something.

Whether you love him or hate him, John McAfee changed the world. For decades, he’s been a household name in the cybersecurity sector. But, as noted by Daniel Howley, technology editor at Yahoo! Finance, the entrepreneur fundamentally altered how we view and target malicious software

The software he developed, McAfee Antivirus, was the first anti-malware solution capable of scanning for multiple viruses at once. And although it’s no longer at the top of the AV space, it’s nevertheless still widely used throughout business and consumer spaces. 

His namesake isn’t solely why McAfee, who died late June in a Spanish prison cell, will be remembered.  After selling his shares in McAfee Antivirus in 1993, he embarked on what was quite possibly one of the most bizarre personal journeys Silicon Valley has ever seen. As reported by Esquire Magazine, his was a life defined by odd business decisions and extralegal activities including, but not limited to:  

  • Business ventures that include:
    • A herbal antibiotics company raided by authorities on suspicion of being a meth lab in 2012. During the raid, police found McAfee in bed with a sixteen-year-old girl.
    • An instant messaging platform.
    • A yoga retreat. 
    • A company that made and manufactured motorized hang gliders. 
  • Allegedly murdering his neighbor Gregory Faull, who was known to have grown frustrated by the man’s constant parties and the fact that the 60-year-old lived with a harem of underage girls. 
  • Escaping prison by faking two heart attacks,
  • Constant claims
  • A brief stint running for president as head of the Cyber Party in 2015. 
  • Another attempt at the presidency in 2020, this time as part of the Libertarian Party. 
  • Fleeing the United States to escape the IRS. 
  • Marrying a prostitute he met outside his hotel after paying her $2000 to spoon him.
  • Drugs. A lot of drugs. 
  • Absurd claims that included:
    • Fathering 47 children worldwide
    • That if he were ever imprisoned, he would be ‘silenced.’ 
    • That he was on the run from assassins sent after him in Belize — which may have actually been true. 

In short, John McAfee is probably the closest the tech industry has ever had to a bona fide rock star — at least, as far as his less-savory qualities are concerned. And whatever else you might say about him, whatever his faults, those who knew him could all agree on one thing.

He was a brilliant man. Perhaps too much so for his own good, to the point that it manifested in self-destruction. Either way, no matter how unsavory he may have been in his autumn years, the fact remains that he defined the earliest days of modern cybersecurity.

And for that, at least, we all owe him a debt.