John McAfee dies in Barcelona


The creator of the world’s first commercial anti-virus software is being remembered as a 1980’s tech visionary. John McAfee, who died in a Barcelona jail cell last week, developed the world’s first commercial anti-virus software that still bears his name. McAfee died hours after a court cleared his extradition to the United States on tax evasion and cryptocurrency fraud charges.

After graduation with a bachelor’s degree in mathematics, McAfee worked for NASA on the Apollo program before moving to Univac and later Xerox. In the mid-1980s, while working at Lockheed Martin, McAfee encountered a software virus called Brain that infected IBM personal computers. That virus, one of the world’s first, interfered with the boot sector of a floppy disc.

As a result, John McAfee began developing his own anti-virus software. In 1987, McAfee Associates was established. Over 30 years later, 500 million consumers use contemporary versions of the anti-virus software that still bears his name. McAfee Inc is now one of the world’s biggest pure-play cybersecurity firms.

But by 1994, McAfee had sold out of the company. In 2011, McAfee Associates was sold to Intel for US$7.6 billion. After ending any association with the business he founded, John McAfee became involved in the development of  PowWow, the first Internet instant message and chat program for Windows. PowWow was compatible with both AOL Instant Messenger (AIM) and Microsoft’s MSN Messenger. But, like the other first-generation instant message services, PowWow is now defunct. McAfee was also involved in ZoneLabs, makers of early firewall software.

More recently, John McAfee’s key business involvement was with MGT Capital Investments. McAfee became Chairman and CEO of MGT in 2016. MGT was a technology holding company. It was principally engaged in the business of acquiring, developing, and monetising intellectual property assets. At the time, its portfolio included social casino and gaming platforms. Under McAfee’s stewardship, MGT shifted its focus from social gaming to cybersecurity and then to cryptocurrencies.

The news John McAfee was joining MGT’s board and becoming Chairman and CEO saw the small tech company temporarily become the most traded stock in the United States.

Within a year, McAfee had stepped down as CEO. Within two years, he cut ties with MGT. Investors were reportedly wary of McAfee’s new focus on cryptocurrencies. Wary or not, John McAfee’s tenure shifted MGT’s course. MGT Capital Investments is now a bitcoin mining company.

John McAfee’s recent interest in cryptocurrencies evolved from his interest in cybersecurity. In 2020, at the time of his arrest, McAfee was still involved in and promoting cryptocurrencies.

On October 3, 2020, McAfee was detained at Barcelona Airport while on his way to Istanbul. He had allegedly failed to file tax returns for several years. United States authorities accuse him of multiple tax and fraud crimes, including concealing real estate assets and a yacht.

McAfee had remained in custody since, fighting extradition. Spanish courts approved his extradition on June 23. Several hours later, John McAfee suicided in his jail cell.