John David McAfee (18 September 1945 – 23 June 2021) was a British-American computer programmer, businessman, and two-time presidential candidate who unsuccessfully sought the Libertarian Party nomination for president of the United States in 2016 and in 2020. In 1987, he wrote the first commercial anti-virus software, founding McAfee Associates to sell his creation. He resigned in 1994 and sold his remaining stake in the company. McAfee became the company's most vocal critic in later years, urging consumers to uninstall the company's anti-virus software, which he characterized as bloatware. He disavowed the company's continued use of his name in branding, a practice that has persisted in spite of a short-lived corporate rebrand attempt under Intel ownership.
McAfee was born in Cinderford, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England, on 18 September 1945, on a U.S. Army base (of the 596th Ordnance Ammunition Company), to an American father, Don McAfee, who was stationed there, and a British mother, Joan (Williams). His father was from Roanoke, and McAfee was himself primarily raised in Salem, Virginia, United States. He said he felt as much British as American. When he was 15, his father, whom a BBC columnist described as "an abusive alcoholic", killed himself with a gun. He had spent his childhood living in fear that a beating from his father could happen at any time, and struggled to make sense of why this was happening to him.
In 1986, while employed by Lockheed, he read about the Brain computer virus made for the PC, and he found it terrifying. Sensing a business opportunity, he went about creating an antivirus software that could detect the computer virus and remove it automatically.
In 1987 McAfee created McAfee Associates Inc. to sell this software, which he named VirusScan. This was the first anti-virus software brought to market, and one of the first software products to be distributed over the internet.
The company was incorporated in Delaware in 1992, and had its initial public offering the same year. In August 1993, McAfee stepped down as chief executive and remained with the company as the chief technical officer. He was succeeded by Bill Larson. In 1994 he sold his remaining stake in the company. He had no further involvement in its operations.
After various mergers and ownership changes, Intel acquired McAfee in August 2010. In January 2014, Intel announced that McAfee-related products would be marketed as Intel Security. McAfee expressed his pleasure at the name change, saying, "I am now everlastingly grateful to Intel for freeing me from this terrible association with the worst software on the planet." The business was soon de-merged from Intel, once more under the McAfee name.
Other business ventures that were founded by McAfee include Tribal Voice, which developed one of the first instant messaging programs, PowWow. In 2000, he invested in and joined the board of directors of Zone Labs, makers of firewall software, prior to its acquisition by Check Point Software in 2003.
In the 2000s McAfee invested in and advertised ultra-light flights, which he marketed as aerotrekking.
In June 2013, McAfee uploaded a parody video titled How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus onto his YouTube channel. In it, he critiques the antivirus software while snorting white powder and being stripped by scantily clad women. It received ten million views. He told Reuters the video was meant to ridicule the media's negative coverage of him. A spokesman for McAfee Inc. called the video's statements "ludicrous".
In February 2014, McAfee announced Cognizant, an application for smartphones, which displays information about the permissions of other installed applications. In April 2014, it was renamed DCentral 1, and an Android version was released for free on Google Play.
At the DEF CON conference in Las Vegas in August 2014, McAfee warned people not to use smartphones, suggesting apps are used to spy on clueless consumers who do not read privacy user agreements. In January 2016, he became the chief evangelist for security startup Everykey.
In February 2016, McAfee publicly volunteered to decrypt the iPhone used by Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik in San Bernardino, avoiding the need for Apple to build a backdoor. He later admitted that his claims regarding the ease of cracking the phone were a publicity stunt, while still asserting its possibility.
In May 2016, McAfee was appointed chairman and CEO of MGT Capital Investments, a technology holding company. It initially said it would rename itself John McAfee Global Technologies, although this plan was abandoned due to a dispute with Intel over rights to the "McAfee" name. He changed MGT's focus from social gaming to cybersecurity, saying "anti-virus software is dead, it no longer works", and that "the new paradigm has to stop the hacker getting in" before he or she can do damage.
Soon after joining MGT, McAfee said he and his team had exploited a flaw in the Android operating system that allowed him to read encrypted messages from WhatsApp. Gizmodo investigated his claim, and reported that he had sent reporters malware-infected phones to make this hack work. He replied: "Of course the phones had malware on them. How that malware got there is the story, which we will release after speaking with Google. It involves a serious flaw in the Android architecture."
McAfee moved MGT into the mining of bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies, both to make money for the company, and to increase MGT's expertise in dealing with blockchains, which he thought was important for cybersecurity.
In August 2017, McAfee stepped down as CEO, instead serving as MGT's "chief cybersecurity visionary". In January 2018, he left the company altogether. Both sides said the split was amicable; he said he wanted to spend all of his time on cryptocurrencies, while the company told of pressure from potential investors to disassociate itself from him.
On 13 August 2018, McAfee took a position of CEO with Luxcore, a cryptocurrency company focused on enterprise solutions.
On 23 June 2021, McAfee was found dead in his prison cell at the Brians 2 Penitentiary Center [ca] near Barcelona, hours after the Spanish National Court ordered his extradition to the United States on criminal charges filed in Tennessee by the United States Department of Justice Tax Division. The Catalan Justice Department said "everything indicates" he killed himself by hanging. An official autopsy confirmed his suicide.
McAfee's death ignited speculation and conspiracy theories about the possibility that he was murdered. McAfee's death drew comparisons to the circumstances of the death of American financier Jeffrey Epstein, who was found dead in August 2019 while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges. Several times, McAfee claimed if he were ever found dead by hanging, it would mean he was murdered. Minutes after the report of his death, an image of the letter Q was posted to his Instagram feed (his account was subsequently taken down), apparently in reference to QAnon conspiracy theories. These theories have been referred to by some journalists as speculative, "bizarre," and "baseless," primarily based on McAfee's own statements. The day after his death, his lawyer told reporters that while he regularly maintained contact with McAfee in prison, there were no signs of suicidal intent. McAfee's widow reaffirmed this position in her first public remarks since her husband's death, and also called for a "thorough" investigation.
On 13 February 2022, a Spanish court ruled McAfee died by suicide.
In a Netflix documentary released on August 24, 2022, entitled Running With the Devil: The Wild World of John McAfee, McAfee's ex-girlfriend, identified as Samantha Herrera, alleged that McAfee faked his death to avoid tax evasion charges. This allegation has not been proven, however.