John McAfee dead: Antivirus tycoon killed himself in prison after court OK'd extradition, says lawyer

British-American infosec renegade faced trial in America for tax evasion

British-American software tycoon John McAfee was found dead in his cell in a Barcelona prison on Wednesday.

Spain’s high court – the Audiencia Nacional – had just hours earlier agreed to his extradition to America to stand trial. He was accused of tax evasion, and of breaking securities law while pocketing $23m from cryptocurrency promotions and associated deals.

The 75-year-old antivirus baron – who founded McAfee Associates in the 1980s and made a fortune before more or less retiring in the mid-1990s – was being held in Sant Esteve Sesrovires. He was arrested at Barcelona airport in October 2020, and had been behind bars ever since.

McAfee's lawyer Javier Villalba told Reuters his client had been driven to despair by his incarceration, and died by hanging. Prosecutors confirmed the death, and said they are investigating.

"This is the result of a cruel system that had no reason to keep this man in jail for so long," Villalba was quoted as saying. McAfee feared he would die in prison in America if he was extradited and convicted for, among other things, failing to file tax returns as required as a US citizen.

In 2019, he declared, "I have not filed a tax return for eight years," claiming he had paid enough income tax and was living off the cash from his antivirus days. To avoid trial in America, he was living on a large yacht with his wife Janice McAfee – a sex worker he encountered in 2012 and married the next year – and their personal staff.

John McAfee in a Dominican Republic clink after he was briefly detained by the nation's authorities in 2019 ... Source: Twitter

Though he is known today as a renegade infosec pioneer, McAfee spent 20 years in the corporate computing world before setting up his eponymous antivirus software company in Silicon Valley. After getting a degree in mathematics in 1967, he spent two years as a programmer at NASA before going to UNIVAC and later worked as a systems architect at IBM. During that time, about 99 per cent of his income came from smuggling and selling drugs, he said in 2013, claiming a Mexican drug lord even smashed one of his testicles.

He also described himself as a not particularly brilliant programmer, and hired others to do his work for him. He then moved on to consultancy, and in the 1980s analysed a copy of the Brain virus, which is considered to be the first piece of malware for the IBM PC, and started making code to combat it. In 1987, he started up the antivirus company which still, after a few changes, bears his name today.

The Santa Clara-based biz was fantastically successful, owning about 70 per cent of the desktop antivirus market within five years. McAfee was well known for self-promotion even then. Exhibit A: the Michelangelo virus.

FUD merchant

Michelangelo was a simple piece of boot-sector malware that spread via floppy disk. It was discovered in 1991 and hit the headlines a year later. The software nasty was programmed to, among other things, wipe sectors of information from hard disk drives on Michelangelo's birthday: March 6. At the turn of 1992, McAfee got significant media coverage by claiming the virus would screw up at least five million computers that year, and so obviously one ought to buy and install his software.

March 6 came and went, and the number of computers infected was at worst in the thousands, and certainly not in the millions. The virus didn't even work properly on various PC XT-class computers. But who cares? Security software sales hit the roof.

In 1994 McAfee left the business he founded though kept his shares. When the company went public he amassed an estimated $100m fortune. And then came the wild-man years. For instance, McAfee set up a yoga retreat in Woodland, Colorado, went nuts with all-terrain vehicles and jetskis, and promoted aero-trekking – which involved flying small aircraft over the deserts of New Mexico.

But after the death of a nephew on a flight, and a $5m lawsuit, McAfee quit. He said the 2008 financial crash also wiped him out, leaving just $4m in the kitty. And so he moved to Belize. And it was there that things really went south.

Heart of darkness

McAfee moved to the Central America country with a business partner and biologist who had the idea of neutralizing bacteria using tropical rainforest plant compounds. The idea didn't work out, and in a 2016 docu-drama about those years, she suggested McAfee drugged and raped her.

Then Gregory Faull, a neighbor of McAfee in Belize, was found dead at his home in November 2012. He had been shot in the back of the head.

Faull and McAfee had been feuding over the latter's unruly behavior, which apparently included firing off weapons and owning unrestrained dogs. McAfee was already on the cops' radar – his compound was raided in May that year by officers searching for unlicensed firearms to confiscate. Though McAfee was not said to be a suspect in the murder case, he was sought for questioning by the police.

McAfee denied any wrongdoing, and suggested the killing could have been a case of mistaken identity by an assassin hunting him down, or that he was being framed. It's said he buried himself in the sand on the beach by his home, and put a cardboard box over his head, to hide from the cops when they came looking for him.

Belizian Prime Minister Dean Barrow called McAfee "bonkers" and urged him to turn himself in and talk to the police, though the plea was to no avail. While on the run from the plod, McAfee was still giving media interviews and at one point claimed he disguised himself as a drunk German tourist and as a burrito seller.

However, after giving an interview to Vice magazine, which published online photos taken of him including EXIF metadata revealing his exact whereabouts, McAfee was located and arrested in Guatemala. He tried to seek asylum from persecution in Belize, though later said he was instead forced to apologize to the Guatemalan president and was put on a plane back to the United States.

In 2018, McAfee was found liable by a US court for the death of Faull, and ordered to pay $25m to the man's family.

Startups and political ambitions

Once back in the Land of the Free, McAfee tried in 2013 to sell his story to Hollywood and moved to Portland. It was around that time he released an NSFW-ish video – see below – explaining how to remove McAfee antivirus software. We won't spoil the ending. He also tried to sell a $100 router that allegedly protected you from government spying.

McAfee became something of a regular feature during the annual DEF CON infosec conference in Las Vegas, though not as a speaker – they wouldn't have him, we're told – but as someone who hosted a party every year at a nearby strip club where fans swarmed the man. He obviously loved the attention. He also claimed to have fathered at least 47 children and had dated women as young as 17 – such as his 17-year-old girlfriend in Belize.

He tried launching Chadder, a supposedly secure chat app, then Android device auditing software called Cognizant, and a password manager called EveryKey – even a supposed Google-killer called Sentinel. Meanwhile Intel, which had bought the McAfee business, changed the name of the biz, a move McAfee contested and then settled.

After these projects bombed, he turned to politics, hoping to become US president in 2016 and 2020 as a Libertarian Party candidate. "I don't see how I can lose, I'm serious," he said, but neither campaign got off the ground. He was also arrested in Tennessee, and charged with driving under the influence of Xanax and possession of a handgun while intoxicated.

As mentioned above, McAfee liked to boast that he didn't pay taxes. Now while plenty of tech millionaires and billionaires don't either, they do at least get their accountants to file their tax returns, and McAfee didn't even do that.

In 2018, McAfee caught the cryptocurrency bug and started hawking Bitfi, a supposedly "unhackable" hardware wallet. He launched a bug bounty program that would give hundreds of thousands of dollars to anyone who could defeat the gadget's defenses, and when that was achieved within a week, he hid behind some fine-print, refusing to pay up. The debacle earned him the Lamest Vendor Response gong at that year's Pwnie Awards, which he didn't collect.

Nevertheless, McAfee became popular in cryptocurrency circles and was an enthusiastic promoter of the technology. He also, it's claimed, reaped large, and unreported in tax terms, financial rewards for doing so. And that is where his downfall came.

Can't beat the taxman

By 2020, McAfee was living outside the United States, in his yacht in a Havana harbor, as a fugitive avoiding the US taxman. Uncle Sam's Department of Justice and the SEC had charged McAfee and his security guard, accusing them of tax evasion.

"John McAfee earned millions in income from promoting cryptocurrencies, consulting work, speaking engagements, and selling the rights to his life story for a documentary," prosecutors said. "From 2014 to 2018, McAfee allegedly failed to file tax returns, despite receiving considerable income from these sources."

In October that year, he was cuffed in Spain while trying to fly to Istanbul, and escorted to prison. There he fought for nine months against his extradition to America, where he would face charges that could have put him behind bars for 30 years if convicted.

This week, that attempt to avoid trial failed. Now he is dead.

Charismatic but crazy

This hack interviewed McAfee a few times. McAfee would usually give a great, seemingly spontaneous quote, which one suspected was carefully prepared, the kind of talk journalists lap up. But he was about as useful as a chocolate teapot if you were looking for anything, you know, based in fact and reality.

Case in point, in 2019, McAfeee claimed on Twitter the US government was trying to drive him to suicide, tattoo and all.

He also said last October, after his arrest in Spain, "Know that if I hang myself, a la Epstein, it will be no fault of mine." And no, he wasn't trying to be figurative.

Now, thanks to that, people are convinced McAfee was killed by Uncle Sam. It's claimed he had dirt on the Clintons, which is music to the ears of QAnon supporters. But what's more likely? The US government, having exactly what it wanted – the chance to drag McAfee back home to make a literal prime-time example of him – decided instead to end him in a Barcelona cooler.

Or that a 75-year-old McAfee was done running. Which is more likely? ®

Send us news

Upcoming Android privacy changes include ability to blank advertising ID, and 'safety section' in Play store

New policies give users more control, but ad tracking still on by default

Google has shared details of upcoming changes to Android including the ability to blank a device's advertising ID, and a new safety section for apps in the Play store.

The advertising ID is an identifier unique to an Android device which is supplied by Google Play Services. Since every app on that device can retrieve the same ID, it can be used for profiling the user of the device. Users can set an option to "Limit ad tracking", and the API that supplies the advertising ID also indicates whether the user has opted out, but respecting this option is on a trust basis.

Privacy advocate Max Schrems filed a legal complaint against Google last year, arguing that the advertising ID is personal data and that the option to reset it, which automatically creates a replacement ID, was "like cancelling a contract only under the condition that you sign a new one."

Continue reading

NoSQL Couchbase launches schema-like features to take on the transactional databases of the relational world

Doing both in one system might be 'somewhat elegant' but user experience remains to be seen, analyst says

Couchbase, the NoSQL database beloved of modern applications developers, is trying to build a bridge to the old world with its 7.0 release.

The latest iteration of the open-source documents store database offers multi-statement SQL transactions and an approach to building schema-like structures into the database, allowing it to support multiple applications from the same data.

One database industry expert said Couchbase 7.0 would be welcomed by developers wanting to do more with their data in a single system, but whether it could withstand enterprise workloads from multiple applications is not clear.

Continue reading

BT says it's trading in line with expectations as revenue slides and pre-tax profit shrinks

Former state monopoly talks up FTTP build out, as does Virgin Media

BT's revenues slipped during the three months to the end of June – when French-owned Altice took a 12.1 per cent stake in the business and the telco went some way to resolving an industrial dispute.

Overall – across its consumer, enterprise, global, and infrastructure businesses – the former state-run monopoly reported revenues of £5.071bn, down 3 per cent year-on-year and trading as expected, BT said.

Consumer was one of the divisions to grow, up 1 per cent to £2.382bn. BT said this was primarily due to BT Sport subscriptions and higher direct handset sales. "Year-on-year fixed and mobile are down due to the ongoing impact of COVID-19, lower out-of-contract prices, copper price reductions to address back book pricing, and the continued decline of our voice-only customer base and call volume," it said.

Continue reading

Red Hat buddies up with Nutanix to provide an escape route from VMware

'We have customers saying, help us out of this pickle here, can you possibly just support RHEL running on top of AHV?'

Red Hat is collaborating with Nutanix to make OpenShift and Red Hat Enterprise Linux a fully supported solution on the Nutanix native virtualization platform, AHV.

The new agreement provides for Red Hat OpenShift, its Kubernetes distribution, to be the Nutanix "preferred choice" for Kubernetes on Nutanix, and for Nutanix HCI to be fully supported by Red Hat for deploying Enterprise Linux (RHEL) and OpenShift. The Nutanix Acropolis Hypervisor (AHV) will now be certified by Red Hat for RHEL and OpenShift.

"Nutanix supports several different hypervisors," Red Hat's Ronald Pacheco, director of product management, told us, "They support AHV, VMware ESXi, Hyper-V and they also support Citrix XenServer. We're aware of customers who have been using Nutanix, mostly using ESXi... because Red Hat customers tend to be conservative and they want to make sure they're using a supported hypervisor, but at the same time saying, I'm paying a lot extra... so we have customers saying, help us out of this pickle here, can you possibly just support RHEL running on top of AHV?"

Continue reading

NFT or not to NFT: Steve Jobs' first job application auction shows physically unique beats cryptographically unique

Great, maybe the trend can FOAD now

A dual-format auction of a physical and digital non-fungible token (NFT) version of a job application penned by Apple co-founder Steve Jobs has come to a close – and the physical side has emerged victorious, by an order of magnitude.

Set up by former ad exec Olly Joshi and launched last week, the auction took a physical piece of history – the 1973 handwritten job application, which Joshi purchased at auction earlier this year with money raised by a collective of 36 of his friends and family – ran it through a scanner and created a cryptographically verified NFT version on the Ethereum blockchain before listing the two side-by-side.

The idea was to pit NFTs, digital goods whose uniqueness comes from cryptographic signatures placed on a cryptocurrency blockchain but which are otherwise infinitely duplicable, against physical and genuinely unique goods – and to make a little money along the way.

Continue reading

Qualcomm's bumper Q3 growth comes with supply constraints warning, but Intel may ride to the rescue

Company confirms it's investigating adding Chipzilla to multi-source vendor list, alongside TSMC and Samsung

Qualcomm's strong financials for the third quarter of 2021 come with a warning. Supply shortages aren't over yet – and the fabless chip maker may be turning to Intel to help meet demand.

To say Qualcomm's results look healthy is no understatement. The company reported [PDF] $8.06bn in revenue for the quarter ended 27 June, a 65 per cent gain year-on-year driven, CFO Akash Palkhiwala claimed in the company's earnings call, by "revenue diversification" including a shuffling of mobile technologies into the automotive market and "a partial recovery from the impact of COVID in the year-ago period."

The bulk of the company's revenue came, as always, from parts and IP destined for mobile handsets, which grew 57 per cent year-on-year to $3.863bn – though the biggest growth came from its radio-frequency (RF) front end business, which jumped 114 per cent to $957m. The Internet of Things (IoT) division grew 83 per cent to $1.399bn, while its automotive arm grew by the same amount but remains a relative tiddler at $253m in revenue. Licensing jumped to $1.632bn versus $1.09bn a year ago.

Continue reading

Microsoft's new 'power app converging model' hits public preview with Custom Pages

Aims to heal perplexing split between Canvas and Model-driven apps

Microsoft's Custom Pages, an effort to converge its two different low-code Power App platforms, are now in public preview - though it is more hybrid than truly converged.

Principal program manager Adrian Orth said that the preview is a "a big leap forward in the convergence of model-driven apps and canvas apps into a single Power App," though adding that that standalone canvas apps will remain supported.

Cloud migration has been good for Microsoft's business application business, and in its latest financials, the company noted "Dynamics 365 revenue growth of 49 per cent (up 42 per cent in constant currency)." Power Platform, a low-code application platform which ties into Dynamics as well as other parts of Microsoft's cloud such as SharePoint and Office 365, performed even better.

Continue reading

Equiniti wins Northern Ireland Finance Department contract to build land revenue system... 4 years after project proposed

Now that's agile

Northern Ireland's Department of Finance has awarded IT services firm Equiniti a contract worth up to £80m to build a land revenue and benefits system in a procurement four years in the making.

The department's Land and Property Services requires a "modern digitally-enabled ICT solution" that will help with the assessment and collection of rates for domestic and non-domestic properties, and the administration of various rate reliefs such as Housing Benefit and Disabled Person's Allowance. The system should also manage interfaces with internal and external applications of the agency, such as the Enforcement of Judgments Office.

According to a contract award notice, the new system needs to be "flexible and adaptable to support new and innovative methods of delivery, future changes and business needs whilst being user friendly, customer-focused and utilising digital self-service platforms."

Continue reading

Hard drives at Autonomy offices were destroyed the same month CEO Lynch quit, extradition trial was told

Court finally hands down written ruling – and it's very bad news for UK exec

Analysis Autonomy personnel were instructed to destroy hard drives at the company's offices nearly a year after the buyout of the software bz by HP, a court ruling in ex-CEO Mike Lynch's extradition battle has revealed.

District Judge Michael Snow ruled last week that Lynch can be extradited to America for trial on 17 criminal charges, sending the case to Home Secretary Priti Patel for rubberstamp approval.

Westminster Magistrates' Court has now released Judge Snow's full written judgment [PDF], which contained pointed criticisms of Lynch's legal team on top of dismissing all their arguments against extraditing the Autonomy founder.

Continue reading

Beige pencil stockists on high alert as 'Colouring Book of Retro Computers' hits the crowdfunding circuit

YouTuber's project already well past its goal

Neil Thomas, host of the RMC vintage computing and gaming YouTube channel, is crowdfunding a colouring book of vintage computing hardware.

Covering the 1970s through to the early 2000s, Thomas's latest nostalgia-grab – following a compact hardback collecting interviews carried out for his YouTube channel – asks backers to keep within the lines as they colour in 30 vintage machines and accessories.

The book has been developed with Stuart "Stoo" Cambridge, an artist best known for his work at British video game house Sensible Software, with three pages currently complete: a Commodore PET, a Sinclair ZX Spectrum, and an Apple II – with 27 other systems as yet confirmed.

Continue reading

Ex-health secretary said 'vast majority' were 'onside' with GP data grab. Consumer champion Which? reckons 20 million don't even know what it is

Guess what? When people find out about the scheme, trust in the NHS falls

Around 20 million people in England are in the dark over plans to share their GP medical records with a NHS Digital database, according to a study by not-for-profit consumer watchdog Which?

In a survey of 1,700 adults in England, Which? found 45 per cent were unaware of proposals for their medical records held by their doctor to be sent to the non-departmental government body under the controversial plan dubbed the biggest data grab in the history of the NHS.

The proportion unaware of the plans – and therefore their rights to opt out – is equivalent to 20 million people in England and reveals how ineffective the health department has been in informing patients, as required under data protection law.

Continue reading