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Cybersecurity industry reacts as antivirus pioneer John McAfee found dead

News Analysis
Jun 24, 20213 mins
Anti MalwareCSO and CISO

McAfee was found dead in a Spanish prison cell after a suspected suicide. He was due to be extradited to the US to stand trial for tax evasion and money laundering.

John McAfee presents at the 4th China Internet Security Conference (ISC) in Beijing. [2016.08.16]
Credit: Ng Han Guan / AP / Shutterstock

Antivirus pioneer John McAfee was found dead in a Spanish prison cell on Wednesday June 24, 2021. According to Spanish authorities, the cause of the 75-year-old’s death was suicide.

The British-born, outspoken millionaire was being held in Barcelona after being arrested in October 2020 on charges of US tax evasion. In March this year, McAfee was indicted by the US Department of Justice on charges of conspiracy to commit commodities and securities fraud, conspiracy to commit securities and touting fraud, wire fraud conspiracy and substantive wire fraud, and money laundering conspiracy offenses stemming from two schemes relating to the fraudulent promotion to investors of cryptocurrencies. Just hours before his death, a Spanish court ruled that he could be extradited to the US to stand trial.

John McAfee listens during the 4th China Internet Security Conference (ISC) in Beijing. [2016.08.16] Ng Han Guan / AP / Shutterstock

Cybersecurity industry reflects on McAfee’s legacy

John McAfee is considered a forefather of the cybersecurity industry, founding one of the first antivirus vendors on the market, McAfee Associates, in 1987. Since then, the company has remained one of the leading cybersecurity vendors in the sector. However, he parted ways with the organization in 1994 and has not been associated with it since. He regularly spoke of his distaste for the organization that still bears his name and went on to live a highly controversial lifestyle surrounded by allegations of immoral and illegal behavior.

Several figures within the cybersecurity sector have spoken with CSO in reaction to McAfee’s passing and reflected on his legacy both in, and out, of the IT security industry.

“He was a divisive character seemingly able to spark both admiration from some and distaste in others,” says information security leader Quentyn Taylor. “Whilst he was one of the pioneers of the industry, the path he then walked up to the present day was mired in controversy as well as legal and regulatory drama. Someone who will be remembered for a long time in the infosec industry, but not necessarily for what he may have wished for.”

“I met John only briefly, but he was very charming and nice to me,” says Javvad Malik, security awareness advocate at KnowBe4. “He was definitely a polarizing figure in the industry, but he was a pioneer and will leave a void.”

John McAfee was certainly a controversial character within the cybersecurity industry, adds Brian Honan, founder of BH Consulting. “He and his company helped secure millions of computers worldwide. However, his personal life had many serious controversies ranging from accusations of murder, rape, tax evasion, and drug use. So, while we remember the passing of one of the initial leaders in our industry, let’s not forget the potential victims and their families that remain and for whom the coming days will be difficult.”

“He was certainly able to see some lucrative tech opportunities ahead of the curve,” says cybersecurity consultant, speaker, and author Raef Meeuwisse. “He seemed very eccentric and flawed. I suspect he may be remembered for his flaws rather than for his achievements.”

UK Editor

Michael Hill is the UK editor of CSO Online. He has spent the past 8 years covering various aspects of the cybersecurity industry, with particular interest in the ever-evolving role of the human-related elements of information security. A keen storyteller with a passion for the publishing process, he enjoys working creatively to produce media that has the biggest possible impact on the audience.

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