As part of his cryptocurrency ventures, he served as CEO of MGT, the world’s sixth largest Bitcoin mining firm; founded a decentralized exchange called McAfeeDEX; promised a cryptocurrency debit card that never transpired; launched and shortly abandoned a privacy coin project; promoted two initial coin offerings which resulted in criminal charges; and backed an “unhackable” Bitcoin wallet that was later hacked.
McAfee actively promoted digital currencies and blockchain technologies on social media and made wider cryptocurrency use a hallmark of his 2020 presidential campaign. He famously predicted that the price of bitcoin would reach $1 million by the end of 2020.
He was also known for being an eccentric character that led a colorful life. His name is famous for the antivirus software he developed in the 1980’s. He later became the software’s most vocal critic. He was a two-time US presidential candidate, claimed to have fathered 47 children, was a person of interest in a homicide investigation, authored four guides to spirituality, and used drugs recreationally.
McAfee faced multiple legal issues over the course of his life, including charges of conspiracy to commit fraud and money laundering for inflating crypto prices. He was arrested in Spain in October of 2020 for tax evasion and was found dead in his jail cell in June 2021 from a suspected suicide.
McAfee was born in Gloucestershire, England in 1945 on a US Army base but was primarily raised in Virginia. He received a bachelor’s degree from Roanoke College in 1967 and started a PhD program in mathematics at Northeast Louisiana State College. He was later expelled due to a relationship with an undergraduate who later became his first wife.
McAfee took a job as a programmer at NASA’s Institute for Space Studies from 1968-1970, working on the Apollo program. He continued to work as a software developer through the 1970’s and early 1980’s at Univac, Xerox, and Lockheed Martin.
While at Lockheed Martin, he read about the first computer virus for the IBM personal computer, called the Brain virus. He was both fascinated and terrified by the subject and decided to create software that could detect the virus and remove it automatically.
The software, originally named VirusScan, was the first antivirus software in the market and one of the first software products to be sold over the internet.
McAfee stepped down as CEO in 1993 to work on other projects and sold his shares a few years later for $100 million. He later became critical of the software that used his name, calling it “bloatware” and “the worst software ever made.” In 2013, he made a parody instructional video titled “How to Uninstall McAfee Antivirus” where he was surrounded by scantily clad women and firearms while snorting bath salts.
Role in the cryptocurrency community
McAfee first learned of Bitcoin in 2013, when he was pressured into reading the Bitcoin white paper written by Satoshi Nakamoto. He was impressed with the technology and the potential uses of blockchain technology.
“In 2014 I decided that the blockchain was probably the most revolutionary software technology that I had seen in my 50 years of doing computer science,” he said in an interview.
A Bitcoin supporter, then a critic
McAfee famously tweeted that he would eat his own penis on national TV if the price of bitcoin didn’t reach $500k by 2020. A few months later he doubled down, predicting that bitcoin would reach $1 million by 2020.
When the prediction failed to transpire, he backtracked on his $1 million claim but maintained that bitcoin will continue to gain value. He then began criticizing Bitcoin, claiming it has zero privacy and calling the technology “ancient” and “arcane.” He leaned in favor of smart contracts and altcoins (digital currencies other than Bitcoin), particularly stablecoins and privacy coins.
Crypto-related companies and projects
McAfee started as Chairman and CEO of MGT Capital Investments, a technology holding company, in May 2016. He changed the company’s focus from social gaming to cybersecurity and bitcoin mining. He left the company two years later to focus full-time on cryptocurrency.
McAfee partnered with Bitfi, a cryptocurrency hardware wallet marketed as “unhackable,” and offered $250k to anyone who could hack the wallet. The wallet was compromised multiple times, leading Bitfi to reverse its claim. McAfee disputed the hack on the grounds that no coins were taken but admitted that the wallet should not have been branded as unhackable.
McAfee also announced the launch of a VISA-branded bitcoin debit card that could be loaded with bitcoin and used anywhere, but the card never came to fruition.
McAfee launched the beta version of his decentralized exchange, McAfeeDEX, in October 2019. The exchange was built on the Ethereum blockchain and claimed it could trade any ERC-20 tokens, for free, with anonymity.
A few months later, he tweeted that he was working on a new privacy coin called Ghost. Using the Proof of Stake mechanism, the coin could be traded with other cryptocurrencies via atomic swaps on McAfeeDex. In summer 2020, McAfee announced that he abandoned the Ghost project, citing disappointment with the project’s management team.
McAfee faced multiple criminal charges related to his crypto dealings in recent years. In October 2020, he was accused of promoting ICO (initial coin offering) investments without disclosing that he was paid to do so.
In a separate case, McAfee and his bodyguard were charged with securities fraud in an alleged “pump and dump” crypto scheme. The indictment accused McAfee of buying large amounts of altcoins using bitcoin and promoting the coins to his large Twitter following. He would then sell the coins after driving up their price.
Both charges were dropped upon his death.
Authorities arrested McAfee in Spain in October 2020 at the request of the US Justice Department on separate charges of tax evasion. Authorities allege that he earned millions of dollars through various business ventures from 2014 to 2018 and failed to file a tax return.
In June 2021, the Spanish courts approved McAfee’s extradition to the United States. It is suspected that McAfee committed suicide in his jail cell a few hours after learning the news of his extradition.
John McAfee essentials
- John McAfee, famous for creating the McAfee Antivirus software, was an outspoken advocate of cryptocurrencies and an eccentric character in the crypto ecosystem.
- McAfee founded and advised a variety of crypto business ventures with varying degrees of success.
- He faced multiple legal issues in recent years, including a crypto pump-and-dump scheme and tax evasion.