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Truth About Computer Security Hysteria

The return of John McAfee

Rob Rosenberger, Vmyths co-founder
Monday, 9 October 2000 JOHN MCAFEE PURCHASED his way back into the computer security world. As Qui-Gon Jinn once said, "the situation has become more complicated."
Few users these days know about John McAfee's legendary exploits. The world needs a "McAfee 101" history course.
No, forget Star Wars. It feels more like Halloween II. I knew McAfee's ego would force him to return someday. You could see it in his eyes during his interview in the "Nerds 2.0.1" documentary. He did not like getting kicked out of the antivirus industry. Few users these days know about John McAfee's legendary exploits. Let me tell you something — he turned his name into a household word in the early days of viruses. McAfee held two undeniable advantages over his competitors:
  1. he marketed the first virus scanner for the PC; and
  2. he viewed ethics as an obstacle to success.
Indeed, Vmyths.com exists because of John McAfee. (I love irony.) I started investigating virus myths & hoaxes in 1988 as a direct result of his antics. Crypt editor and Vmyths.com columnist George C. Smith credits McAfee's crucial role in 1992's Michelangelo media fiasco as a catalyst for his newsletter. Smith later wrote The Virus Creation Labs, a book which exposes the Byzantine world of computer viruses and antivirus companies. He devoted an entire chapter to the Michelangelo fiasco and McAfee's role in it. Smith & I later went on to co-host the John McAfee Awards for Computer Virus Hysteria. Every security manager on Earth should take a "McAfee 101" history course. Start by reading Josh Quittner's definitive exposÚ. Follow it with excerpts from a book by Pam Kane, then study Robert Slade's review of McAfee's own book. Wrap it up with a timeline of the Michelangelo media fiasco. McAfee's career self-destructed on 6áMarchá1992 when Michelangelo failed to destroy the world. I mean it — his atomic PR machine crashed on live TV. You should've seen him try to explain the non-event to a bewildered Bryant Gumbel! What a mess. McAfee Associates Inc. demoted their founder to the role of CTO and eventually forced him out altogether.[1] McAfee bailed out of the antivirus industry with a massive golden parachute. Rumors place his buyout at or near $100ámillion, but I believe he walked away with {ahem} "only" $50 million. (I strongly suspect McAfee started those nine-figure rumors.) I predicted his ego would send him on the lecture tour — as a "newly independent" virus expert "freed from the grind of trying to market a product." McAfee thankfully proved me wrong. Some loyalists followed their charismatic leader to Colorado where they now produce Internet chat software. McAfee tried to leverage his name recognition to help his new company, but at least he stayed out of the computer security world.
Eight years have passed since the Michelangelo fiasco. You've got a bruised ego and, oh, say $15ámillion in discretionary income. If Travolta can revive a dead acting career, why can't you revive a dead cyber career?
Until now. Put yourself in John McAfee's shoes for a moment. Eight years have passed since the Michelangelo fiasco. You've got a bruised ego and, oh, say $15ámillion in discretionary income. You crave the good ol' days when reporters genuflected before every interview. If Travolta can revive a dead acting career, why can't you revive a dead cyber career? Along comes a promising company like Zone Labs. Its founders want to tap into some venture capital, just like you did in the early days. Only now you're the VC and they're the entrepreneur! So you buy a seat on the board of directors — and you turn their PR machine into your personal applause sign:
Zone Labs Inc. ... announced today that it has received investments from EastWest VentureGroup and Intel Capital, plus an investment from John McAfee, founder of McAfee Associates. Until now, the company has been privately funded by its founders. "Zone Labs has the technology and business model to revolutionize the security market," commented John McAfee, founder of the groundbreaking security company, McAfee Associates. "The robust, patented technology developed by Zone Labs and the company's innovative approach to the market represent the most exciting developments in the security market since McAfee Associates — now Network Associates — introduced McAfee Anti-Virus." In addition to providing a strategic investment in Zone Labs, Mr. McAfee is joining the Zone Labs Board of Directors... "With the support of security luminary John McAfee, Zone Labs is poised to expand our role in Internet security to encompass a wider spectrum of customers, from SOHO to the enterprise," said Zone Labs founder and President, Gregor Freund.
"Security luminary." Do tell. I'll bet Network Associates president Peter Watkins choked on his donut when he read this press release.