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Controversial cyber tycoon John McAfee dead at 75

Founder of the eponymous cyber security firm has committed suicide in a Spanish prison

John McAfee, the high-profile and often controversial software entrepreneur behind the eponymous cyber security company, has died in an apparent suicide in a Barcelona prison at the age of 75.

His death by hanging was confirmed by the authorities late in the evening of 23 June 2021, and later by his legal team. McAfee this week learned he would be extradited to the US to face charges of cryptocurrency fraud and tax evasion, after being arrested at El Prat airport in Barcelona last October.

McAfee’s lawyer, Javier Vilalba, told Reuters that McAfee had killed himself in despair after spending nine months in prison. The tycoon told a court hearing in May that he believed that, given his advancing age, he would spend the rest of his life behind bars if returned to the US.

He claimed the US justice system wanted to make an example of him. Vilalba said McAfee’s suicide was the result of a “cruel system” that had no reason to keep him in prison for as long as it did.

McAfee’s wife, Janice, who he met while on the run, allegedly after she solicited him as a sex worker, said in a Twitter post on Sunday 20 June that the US authorities were determined to have her husband die in prison, and that due to his vilification in the media, he stood no chance of a fair trial in the US.

McAfee’s own previous statements and tweets referencing the death in prison of billionaire paedophile Jeffrey Epstein also hinted that he believed he might be killed in mysterious circumstances. As a result, his death has already attracted the attention of followers of the baseless and dangerous QAnon conspiracy theory. All the evidence in his death points to suicide, the Catalan authorities said.

Gloucestershire-born McAfee rose to prominence in the late 1980s and early 1990s when he founded McAfee Associates as one of the first commercial antivirus companies – having previously worked in software development and systems architecture at several firms, including Xerox and Univac.

In the 1990s, along with other early cyber firms such as Norton and Symantec, McAfee’s software was frequently found bundled with new consumer PCs, and it has been said that through his work, he did much to cement the reputation of the nascent security sector as trading on fear, uncertainty and doubt, and aggressive marketing practices, an image that persists to some degree to this day.

But McAfee himself shied away from the product family he created, telling the BBC in a 2013 interview that he never used his own software.

After stepping back from his company in 1994 – the firm has subsequently distanced itself from its founder – McAfee became better known for his tumultuous personal life and often erratic behaviour, which frequently landed him in legal trouble, most famously following the 2012 murder in Belize of his neighbour, US expat Gregory Faull.

McAfee fled Belize after the authorities said they wanted to question him over Faull’s death, and was arrested in Guatemala after a Vice journalist he was travelling with uploaded a photo of him with geolocation data still attached.

McAfee was also known for two outside runs for the US presidency as an avowed libertarian and his promotion of various schemes and technologies, including herbal antibiotics and, latterly, cryptocurrencies.

He remained adjacent to cyber security, taking pot-shots at McAfee itself, and had recently become an advocate for the use of blockchain technology in cyber security.

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