John McAfee has rants in his pants.
The former head of the McAfee Associates anti-virus software company has since moved on to other things and is keeping busy. He is the “chief evangelist” for a startup tech security company called Everykey as well as founder of a security and privacy company called Future Tense Central. And, oh yes, he’s running for president, too.
A few years removed from his exploits of putting on a unique disguise and evading authorities in Belize who wanted to question him about the murder of his neighbor, McAfee is probably more well-known now than he has ever been.
When he gets rolling on a subject, he can go off like a bullet train with faulty brakes. Fearmongering or reality? I’ll let you decide. I recently spoke with McAfee via Skype on a variety of subjects, and here are a few edited excerpts from our talk:
On whether he regrets naming his first company McAfee Associates:
McAfee: Every time I get sued, yes. I would recommend any successful entrepreneur never name a company after himself, because anytime someone comes on your property and trips and falls, their lawyer’s going to say, ‘Wait a minute, that’s John McAfee of the McAfee AntiVirus. Let’s sue him for $100,000.’ I have been sued over 200 times in 22 years.
On why he invested in Everykey:
McAfee: I love this product because it’s the product I’ve been needing for a long time. Obviously, since I’m very heavily into security, I use a different password for everything I log into. … Every single week I forget one and have to reset it, which is a time-consuming process. This little key allows me never to have to remember another password. It unlocks my car, it unlocks my house. When I walk away from my cellphone, my cellphone locks down. … And if I lose it or if it’s stolen, I call the company, they shut it down, then I go back to my list of passwords until I get a new key.
On what happens if someone steals or finds your Everykey:
McAfee: Let’s analyze that. Let’s assume you did lose it. Let’s say you’re in Macy’s and you’re trying on clothes and you lose it. Someone picks it up. How are they going to identify that little device with you, and where you live, and where your phone is [and] where your laptop is? Yes, indeed, that’s a risk, but it’s an extraordinarily small risk. … If you think passwords are safer, you are absolutely wrong.
On what companies can do to improve cybersecurity:
McAfee: The problem is the mobile device you use to call home, your office, whatever. That is the most ubiquitous spy device ever created. Why? Because it is designed specifically, whether you’re using iOS or Android or what have you, it is specifically designed to collect information about you because information is the commodity of exchange in this world. It’s not money anymore. … And if you look at the permissions that you grant the applications that you freely download and do tremendous things for you at no cost — my mom and dad told me early on, ‘Nothing in life is free.’
This is the problem: Corporations allow this mobile device, your mobile telephone, into the workplace. What madness is that? It is utterly insane. And yet, if they say you can’t do it, you’re going to find another job.
They’re [companies] are going to have to bite the bullet simultaneously so that when they say, ‘You may not bring your mobile phone into the workplace, you can’t find another job that will allow you to do so.’ I’m sorry. It sounds horrible. If corporations had any sense at all, they would give you a dumb phone, a stupid phone that cannot be hacked and say, ‘If you need to call home, use this, and if you need to access the Internet, you use one of our servers that is behind the firewall, which is protected.’
On how likely that is to happen:
McAfee: It depends on how bad it gets. Ashley Madison has disappeared as a company. A multibillion-dollar company that because of one hack destroyed the entire company. When this happens enough times, you must believe me, company stockholders are going to say, ‘I don’t care. No cellphones or all of you are fired.’ This will happen; I promise you.
On presidential aspirations:
McAfee: Listen, I’m 70 years old. If you think I want to be president, then you are wrong. I don’t have the time, and I don’t have the time to waste spending a year campaigning fruitlessly, so I’m campaigning to win. Why? Because the largest problem facing America today is not our economy, and it’s not immigration, and it’s not Social Security, neither is it health care. It is the threat of cyberwarfare that is on the horizon. What people do not understand is that cyberwarfare is going to be many times more devastating than the worst possible nuclear scenario you can ever imagine. If someone just takes down our power grid, and if you think that’s difficult, in the Ukraine, a couple of teenagers using a very antiquated piece of malware took down the Ukranian power system for half a day in the middle of the winter.
On what he would do to prevent that:
The first thing I would do about it is I would put up a booth at Def Con, and I’d say, ‘We, as the U.S. government, are hiring.’ … I say we start an Office of Digital Transformation. We staff it with 10, to 15,000 of the greatest hackers we can hire, and we’re going to have to pay them a lot of money. These people are used to making a half-million dollars a year. I’m sorry; these are the facts of life. We must figure it out.