Last month the information technology world lost one of its more well-known names. John McAfee was a British-American computer programmer, businessman, and, in the 1980s, was the creator of the first commercial antivirus software.
McAfee was a programmer for NASA, working on the Apollo moon program from 1968 to 1970. He also worked for several software companies, including Univac, Xerox, Booz Allen Hamilton (the company that later employed Edward Snowden), and Lockheed Corporation. In 1987, he founded McAfee Associates Inc. to market the first antivirus software product. It was in that capacity that John McAfee had a brief connection to San Miguel de Allende.
In the spring of 1992, a computer virus was written by an 18-year-old hacker from San Diego, California. I had remembered the date as being later, but Wikipedia says 1992. Allegedly it was created at the behest of parties who wanted to interfere with the Mexican elections by infecting the Mexican Federal Electoral Institute (IFE) computers with a virus. That may or may not be true, but the collateral damage is something I have firsthand knowledge about.
In that spring of 1992, the computers at the Mickler Computer Center in the Biblioteca Publica San Miguel all came crashing to a halt. I joined other volunteers, Ion, John, and Peter, in trying to solve the problem. I owned a copy of McAfee Antivirus, and when it failed to help, we decided to phone McAfee Associates, where none other than John McAfee took my call.
Mr. McAfee was very interested in our observations because some new and previously unknown virus was being reported not only in Mexico but in many other areas. Working together through a number of phone calls, uploading virus samples, and downloading a series of antivirus software updates, we successfully removed Natas. All the Biblioteca computers were now virus-free, but we volunteers just missed the opportunity to name the new virus. McAfee told me that someone else had called just before I did, so they got the honor and had chosen the name “Natas” (spell it backward).
John McAfee sold his stake in his company in 1994, reportedly for several million dollars. After that, he founded a new company that created PowWow, one of the first instant messaging programs. He was also involved with Zone Labs, makers of firewall software. In the 2000s, he was involved in several companies and invested in real estate that was impacted by the financial crisis of 2007-2008. In the last decade of his life, John McAfee was involved in several bizarre and scandalous incidents; eventually, he was jailed over financial fraud along with tax evasion charges.
In spite of his sad ending, I hope John McAfee will be remembered as a gifted software engineer who made significant contributions to the Information Technology world. For me, he will always be the one, asking for no payment, who helped rescue all the Bibliotheca’s computers from the clutches of Satan.
Charles Miller is a freelance computer consultant, a frequent visitor to San Miguel since 1981, and now practically a full-time resident. He may be contacted at 415 101 8528 or email FAQ8@SMAguru.com.