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John McAfee and the Future Tense of Security

By November 9, 2015Article

Sometimes you need to look back in order to look ahead. Consider John McAfee, iconic founder of the antivirus industry and his namesake McAfee Associates, which was a hugely successful Silicon Valley company started in the late 1980s, went public in 1992 and ultimately was sold to Intel for $7.6 billion in 2010. 

McAfee started the firm at a kitchen table in his one-bedroom home in Santa Clara, Calif. By day, he worked as an engineer at Lockheed Martin; by night, he ran a BBS (bulletin-board-system), which he used to chat and joke with others during the early online era. 

When McAfee learned of the first PC virus – called “Brain” – which infected MS-DOS machines, he quickly developed the first antivirus program, VirusScan, and posted it on his BBS. 

As Brain went viral, so did VirusScan, and 500,000+ people quickly downloaded the antivirus app from McAfee’s BBS. McAfee Associates gave its software away to individuals for free, creating a huge and loyal community. The money came from corporations that purchased enterprise licenses to run the antivirus program on all their PCs, get updates for protection against new viruses and have access to tech support. 

McAfee Associates was a cash cow. The VCs came in and helped take it public. McAfee cashed out and moved on in 1994. 

John McAfee’s newest security company, Future Tense Central, may be a future success story for the serial entrepreneur. 

According to McAfee, the biggest cyber threats we face today are on our smartphones and mobile devices. In a sit-down meeting, he whipped out his own phone and read the terms of service aloud. Those terms are the electronic fine print that most of us never bother to read. The app installer on his phone states that it has the rights to view and use all of the user’s contacts and can even make phone calls to the personal contacts stored on the phone. 

Future Tense Central offers a suite of security apps that help people take back control over their information and privacy. One of its apps will read through all of the terms of service from multiple apps for you and bring those potential security breaches and violations of personal privacy to your attention. 

The personal privacy space is a young market and McAfee is ready for the tipping point. He says this space is similar to the early antivirus market. It will explode when a high-profile exploit – for instance, a smartphone that takes pictures of unsuspecting people in the nude and posts them to a website – hits, and word of it gets spread by the media. 

Keep an eye on McAfee’s new company. It looks like a future mobile security and privacy market leader. 

Steve Morgan is founder and CEO at Cybersecurity Ventures and editor-in-chief of the Cybersecurity Market Report and the Cybersecurity 500 list of the world’s hottest and most innovative cybersecurity companies. Follow Steve on Twitter or connect with him on LinkedIn.