John McAfee says he infected laptops with malware, spied and stole passwords from Belize officials

Filed Under: Celebrities, Featured, Law & order, Malware, Privacy

John McAfeeTwenty years ago, John McAfee ran an anti-virus company.

He's not had anything to do with the company that bears his name (and was subsequently acquired by Intel) since the early 1990s, but that doesn't mean that his involvement with malware has come to an end.

Many people have been following the bizarre story of John McAfee, who has been on the run from the Belize police since mid-November, had his location leaked to the world in a photo's EXIF meta-data, and was hastily deported from his Guatemala hide-out to the United States.

Throughout his escapades, John McAfee has been keeping the internet entertained and informed of his swashbuckling exploits via his blog.

Most recently, John McAfee claims that he gave Belize officials cheap laptops that had been deliberately pre-infected with keylogging spyware.

Laptops that John McAfee claims he gave officials in Belize

I purchased 75 cheap laptop computers and, with trusted help, installed invisible keystroke logging software on all of them - the keind that calls home (to me) and disgorges the text files. It also, on command, turns on and off, the microphone and camera - and sends these files on command.

I had the computers re-packaged as if new. I began giving these away as presents to select people - government employees, police officers, Cabinet Minister's assistants, girlfriends of powerful men, boyfriends of powerful women.

I hired four trusted people full time to monitor the text files and provide myself with the subsequent passwords for everyone's email, Facebook, private message boards and other passworded accounts. The keystroke monitoring continued after the password collection, in order to document text input and would later be deleted. So nothing was missed...

67-year-old McAfee goes on to claim that he also hired 23 women and six men as operatives to seduce and spy upon his intended targets.

These men and women were given simple training on how to access and load software on someone's computer while they slept, or ate or made long phone calls etc.

It's dead simple if you're sleeping with someone - "Hey Babe, can I borrow your computer to check my email?" - A little more complex if you're not - but not much.

According to his blog post, the anti-virus veteran ended up living with eight of the female honeytraps, and was nearly killed by one who turned out to be a double agent.

John McAfee's spying didn't stop there, however. According to his blog post he also infiltrated two local phone companies, and paid workers to tap phones and provide lists of who his targets were in contact with.

Is John McAfee telling the truth? Or spinning a fanciful tale for his own entertainment? There is no way, of course, for us to verify John McAfee's colourful story - which goes on to claim that there is an international terrorist conspiracy run from Belize.

But if elements of this story are true (such as the deliberate spreading of keylogging malware and the snooping on sensitive passwords) that is unlikely to be popular with the-powers-that-be in Belize.

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21 Responses to John McAfee says he infected laptops with malware, spied and stole passwords from Belize officials

  1. RykE · 662 days ago

    An easy enough claim for the Belize officials to validate. Find one of these computers, preferably one which had yet to be used, and search for the malware.

  2. Alan · 662 days ago

    So shall I be the irst to ask what anti-virus software the government officials in Belize are using? :-)

    • Robert · 662 days ago

      Definitely not McAfee.

    • Last time I was in Belize there was only dial-up and you had to look real hard to find it. It is an interesting country and what he claims is not out of the question however I doubt it is true.

      Why would he do this stuff? I really have no idea but...

      Belize is corrupt. The government of Belize is essentially the Mob. It is a pirate state that makes its money from tourism and looking the other way when drug traffickers move through. If you have a business in Belize you must budget for bribes. Bribes will get you a monopoly. No bribes will get you run out of the country when somebody who does the same thing as you shows up and is willing to pay the police.

      If the government knows you have money they are going to try to find a way to get it. The police won't help you. The courts won't help you. They are in on it. I suspect McAfee planned on putting someone in his pocket in power or possibly blackmailing those currently in the government.

  3. Pam Miller · 662 days ago

    I just got through reading the article and "interview" in WIRED magazine and this mess flies in the face of everything McAfee says in that article.

    He exemplifies the old adage "educated fool".

  4. If he had been on top of it then he wouldn't have been on the run from the Belize police! He's trying to give himself leverage is all.

  5. TonyG · 662 days ago

    Anyone asked the question why was he doing this? It is a lot of money to be spending. So it is either a fanciful tale or else someone was paying him to do this.

    Trouble is that many tales that sound too bizarre to be true often end up actually being correct.

    • KeithJ · 662 days ago

      That was what I was asking throughout the whole article. Surprised that they didn't even examine that even if they don't have an answer to it. The things that passes for journalism today!

  6. Mano · 662 days ago

    If there is no gain in gathering intel then the purpose to establish such an elaborate network is pointless. No one has fallen or trembling in fear of any leaked secrets due to his claimed activity. It simply does not exist. All I see is just a sad old man in his dying years hoping for some idiots to make a movie to create him a legacy.

  7. osearth · 662 days ago

    seems legit

  8. blah · 662 days ago

    Another drug induced fantasy.

    He must really not want his money back.

  9. Randy · 662 days ago

    That's a lot of expensive trouble to go through and not get anything in return. If he just sits on the data it is worthless. If the data itself is worthless then he is no better off. Perhaps Mr. McAfee should become a novelist and put his imagination to more profitable use.

    • Heetel64 · 661 days ago

      Think Julian Assange and then think knowledge is power.
      If this story is somehow true then his understanding of the systems of protection would mean that he like any good software creator would as a rule have an undetectable back door. MAYBE.

  10. mrG · 662 days ago

    if it were true, it would be doubly dumb to publish the exploits on the internet, no?

  11. Chris · 662 days ago

    His life is like an episode of Burn Notice hahaha

  12. Sootie · 662 days ago

    As was mentioned by someone on reddit this looks like McAfee is battling with a drug addiction and can no longer seperate reality from fantisy

  13. Anyone running a sweep for when Intel will say thats it the McAfee name is sullied enough due to the exploits of a nutter, lets rebadge it as Intel Security or some such?

  14. Rob · 661 days ago

    If you're planning to get away with murder by claiming diminished responsibility, I'm guessing this is the best way to substantiate your claims. Either the man is comically mad or it's his attempt to appear so.

  15. gregbacon · 661 days ago

    My PC runs on McAfee AV and lately, I've been noti....*&67 **t998i (**(&0-00ty6 HEY, what happene)_)_ iop[n((N()))nm'lom'lomklmLOLP:P<HELP LPOJHP:OUOFLV> *&R............................................

  16. Robby · 646 days ago

    If one installs key logging software on a laptop he owns, and then later gives that laptop to someone, is that still hacking? It's spying, for sure, but I'm not sure it's "hacking."

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About the author

Graham Cluley runs his own award-winning computer security blog, and is a veteran of the anti-virus industry having worked for a number of security companies since the early 1990s. Now an independent security analyst, he regularly makes media appearances and gives computer security presentations. Send Graham an email, subscribe to his updates on Facebook, follow him on Twitter and App.net, and circle him on Google Plus for regular updates.