In a recent discussion of the BitFi wallet, John McAfee seemed to indicate the controversy around the wallet he had deemed "unhackable" was really just a clever bit of salesmanship on his part. "Controversy sells. My job is to market this thing. How better to market it than to create a controversy?" he said.
The $250,000 bounty never delivered, the abuse heaped on hackers that criticized the phone, gained root access, and successfully installed software – this was all intentional, and also just the most recent phase in McAfee's evolution from software inventor to unlikely pitch man.
When he spoke to ETHNews last week, McAfee no longer seemed convinced of the wisdom of calling the device "unhackable," but his salesmanship hadn't flagged. The man who admittedly tweets about ICOs for a fee, showed up with plenty of products to sell. Chief among those was the man himself.
Below is our conversation, lightly edited for clarity:
ETHNews: In the email I received from you, you mentioned, or rather Jimmy [Watson, CEO of Team McAfee] mentioned, that there was some new announcement, something going on that you wanted to talk about.
John McAfee: I'm not sure what that was now, but it could have been any number of things. It may have been that we're coming out with our own market cap program, the McAfee Market Cap. Or it could be the fact that we're coming out with our own decentralized exchange. We've been trying to get a decentralized exchange together for months. It is, I think, a little bit more time consuming and difficult than people are aware. But anyway, we're coming out with our own exchange. As you are well aware, I'm a very vocal opponent of the actions and attitudes of most crypto exchanges today. So rather than continue to bitch about it, I thought we'll do our own. So that's coming out in a month, as well as our market cap program.
ETHNews: The McAfee Market Cap was up for a while, and I checked a couple days ago and now it's not up.
JM: We've taken it down. We are rewriting the whole thing. The problem is, when I tweet about it, everything crashes. We crashed Binance one time by recommending a coin on Binance. You know our followers are so rabid that it's really hard to keep up with the volume of traffic that we steer. So, in any case, we are completely rewriting it, and we've moved to the Amazon cloud. So, hopefully, we should be bringing it back up in about three weeks.
ETHNews: I was reading about this Cloak Phone…
JM: We also have the Cloak Phone. That's not coming out until next year. But we do have a prototype. And the Cloak Phone is certainly one of the most private phones that are available anywhere.
ETHNews: I noticed in one of your tweets, it said it was "based on your original design." I was wondering, how closely based? And when did you originally design this?
JM: I designed it while I was at MGT – MGT is the security company – and we designed a number of products. The Cloak Phone was one. And it's based on the concept of air-gapped switches, rather than software-controlled switches, for things like power on, power off, turn on the camera, turn off the camera. So on and so forth. So the problem is software-controlled switches can be hacked by hackers. And you can, like you can, say, turn off the microphone, turn off the camera, but they are not actually off if a hacker has control. Whereas with air-gapped switches, it's impossible. Once you switch it on, it's not going to turn off until you switch it off. So that's the fundamental premise. We've also added things like stingray detection. You know what a stingray is, yes?
ETHNews: No, actually, I don't.
JM: Stingrays are these devices law enforcement, the FBI, and local law enforcement have. They're false cell towers. They pretend to be a cell tower. And because of that when you connect up to them they can monitor your calls, they can take control of your phone. They're very wicked devices, and they're everywhere. You can also buy them on the dark web now for a small amount of money and build them yourself. So hackers have them. They're very dangerous devices and there's nothing that protects against them, so we're including detection of these devices into the Cloak Phone. So there are a number of security features available that are simply not available anywhere else.
ETHNews: You've commented on this so much, I don't know if you're going to have anything additional to say, but I did want to ask about the BitFi Wallet. I was curious about your actual involvement in it. I saw this…
JM: I'm seriously involved in it. The BitFi Wallet, maybe calling it unhackable was unwise. Nevertheless, if you define hacking as getting in and taking out the coins, no, it can't be done. We've offered to load up the devices with coins and send them out to hackers and let them try to get the coins. If they can get the coins, we'll give them a quarter of a million dollars. No one has gotten the coins because it's simply not possible. So, the coins that are stored on the wallet are secure. Now people have said, "Well I hacked it and got root access." I go, "Well, good. Did you get the coins? No? Okay." So hackers are very detail oriented. I'm defining hacking as taking the coins. Why would you hack a wallet other than to get the coins? And users are concerned with, "Can hackers get my coins?" No. That's the answer.
ETHNews: I saw this video with you, a cyber security expert, and a couple other people, and you referred to your job as to "market" the wallet, so I'm curious if you were involved in the design or any early stages of it, or you are really just marketing it.
JM: Well you know, everything I do is marketing. But I am also one of the premier technologists of this world. If you doubt that, I was the original designer and programmer of all the McAffee antivirus software. My technological prowess, I think, is unmatched. But I define my work as marketing. I think marketing is way more important than technology. Because what is marketing? Marketing is making sure that innovation actually sees the light of day. So much innovation does not because there's no marketing. Or the marketing is imperfect. You know if I market something, it sees the light of day.
ETHNews: I wanted to ask about the presidential run. You said you were going to do that again. I got the impression from some of your comments that the idea was to run for president as a way to somehow serve the cryptocurrency community.
JM: Absolutely. I don't think presidents do anything to change our country. I think the process of choosing our president is what changes this country. Because for an entire year, the populace gets to listen to the various perspectives on our society and on our culture, our economy and our politics. And get to see and hear things that they may not have imagined our considered. So this is what changes America. The year of arguments. The year of debate. The year of people putting forth their own opinions. Once the president becomes the president, he's just part of the system. Maybe Obamacare will be reversed, and the next Democratic president will bring it back. It's all nonsense. But the act of finding and creating the president – that's what changes America. So I want to be involved in that.
ETHNews: What exactly do you think is the relationship between politics and cryptocurrency?
JM: It's a huge relationship. Because what is politics? Politics is the machinations of power within the government. Here's one example. The SEC, the Securities and Exchange Commission, which has been a thorn in the side of every ICO. They have no business being in cryptocurrency. They're just afraid of losing power. They're afraid crypto will become a new power and they will play no part in that. So of course politics plays a huge role. Even the private banks. Do you think the private banks are not related somehow to the Fed? To the government? Of course they are. And when you hear Jamie Dimon of Morgan Stanley – not Morgan Stanley, but, um… JP Morgan. When he says bitcoin is a fraud, he's speaking out of fear. Because his bank, being the largest, will be drastically and negatively affected by crypto. Now you think that Jamie Dimon, chairman of the largest bank in America is not connected politically? Of course he is. He has enormous influence in the political sphere. Of course politics has an impact on crypto.
ETHNews: It seems like you've been doing a lot publicly, like having these debates; I believe you had another one last night. I was hoping you could tell me a little more about that, how it's been going, and what you hope to accomplish.
JM: Debating people is certainly one way of getting to the truth of matters. I had a debate today with three other – they called the others "crypto specialists." We had an hour-long debate and I feel secure that my viewpoints were well-listened to. And that I came out way ahead. These are very important things. I don't know if people are going to watch them. People have very short attention spans. And an hour-long debate – how many people are going to watch the whole thing? A few, probably.
ETHNews: Are you kind of on a tour, going around doing this?
JM: No, I'm not on a tour. I do this from home. I travel as little as possible. People just come to me. And we use Zoom or Skype or whatever. And we get together. When I do interviews, I seldom, I don't go to studios, of CNN or Fox or Turner and everybody. They send some people here with a camera and they do the interview from my house. Why? 'Cause I'm too old to be travelling around. And if you want to talk to me, come to me.
ETHNews: I wanted to hear a little more about the exchange. Could you tell me any more about that?
JM: Not at the current time. We're trying to keep this pretty much under wraps. We actually gave out the URL to a couple people who were curious, and the next thing we know there were thousands of people trying to log in to it. We're keeping it pretty much under wraps. We're not going to be like the major exchanges today that demand all kinds of paperwork and proof and will hold people's currency or fiat for months locked up. That's the reason we did this exchange to be more like the standard currency exchanges. And I will say we did partner with an existing currency exchange. Why? Because all of the back-end processing works identically. It's just a matter of different nomenclature, and different numbers. So the creation of this was far simpler than starting from scratch and it's going to be far more efficient, because these currency exchanges, foreign exchanges, the forexes, have been around for hundreds of years. So I think that was a very smart move on our part to partner with these people, because everything was already in place. So no, this is going to be nothing like the existing exchanges.