John McAfee on his new startup and why he should be president

"We're facing a cyberwar."


Perhaps the only way John McAfee could surprise us again is by doing something as pedestrian as joining another tech company. These days, he's more known for his love of guns and drugs, not to mention fleeing Belize after getting involved in a murder case. McAfee has since settled in Lexington, Tenn., and he's diving back into the tech world with his incubator Future Tense Central.

He's also serving as the chief evangelist for the security startup Everykey, which has created a tiny dongle that can unlock just about anything in your home. I had the opportunity to chat with McAfee at the Everykey booth during CES about the startup as well as his presidential run. The result was one of the strangest conversations I've had at a tech show.

McAfee claims Everykey is more secure than passwords, since you don't have to remember anything. You just need to have the Everykey dongle near your computer, car or house door to unlock them with "military-grade" AES 128-bit encryption. When you walk away, the devices lock back down. It's not the first authentication dongle I've seen, but it's one of the first to work wirelessly and with things outside computers.

Still, even McAfee admits Everykey has an obvious security flaw: If someone steals your key, they'll immediately have access to everything you've integrated with it. While he says Everykey is working on that issue, fixing it will likely involve some sort of biometric authentication, which means the company needs to completely rethink its hardware. You can still remotely disable the dongle if you notice it's stolen, but that's not helpful if someone manages to swipe it secretly. Until Everykey gets this issue fixed, it's actually less secure than just relying on typical passwords and keys.

McAfee also announced yesterday that he's shifting his presidential run over to the Libertarian party while still maintaining his focus on cybersecurity from his initial campaign. "We're facing a cyberwar," he said. "Our power grid in America is 50 years old, it's aging. The technology, the computers that are running and rationing electricity across the country are completely open and vulnerable to a 13-year-old who wants to hack from anywhere in the world. Technology I think is the biggest problem in the American government. We lag decades behind the Chinese and Russians in weaponized software."

And to be sure, McAfee was quick to point out that having offensive cyber capabilities is an important deterrent against a would-be cyberattacker. "We have to have weaponized software," he said. "We have to have the capability to say, 'Look, if you press a button, we'll press a button.'"