John McAfee (1945-2021) Launched Security Software in Response to "Pakistani Brain" Virus

Security software pioneer John McAfee was found dead in his jail cell in Spain today. He was 75 years old. He started McAfee Associates in 1987 in his small house in Silicon Valley, in response to the news of a Pakistani computer virus called Pakistani Brain, thought to be the first to infect personal computers. Miko Hypponen, a top software expert, believes that "they (Pakistani brothers Amjad and Basit Alvi) never meant to destroy any data or cause any harm for anyone". He was fighting extradition to the United States from Spain to face federal charges of tax evasion. The US Justice Department indictment alleged that McAfee used cryptocurrency transactions to hide his earnings. 

John McAfee (1945-2021)


Pakistani Brothers: 

The year was 1986. Most personal computers used floppy disks to boot and to move files from one computer to another. Floppy disk was also the medium used by Amjad and Basit Alvi, two Pakistani brothers living in Lahore, to create and spread history's first known PC virus called "The Brain".  Here's how Mikko Hypponen, a software security expert, described it in 2014 at DEF CON, world's largest hackers convention held in Las Vegas:


Creators of First PC Virus: Amjad Farooq and Basit Farooq Alvi



"It's surprisingly advanced, and it has surprising features, including a capability of hiding itself. So when your PC is infected by Brain, and you go and look at your floppies, you will not see Brain on the floppies. It's watching you watching it, and if you try to look at the copy of Brain, it fools you and gives you a clean image of a floppy instead. And we would call this a stealth virus, at the time....
These guys weren't evil at all. They weren't evil even then, 25 years ago, when they wrote the first PC virus. Their intention was never to cause harm to anybody, and they didn't, of course, realize that they made history when they wrote the first PC virus. But Brain was the only virus they ever wrote and they never meant to destroy any data or cause any harm for anyone".  

The Brain, also known as The Pakistani Brain, is the virus that challenged John McAfee to develop anti-virus software. Later, John McAfee launched his company that was acquired in 2010 by Intel for $7.7 billion, then sold its majority stake to an investment firm six years later. McAfee is just one of several security software companies inspired by the Pakistani Brain virus. Security software market size is estimated at nearly $180 billion in 2021. 

Pakistani Software Entrepreneurs: 

There are several well-known Pakistani entrepreneurs in the security software industry. Among them is Ashar Aziz who founded Fire-eye. Massive cyberattack that recently targeted US government agencies and private companies, labeled the 'SolarWinds hack', was first discovered by US cybersecurity company FireEye, founded by a well-recognized Pakistani-American cybersecurity expert Ashar Aziz. Karachi-born Ashar served as the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Fireeye from 2004 to 2012.  Ashar became the first Pakistani-American tech billionaire when the company stock soared after its initial public offering (IPO) in 2013. His net worth was last estimated at $268 million in 2015

Ashar Aziz

Solar Winds Hack:

Solarwinds is a cybersecurity toolset used by multiple US government agencies to detect and stop cyberattacks. It is alleged by American government agencies that some Russian-sponsored hackers managed to compromise Solarwinds software by adding malware to updates distributed by the company to its customers. It only came to light when the perpetrators attempted to break into the cybersecurity firm FireEye, which first disclosed a breach on December 9.  Here's how Fireeye describes it:

"FireEye has uncovered a widespread campaign, that we are tracking as UNC2452. The actors behind this campaign gained access to numerous public and private organizations around the world. They gained access to victims via trojanized updates to SolarWind’s Orion IT monitoring and management software. This campaign may have begun as early as Spring 2020 and is currently ongoing. Post compromise activity following this supply chain compromise has included lateral movement and data theft. The campaign is the work of a highly skilled actor and the operation was conducted with significant operational security". 

Summary:

Security software pioneer John McAfee was found dead in his jail cell in Spain today. He was facing tax evasion charges in the United States. He started McAfee Associates in 1987 in his small house in Silicon Valley, in response to the news of a Pakistani computer virus called Pakistani Brain, thought to be the first to infect personal computers.  "The Brain" was the first computer virus that infected large numbers of computers worldwide. It was developed by Amjad and Basit Alvi, two Pakistani brothers in Lahore, Pakistan.  Miko Hypponen, a top software expert, believes that "they (Pakistani brothers) never meant to destroy any data or cause any harm for anyone".



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