John McAfee: The hero we need, not the one we deserve

As our elected leaders show they can botch data security in new and unexpected ways, an unlikely figure steps up with sage words

John McAfee: The hero we need, not the one we deserve
Credit: Zach Dischner via Flickr

What's the name of today's up-and-coming generation? Whatever it is, we might think about changing it to the Overts or the Ultra-Gregarians or Generation Flasher. While our peers wring their hands at the infosec and personal privacy situation we’ve forced these kids to inherit, the youngsters went ahead and did what children do: Ignore the problem and pick up where they left off in GTA. However, their infosec apathy doesn't give me the creeps; I'm much more alarmed that a big chunk of my generation has set the example.

Banking data, health care data, shopping patterns, tax returns, your medically measured bunion circumference -- it’s all been stolen and put up for grabs on the ever expanding, pulp-named dark Web. Angry blog posts and magazine op-eds aside, we’ve simply become inured.

Section 215 of the Patriot Act, one of the worst offenses against citizen privacy by our own government in this country’s history, expires, yet we barely raise our collective eyebrow. Within 24 hours, it’s back on the books with little explanation other than teenage-style whining:

“Well, we didn’t know what else to do.”
“Those NSA guys wouldn’t shut up about it.”
“Debate it? But that takes so long!”

A very important date

Then we find out why our pols didn’t feel like debating: They're too busy scheduling philandering sessions ... and they need extra time to make sure it's all accurately recorded online. Behold the high-level analysis of a recent Adult FriendFinder hack:

High-ranking officials within every agency of the U.S. government, not to mention six U.S. state governors and 18 members of Congress, and countless aides to the same people, are all members of Adult FriendFinder.

According to the same article, their proclivities spanned the range of interests, but one common trait is clear: In this writer’s opinion, they all exhibited IQs well below the moron line.

Digital disconnect

How much of mental mollusk must you be to vote for legislation that will directly fund legions of online snoopers, then scuttle back to your corporate and government-owned PCs (used for the majority of AFF access, according to the analysis) to sign on and ask for help cheating on your significant other using your real name?

When you enter the rotunda as a wild-eyed, card-carrying U.S. Senator, is there a little-known law that requires you to hit yourself in the head with a brick? I can’t think of any other explanation that could excuse this level of mental oblivion. What happened to the tried and true tradition of putting a fixer on the payroll?

Pol: Go get me a girl/guy/sheep, Sal, and keep it quiet.
Fixer: You got it, boss.

Done -- and unless someone takes a blowtorch to Sal’s privates, it's reasonably anonymous. But you're asking for trouble when your personal information and a valid credit card are involved. What’s worse, only insane people seem to care.

Sure, Tim Cook recently spoke out about the evils of data mining and leaving government-sanctioned backdoors in commercial code so that our nations’ overworked snoops can go back to being lazy beer sponges, and he’s sane (mostly). But only John McAfee called out AFF specifically, and let’s face it, John’s brain offers a panorama more inscrutable than a Japanese game show.

John McAfee, voice of reason?

McAfee discussed AFF during a  keynote he remotely delivered to a London audience of infosec professionals earlier this week. It probably would have garnered more attention if he hadn’t looked like Captain Jack Sparrow on his first day of rehab. Also, his left hand was buried in his pants pocket, probably not jiggling his car keys (totally true).

Given my history, you’d think that wouldn’t have fazed me, but I didn’t hang with John even back in the day. And call me old fashioned, but I think you save your happy endings for occasions other than public speaking engagements. However, out of the mouths of nutbars ...

McAfee preached against government-enforced snooping, but he called out AFF as the most dangerous example of privacy loss in recent months, far worse than financial breaches because it opened up a big chunk of our ruling class to blackmail. John’s not upset that our pols are cheating on their spouses; given his track record, he can’t be. He’s upset that a veil has been lifted and the goods behind it are now available to the highest bidder.

Is that why we no longer care? The leather-thonged, ball-gagged rabbits are out of the hat, so why continue to make a fuss? In John’s words: "Privacy creates a barrier through which conflict is stifled."

It's ugly, worrisome, and sadly true, at least for many people from John’s generation and mine. Maybe the next generation is right to ignore the problem. Stride into the digital landscape, broad shouldered and apple cheeked, and let your freak flag fly. That’d be a brave new world, but it’ll take a long time before a Cold War codger like me can get his head around it.

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