January 09, 2013, 2:51 PM —
REUTERS/Jorge Dan Lopez
Antivirus pioneer John McAfee spins tales of a Hezbollah plot to smuggle toxic powder into the U.S. that he uncovered when he spied on Belize officials in hopes of getting dirt on them in retaliation for their raiding his island home there, shooting his dog and stealing his stuff.
He rolls out his complex, disjointed narrative via his blog (he says he wrote partially while on the run from Belize police and military) and also through interviews he grants to sometimes gullible journalists -- and it's questionable how much of it is true and how much he just makes up.
MORE BACKGROUND: McAfee in a Guatemalan jail cell, still 'blogging'
Regardless, he purports to have spied on Belize police, politicians and power brokers as a way to get back at them for what he says they did to him.
For an operation designed by an antivirus pioneer, by his own description he employed only the most rudimentary of technical skills and relied heavily on socially manipulating his victims to gather intelligence, according to a top security consultant.
"It's standard stuff," says John Pironti, president of IP Architects, and leader of the security track at Interop. "Most of what he did was social engineering."
While there is only McAfee's word that he carried out anything, what he describes is a scheme in which he passed out 75 laptops tainted with key loggers and remote control capabilities to officials he wanted to spy on. The devices called home with lists of user names and passwords they harvested, and he turned on the cameras and microphones on some of the machines in hopes of learning more.
He supplemented that with what McAfee calls the pillow talk of his targets as told to the operatives he assigned to cozy up to them.
Yet for all the technical skills that he possessed as founder of the security company that still bears his name -- he left it in 1994 -- McAfee relied on personal deception and freeware to gather most of what he found out.