Libertarian presidential candidate and anti-virus company founder John McAfee doled out some harsh words for the state of our government alongside an offer to solve at least one of its current issues.
It has finally come to this. After years of arguments by virtually every industry specialist that back doors will be a bigger boon to hackers and to our nation’s enemies than publishing our nuclear codes and giving the keys to all of our military weapons to the Russians and the Chinese, our government has chosen, once again, not to listen to the minds that have created the glue that holds this world together.
With these words, McAfee launched a tirade against the U.S. government’s “ancient cybersecurity and cyberdefense systems” and the methods it is employing in their use. He marked this as “the end of the US as a world power” and likened Hillary Clinton’s proposed security negotiations with China to Poland “sweetly” asking Hitler not to invade.
McAfee, alongside “virtually every industry specialist,” believes that creating a backdoor accessible by a government-owned skeleton key is a recipe for disaster. He sees it as a worse breach of security than freely handing out our nuclear launch codes. In the Business Insider op-ed, he claims that creating a deliberate gap in our cybersecurity will leave us with nothing more than “harsh words” and a hope that our enemies “take pity at our unarmed condition and treat us fairly.”
McAfee’s rallying cry echoes the sentiments of Apple’s Tim Cook, who made similar points — albeit with more restraint. In an open letter addressed to Apple’s customer base, Cook described why he believes that “compromising the security of our personal information can ultimately put our personal safety at risk.” He professed “great respect” for the FBI, and believes that “their intentions are good.” Still, he finds the government’s implications that the tool will be used exclusively in cases like the aftermath of the San Bernadino attacks just a bit hollow:
The government suggests this tool could only be used once, on one phone. But that’s simply not true. Once created, the technique could be used over and over again, on any number of devices. In the physical world, it would be the equivalent of a master key, capable of opening hundreds of millions of locks — from restaurants and banks to stores and homes. No reasonable person would find that acceptable.
The government is asking Apple to hack our own users and undermine decades of security advancements that protect our customers — including tens of millions of American citizens — from sophisticated hackers and cybercriminals. The same engineers who built strong encryption into the iPhone to protect our users would, ironically, be ordered to weaken those protections and make our users less safe.
That’s precisely why John McAfee believes that “if the government succeeds in getting this back door, it will eventually get a back door into all encryption, and our world, as we know it, is over.” Like Cook, he contends that regardless of the alleged intentions of our government’s agencies, there is quite simply “no way to guarantee such control” over the security of our personal information, once exposed.
So McAfee has offered to solve the problem itself. How? By employing the skills of the “best hackers on the planet.” He’s more than a little confident of their abilities, with all due respect given to Tim Cook and Apple:
These hackers attend Defcon in Las Vegas, and they are legends in their local hacking groups, such as HackMiami. They are all prodigies, with talents that defy normal human comprehension. About 75% are social engineers. The remainder are hardcore coders. I would eat my shoe on the Neil Cavuto show if we could not break the encryption on the San Bernardino phone. This is a pure and simple fact.
He claims that the federal government could never break the encryption on their own and must beg for a backdoor simply because of the resources at their disposal. They won’t “hire anyone with a 24-inch purple mohawk, 10-gauge ear piercings, and a tattooed face who demands to smoke weed while working and won’t work for less than a half-million dollars a year.” He claims the government’s unwillingness to work with these nonconformist “prodigies” is why he believes that the United States has fallen “decades behind in the cyber race.”
His challenge to the nation’s leaders is clear, and his offer could not be more blunt:
So here is my offer to the FBI. I will, free of charge, decrypt the information on the San Bernardino phone, with my team. We will primarily use social engineering, and it will take us three weeks. If you accept my offer, then you will not need to ask Apple to place a back door in its product, which will be the beginning of the end of America.
McAfee’s solidarity with Tim Cook, who has called the demand to create a government back door an “unprecedented use of the All Writs Act of 1789 to justify an expansion of its authority,” comes with a solution that leaves our rights intact, but would force the government to eat more than a bit of crow alongside a thick slice of humble pie.
The chances of our nation’s leaders accepting McAfee’s offer are slim. It would rob them of their best sales pitch for permanent access to the entire nation’s personal information and would require a tacit acceptance of the truth in the candidate’s claims.
McAfee is undoubtedly posturing for his candidacy, but he’s also offering a solution that Obama’s entire administration has failed to address that wouldn’t leave Apple and its countless millions of users with their back doors swung wide.
Follow Nate Church @Get2Church on Twitter for the latest news in gaming and technology, and snarky opinions on both.