John McAfee needs little introduction.
The cyber-security pioneer and crypto-advocate has become one of the biggest names in the space and to many outside the blockchain industry he is the first crypto-personality they come across.
Aside from his enormous crypto-Twitter presence, Team McAfee has several crypto and blockchain projects of its own including the recently released Bitfi Wallet – billed as the first truly un-hackable cryptocurrency hardware wallet.
With a $250,000 reward offered for anyone who can successfully hack the wallet, the release has provoked quite a controversy in recent weeks after claims (and counter-claims) that people have in fact managed to do just that.
I caught up with the man himself to find out whether the wallet really has been “hacked,” how it works, and his broader views on the space - from Trump and the political climate, to bitcoin scalability and the long-term future of the industry.
Avi Rosten: Let’s talk about the Bitfi wallet – has someone hacked it? How would you summarise your response to that?
John McAfee: No one has hacked it, people say I have gained root access to it – but so what? With that root access what can you do? Absolutely nothing.
Everyone knows what hacking means – if somebody hacks your wallet you take your money…what is the purpose of hacking? You hack something to either modify or change their data so it becomes unusable…or if it’s a wallet you hack it to get the money – this is what hacking is and that’s how we’re defining it: If someone hacks your wallet they take your money – so I’m saying that’s not possible.
Gaining root access? That’s not hacking that’s child’s play. We have a bounty – we’ll send you the wallet with bitcoins on it if you can get those bitcoins we’ll give you a quarter of a million of dollars…these “security researchers” who say they have hacked it – they don’t have the money…
It has not been hacked and it cannot be hacked…I have always said nothing is un-hackable. I also said however, that when blockchain came around that this is going to change the world in ways that we will never expect.
So what we have done is the very simplest of all things – it doesn’t take much, we have a device that will take a pass phrase – one you assign up to 30 characters…something that only I might know that I can’t possibly forget. The wallet simply takes that and creates seed keys unique to that phrase…it doesn’t store those seed keys anyway…it creates the seed keys, accesses the wallet and that’s it… unlike other wallets, at no point during this process is anything stored anywhere, except on the blockchain.
AR: What happens if you forget your phrase?
JM: Well then you’ve lost it…which is why you choose something you can’t forget, your social security number plus whatever, there are things you simply cannot forget….your first kiss, your marriage location. If you want to write down your phrase then do so, but then suddenly you’ve lost all your security…you can do it if that’s what you want - it’s still way more secure than a device which has memory that contains the information…
AR: Moving on to some more political territory, I recently read (and signed) your Declaration of Currency Independence: in the current political climate – do you think the Trump administration is helping or hindering cryptocurrency and crypto-adoption?
JM: I think it’s helping way more than any democratic administration would help. The unique thing about Trump is that he does not seem to be controlled by anybody – he does not seem to have any strings attached to him like every other president has. Every other president has been controlled by either the Democratic party or the Republican party or by their major donors…Trump just is Trump…His tweeting for example – he doesn’t ask anybody what to tweet – he just tweets. That’s his uniqueness. So, I think that anybody who’s independent of power structures who is bright - and you don’t get to be as rich as trump by being stupid - who has sufficient courage to be himself, that’s good…that’s something that we need…
AR: And in that respect do you think he’d be pro-crypto?
JM: I think he will. I don’t think he’s dug into it yet…but eventually he will. Crypto is growing whether we like it or not…it’s out of the box, we can’t put it back in…as it grows it will become more and more prevalent and he will take it in and do the right thing.
AR: When/will there be a day we start to measure things in non-fiat?
JM: I think 5 years…I think it will happen very soon…Because look at what happened in such a brief period of time already – just in the last year – look at the growth of businesses. For example, we were a couple of weeks ago in a small town in Tennessee called Jackson and there was a restaurant that said “we take bitcoins” so we stopped and ate…it was great – there’s been a radical change already
AR: What do you think about the volatility of prices? Vitalik Buterin recently commented that the excitement surrounding bitcoin ETFs is great for driving up price – but it’s not really helping adoption because the volatility is so high that it really hinders it becoming a usable currency...
JM: If we compare to dollars – yes. But what if bitcoin is the currency? If we are buying and selling in bitcoin - the volatility will disappear – if the dollar is gone and we stop comparing it to the dollar – and all I accept is bitcoin then what does volatility mean? As things become more and more prevalent they become less and less volatile…bitcoin is volatile now because it’s such a small percentage of the currency that’s used world-wide. Yes it’s going to have wild fluctuations but as it becomes more and more prevalent those fluctuations will become smaller and smaller…until finally they are going to be liveable.
AR: Talking of usability and adoption – what do you think of bitcoin cash (BCH) and its claim to be the more usable bitcoin?
JM: As a fork of Bitcoin – people go: “oh my god you’re going to devalue bitcoin!”– it’s simply another currency… I think you really do need to do something to bitcoin to make it more and more usable, the transaction times are simply increasing, if you increase the blocksize very simply like bitcoin cash did – we’re going to have much more room to do what we’re going to do....Bitcoin can do what it wants, bitcoin cash is simply another currency – if you don’t like it don’t use it.
AR: Do you think platforms like Ethereum or other decentralised alternatives like EOS will take hold, even though DApps are only being used at the moment by a few thousand at the most?
JM: How can they not take hold with so many other currencies based on Ethereum? Every ERC20 coin for example. There is room in the world for everything – do you want to have one automobile to choose from? Or would you rather have Jeeps, Fords, and Chevys and fast cars and small cars…we want as many as possible. The adoption will depend on their usability and their function. The greatest problem in crypto is the following: the blockchain is intended or should be intended, to change our lives, not to make one tiny aspect of our lives bigger – like we’re using cryptocurrencies only as investment. And yet many of these functional coins – if you used it for what it was intended it would enhance all of our lives – but no, what are people doing? They are just hoarding it… or abandoning it because it went down [in price]. Docademic – is it going to go up or go down? Screw that - it’s a medical token – this is what these things are meant for. We are missing the boat by twisting the intent of many of these coins into a money-making thing…