Intel to scrap McAfee name, give away mobile security tools

Intel this week said it would ditch the venerable McAfee brand for its security products and services, and offer free mobile security software to customers running Android, iOS and other operating systems on their smartphones and tablets.

The company announced both moves at the Consumer Electronics Show (CES), the massive trade show that wraps up today in Las Vegas.

McAfee is one of the oldest brands in computer security, a name that’s been in use most of the years since its 1987 founding, even as the company changed hands several times. But Intel wants to shed the brand this year for “Intel Security” in a staged roll-out as products update.

“We aren’t making the move lightly, we’re not divorcing entirely,” said Mike Fey, the CTO of McAfee in an interview this week, adding that Intel will retain the long-used logo, a red shield with the letter “M” dominant. “Outside the U.S., McAfee actually doesn’t translate well, but Intel is [an] understood [brand].”

Intel bought McAfee in 2010 in a deal valued at $7.7 billion. The acquisition was completed in February 2011.

Fey denied that the name change had been triggered by the erratic behavior of its founder and namesake, John McAfee, who in 2012 made headlines after he fled Belize, where authorities wanted to question him in the death of his neighbor. McAfee turned up in Guatemala, and in December 2012 authorities thereexpelled him to the U.S., where he currently lives.

Last year, John McAfee released an over-the-top profanity-, sex- and drug image-laced video — which has collected over 4.6 million viewings — where he blasted the software carrying his surname. In December, after talk of Intel changing its security brand surfaced, John McAfee pleaded on his website for help in making that happen. “I would be thrilled to finally free myself, my image, and my name,” he said.

After Intel’s announcement this week, John McAfee tweeted, “To the company formerly known as McAfee: Thank you! Thank you!”

It seems the feelings were mutual.

“As an employee, I’m happy to separate,” said Fey as he argued that buyers did not associate John McAfee with the company he started. “He’s been out of IT for almost 20 years,” Fey noted.

Along with the name change, Intel also said it would give away a stand-alone mobile security product, whose name hasn’t been finalized, to device owners.

“We are bringing our award-winning security to every mobile device: phones, tablets, wearables,” said Intel CEO Brian Krzanich this week at CES. “We want to bring this [mobile security] capability to everybody because we believe this is critical to enable this ecosystem.”

Krzanich said the software will be available for both the Intel and ARM processor architectures.

“This is not some fremium strategy and it won’t have ads,” Fey said in his interview. “It really is a commitment that computing should be safe.”

While the details of the free offering weren’t announced — Fey said Intel is still working on the timing and even the composition of the deal — the software will be stand-alone, full-featured and composed of current products or pieces of them.

McAfee currently charges $30 annually for its Mobile Security package, which supports Android, BlackBerry, Symbian and Kindle Fire. “Most [mobile devices] are unprotected,” said Fey. “That needs to change.”

Intel will be following other mobile security vendors in making its software free. San Francisco-based Lookout, for example, gives away its widely-used Android antivirus app to individuals, but charges businesses $5 per device per month.

“If we build a relationship [with a customer], we will find monetization down the road,” said Fey, hinting at Intel’s business model. “Providing a valuable service is good for us long term, and we want to be seen as the trusted security provider.”

In any case, Fey acknowledged, mobile device owners have been trained by app developers and the stores where they distribute their wares to be leery of all but the lowest-priced software. Prices vendors charge for PC software, for instance, are simply impossible in mobile. “It’s not what the space is about, you have to think about [mobile] differently,” Fey said.

Lookout took Intel’s move in stride.

“We’ve expected other companies to take a similar approach, and look forward to seeing more companies prioritizing consumer safety in this digital world,” said Lookout co-founder and CTO Kevin Mahaffey in an email Thursday.