How I Made $5 Million From MyPillow Guy And Saved Democracy
You may have read a little about it. In the summer of 2021, Lindell announced that he would be hosting a “Cyber Symposium” in Sioux Falls, SD, to release data proving that US voting machines had been hacked by China. He said he would even pay $5 million to anyone who could refute his data.
Right away, friends started calling me asking if I was planning on going. After all, I invented the field of software forensics, the science of analyzing software source code for intellectual property infringement or theft. Still, I wasn’t sure. There are many experts who could analyze the data. And no one in their right mind would offer $5 million if the data wasn’t real and verified, would they? Anyway, the symposium lasted three days – not long enough to analyze and verify the data.
But I’m also a tournament poker player. I like a good challenge. And as the calls and emails kept coming in, I started thinking, I should go, just to be there when the story was written. I voted twice for Trump. If Lindell’s data were correct, perhaps a presidential election would be called off. I could at least meet some really interesting people. So I flew to Sioux Falls.
At the symposium, I saw the competition, about 40 or 50 of them. Some were highly skilled hackers and experienced cyber experts like me. Others were just interested parties with some IT experience.
We met in two small rooms that looked like public school classrooms. After introducing ourselves, we began downloading Lindell’s holy grail – his “voter fraud evidence” from an unspecified source – which consisted of seven files comprising more than 23 gigabytes of data.
Two of the files contained generic voting machine information. Another file was a one minute and 20 second silent video of a computer screen showing an unknown program being debugged. A fourth file was a 23 gigabyte binary file containing ones and zeros, allegedly containing packet capture data, or “PCAP”.
If you’re unfamiliar with the language, packets are the little bits of information that are sent over a network like the Internet and then reassembled on receipt as pictures of your grandchildren or movies of cute cats. from YouTube. PCAPs are records of these packets as they travel through a network.
In numerous interviews, Lindell had claimed his data showed captures of vote packets traveling out of the United States to China where they were altered to pass votes from Trump to Biden and then sent back to American voting machines.
We used a variety of forensic tools designed to understand and analyze PCAPs, but discovered that this mysterious file did not contain any of the 37 standard PCAP formats. I even used the CodeSuite forensics tool I had developed to try to get information from the file. No.
So I decided to focus on the remaining three files, which were simple text files that could be opened with any text editor like Notepad that comes preinstalled on every Windows computer. The contents were textual representations of hexadecimal numbers, which are base 16 numbers used by computers as opposed to base 10, decimal numbers used by people.
I started with the file with the disturbing name Chinese_SourceIP_HEX.txt. Having programmed computers for about 50 years, I recognized that each of these hexadecimal numbers seemed to represent a code for alphanumeric characters known as an ASCII code. So I took a software tool I had written years ago and ran this text file in it to turn the textual representation of numbers into real numbers.
Then I opened the resulting file in Notepad’s text editor. Sure enough, I saw letters and numbers representing another type of code – Rich Text Format code, a very old and simple way of coding word processing documents. (Turns out, sometimes it’s good to be old, wise, and experienced like me.)
I opened this converted file with Microsoft Word and…voila…a table with hundreds of rows of numbers appeared – numbers that looked like IP addresses (i.e. numbers associated with connected devices to a network).
Without any other information, they were about as meaningful as a list of random words. At this point, it was obvious that the data in these text files had nothing to do with the 2020 election. That’s when I knew I had stumbled upon the key. Not the key to showing voter fraud, but the key to showing Lindell’s nonsense.
I repeated the same process on the other text files and found even stranger things. These files were also obfuscated word processing documents, but contained thousands of lines of gibberish – nothing more than random characters and numbers.
My eureka moment had arrived. While everyone was looking at the sky, I had found the golden ticket on the ground; while they were trying to find packet data in the files, the truth was that it wasn’t packet data at all. I said something out loud like, “I’m going to take this back to my hotel room and work on it there,” to no one in particular. I quietly and deliberately packed up my laptop and walked out of the room and out of the room. On the way back to the hotel, I called my wife. “Start thinking about what you want to do with $5 million,” I told him.
Back in my room, I wrote my report and registered a copy online with the US Copyright Office as proof that I had written it before the contest deadline. In case.
But Lindell’s game wasn’t over yet. The next day, a little before noon, I walked around the cyber work room and found everyone still working there. It turned out there was more data to analyze – Lindell had given us about 50 gigabytes of extra data to sift through. There were four new files, but when I looked at them they were basically the same type as the day one files, except for a spreadsheet containing 121,128 lines of generic service provider information Internet around the world, along with their locations, latitudes and longitudes, IP addresses, and other miscellaneous information. I determined that nothing in the file was related to the 2020 presidential election and wondered what my competitors were seeing.
Then came another giant batch of 509 files, comprising many more gigabytes. This is how Lindell planned to prevent anyone from winning the challenge, I thought. We are flooded with files and not enough time to analyze them. That $5 million suddenly seemed to have slipped through my fingers in a way that I felt was very unfair.
But I had come too far to give up. On the third and last day of the symposium, an idea came to me. I decided to scan the file modification dates for all the latest files given to us and surprisingly most of the dates were August 2021, just before the symposium.
In other words, the data was obviously changed just before we looked at it. They could not accurately represent data from the November 2020 election.
My flight was leaving early that evening so I had to be quick. I ran back to the hotel, added this new information to my report, double checked it, triple checked it and saved it to a USB drive. I hurriedly packed my things, rushed to the symposium as it was winding down, handed my report on a thumb drive to an official-looking person, and ran for the Uber or the Lyft waiting for me by the door. I arrived at the airport just in time for my flight back to Vegas.
I guess the rest is history, as they say. I never spoke to Lindell after the symposium; he never responded to my findings. So I hired great lawyers at Bailey Glasser and filed an arbitration suit against him. This lasted for a year and a half, during which time his law firm quit and he hired a new one. During the preparation for the hearing with the three-person arbitration panel, its witnesses gave conflicting answers to crucial questions such as “What exactly was in the data you provided to the experts and how were they related to the US presidential election of November 2020?”