Trump loyalist and MyPillow CEO Mike Lindell wants to organize a cybersecurity conference focused on election security that he says will prove the election was stolen from Trump.
On Tuesday, Lindell spoke with Steve Bannon, a former Trump advisor who was indicted for allegedly skimming money from a border wall crowdfunding campaign, and announced an upcoming "cyber forensic election symposium" to bring all the alleged evidence of election fraud "to a big venue" he did not specify. Cybersecurity experts are very, very skeptical.
"What we have is called packet captions [sic] from the election, or the 2020 election, and it's 100 percent evidence—can't be altered," Lindell told Motherboard in a phone call, adding that he plans to invite "all the cyber experts in the country, anybody that wants to come will have to have CISSP credentials."
"I don't know what those words mean, but that's what these guys are saying," he said. "You don't want just anyone there, you want people that understand cyber forensics."
CISSP is a cybersecurity certification that some—but not all—people in the industry have. And you don't need one to be an expert in elections security nor information security in general.
“These guys that with a packet captures, it’s like having the DNA of who did it.”
Lindell said in the call that he has gathered evidence from people who worked in the US government that shows that Chinese government hackers flipped votes in November. He said he shared the evidence with multiple media outlets but none would publish it, so he will show it during his symposium in July. Numerous investigations by government officials have found no evidence of election tampering and a vanishingly small amount of voter fraud overall.
Lindell later clarified he was talking about packet captures, or PCAPs, from the days around the election. PCAPs are files that can be used to analyze network traffic and investigate network intrusions or hacks. It's important to note that most voting machines are not connected to the internet, though there are some that are online.
"Anyone who sees [the PCAPs] says 'You know what? This election. This is what happened. Donald Trump is our real president,'" Lindell said. He added that he believes that having this data is like having "blood DNA … a bucket of blood" from a crime scene.
"DNA experts, they go into a crime scene and they look at blood DNA and they test it. They say that this is it, this is the guy that did it. So these guys that with a packet captures, it’s like having the DNA of who did it. It’s like having a picture of a movie. It’s like having a bank robbery and you have a movie of the guy that did it, everything’s on film,” he said. “What it shows is the ID of a computer, the IP of a computer, most of these came from China. The ID of the computer over in China, the building it came from, the IP address. It’ll show in the internet the PCAP, it’s like a picture in time on the internet … it shows the computer that was hacked, and it shows the amount of votes that were flipped at that exact moment in time. So we have the PCAPs for the whole election.”
In a documentary he produced titled Absolutely 9-0, Lindell shows some of the data with the help of a faceless and nameless expert that calls it "raw encrypted data" of packet captures. Lindell said he could not reveal who the experts he has consulted are "for their own protection," but at one point claimed some of them work for the government.
Stephen Checkoway, an assistant professor of computer science at Oberlin College, and one of the 59 security experts who signed an open letter in 2020 saying there was "no credible evidence of computer fraud in the 2020 election outcome," said he analyzed some of the data shown in Lindell's documentary. Checkoway said he concluded that the data is actually not encrypted at all, and it's not a PCAP but a hex dump, a way of displaying data from a computer disk or memory. The name comes from the hexadecimal numeral system, which consists of 16 symbols that can be used to store values and can be converted to text.
"For fun, I decoded two of them as you can see in the attached screenshot of the video," Checkoway said in an email to Motherboard, referring to the data. "I've added red and blue boxes. The hex in the red box says "ABERCROMBI" and the blue one says "PHI•ADELPHIA" where the • indicates a character that's cut off on the right hand side."
"Lindell refers to this as evidence. It is not," he said.
Lindell said that having this data "it's a miracle," and that the people who got it and gave it to him are "heroes."
The miracle, however, would be if Lindell had any actual evidence of election fraud or hacking, and if he was able to bring in any actual experts to back those claims. Several elections security experts consulted by Motherboard said they would absolutely not go to such an event.
"No, I won't go, because I don't trust the honesty of the process or how it will be spun by OAN et al. I will not lend my name to such a farce," Steven Bellovin, a computer science professor at Columbia University, told Motherboard in an email, referring to right-wing news outlet One America News Network.
"He had no idea that what he was talking about was impossible for many reasons," Bellovin said about Lindell's claims.
"I'm not a cyber guy. So I don't know, it was with computers that this was captured."
Earlier this month, Lindell filed a lawsuit in federal court quoting statements and research from well-known and respected election security researchers—who have pointed out that there are theoretical vulnerabilities in voting systems that should be fixed but not that those were exploited in the 2020 election—in an attempt to show that there was widespread fraud in the 2020 elections. But the existence of potential vulnerabilities does not mean that those vulnerabilities were exploited on a large scale. According to Bruce Schneier, another expert who signed the open letter, there is no evidence of fraud and "there is a big difference between finding a vulnerability in an election system and proving that an election has been tampered with. Lindell does not approach this issue in good faith."
"There is nothing about that that would not be a waste of my time," Joe Hall, a cybersecurity expert who also signed that open letter, said in an online chat. "If it's anything like the Cyber Ninja stuff from Arizona, it's guaranteed to be hilarious, totally specious, but entertaining."
In the last few weeks, Republicans in Arizona have been working with a little-known cybersecurity firm called Cyber Ninja in an attempt to find and show evidence of fraud in the state. This is the latest desperate attempt to overturn Trump's loss to President Joe Biden. Despite dozens of lawsuits, Trump and the Republicans have yet to show any real evidence of fraud or hacking, according to virtually every election cybersecurity expert in the world.
Ronald Rivest, a well-known cryptographer and professor at MIT called Lindell's idea "a circus," and said he also would not go to his symposium.
"He should try to persuade a judge that there is merit in his 'evidence'," Rivest added.
Nicholas Weaver, a computer science lecturer at Berkeley University's International Computer Science Institute, joked on Twitter that he'd be willing to go.
"If he'll pay me $1000/hr and all the popcorn I can eat I'll show up..."
Lindell dismissed the comments from the experts Motherboard talked to saying "they don't know what I'm doing."
"What I have came from the spyware from our government, the night of the election, where we have the PCAPs," he said, though he could not explain where, specifically, these supposed PCAPs came from. "I'm not a cyber guy. So I don't know, it was with computers that this was captured."
It's worth mentioning that there is already a trusted event hacking conference that studies election security. It's called VotingVillage and it's part of one of the largest hacking conferences in the world, Def Con. Lindell said he was not aware of its existence.
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