Robert Zeidman, a software detective who literally wrote the book on looking for evidence of wrongdoing in lines of computer code (The Software IP Detective’s Handbook), was awarded US $5 million on 19 April by an arbitration panel for winning the “Prove Mike Wrong” challenge. That is, he debunked a claim made by MyPillow founder Mike Lindell, who insisted that he had data documenting Chinese interference in the 2020 election. Lindell announced the contest during a 2021 so-called cybersymposium in South Dakota. He handed 11 files over to contestants, including binary files, text files, and a spreadsheet, and offered the cash prize to anyone who could prove that the data wasn’t related to the 2020 election.
Zeidman quickly did so, documenting his analysis in a 15-page report and concluding that “the data Lindell provides, and represents reflects information from the November 2020 election, unequivocally does not contain packet data of any kind and do not contain any information related to the November 2020 election.” Zeidman detailed the steps he had taken to analyze the data, ruling out an election connection.
“I am a digital detective. I can figure out who stole what from whom.”
Coming to this conclusion this apparently wasn’t all that hard. Some of the data, Zeidman recently told the Las Vegas Review-Journal, looked like someone had simply typed random numbers; another data set had been created just days before the contest, not before the 2020 election, which was pretty obvious given that creation dates on the files had not been altered.
Lindell rejected Zeidman’s attempt to claim the prize.
Zeidman, per the contest rules, took the matter to arbitration, and on Wednesday the arbitration panel found for Zeidman. In its 23-page report, made available by The Washington Post, the panel pointed out that Zeidman said he entered the contest not expecting to win—believing that any data offered had to have been strictly vetted—but in order to see history in the making. The data had, the report indicated, been sent to a so-called “Red Team” for vetting, but, according to the panel’s report, “none of the Red Team cyber experts were able to open the files.”
An IEEE Senior Member, Zeidman has long been involved in software forensics. He founded a company, Software Engineering and Forensic Analysis, to develop and market tools for software analysis. He has served as an expert witness in more than a hundred cases involving disputes over code ownership. And, for IEEE Spectrum, he wrote about a question long speculated about in computer circles: Did Bill Gates steal the heart of Microsoft DOS from Gary Kildall’s CP/M?
After Zeidman wrote that article, I sat down with him to find out how he approached this software detective work. He told me, “I am a digital detective. I can figure out who stole what from whom.”
See the video below to see a bit of what Zeidman told me about investigating the DOS case.
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Tekla S. Perry is a senior editor at IEEE Spectrum. Based in Palo Alto, Calif., she's been covering the people, companies, and technology that make Silicon Valley a special place for more than 40 years. An IEEE member, she holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Michigan State University.