Last week several reports surfaced claiming that Mitt Romney’s tax forms were stolen from his accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers. And that an anonymous person(s) was making a $1 million ransom demand for their return OR if a third party wanted them they could secure them for the same $1 million fee OR the taxes will be released to the public if no payments are forthcoming.
All reports say essentially the same thing:
“We are working closely with the United States Secret Service, and at this time there is no evidence that our systems have been compromised or that there was any unauthorized access to the data in question.”
There was no sign of forced entry at the five-story building that housed (sic) the accounting firm’s local office,
All of those denials don’t actually say that it is impossible for anyone to have accessed Mr. Romney’s information. And after the initial reports come stories about the plausibility of such hacking and suggesting the whole episode may be a hoax.
“So far, there’s just zero proof. It’s like every bad Hollywood plot, which makes me think this is fishy,” said Marc Maiffret, chief technology officer for BeyondTrust Software Inc. of Carlsbad, Calif. “But any competent hacker, any good penetration-tester, if they wanted to get Mitt Romney’s tax returns, it wouldn’t be that hard to do. These breaches are absolutely possible. If you can sit at the computer it would take two minutes to bypass the log-in information.”
A former FBI cyber-crime expert, Michael J. Gibbons, said the unusual ransom demand sounded similar to popular email fraud scams “This sounds more like a Nigerian letter scam than an organized hacking attempt,”
And of course the hackers/hoaxers upped the ante with these tidbits from one of their ransom notes on pastebin:
Using your Office @ 830 Crescent Centre Drive, Suite 260, Franklin, TN 37067 Telephone:  (615) 503-2860 we were able to gain access to your network file servers and copy over the tax documents for one Willard M Romney and Ann D Romney. We are sure that once you figure out where the security breach was, some people will probably get fired but that is not our concern.
So is this a theft of data or a bad taste hoax?
If we read between the lines, someone has acquired some of Mr. Romney’s tax returns. They had inside help…so there was not a physical break in. The help had access to the PricewaterhouseCoopers servers and knew where to look for the data. A firm of PC’s status would certainly be expected to have cutting edge security. And even if someone was able to breach that security, an unfamiliar person wouldn’t have an easy time finding the correct files.
The statement that the information was taken from PC servers supports the supposed access from Tennessee. It is rather unlikely that hard copies of Mr. Romney’s tax returns would reside in a small office near Nashville.
So someone inside helped. That means there wouldn’t be any evidence that the PC systems were compromised. PC has very carefully worded their denials to be ambiguous enough to provide the firm with some cover. But security traces and logs should indicate whose accounts accessed what data. It should be a fairly simple matter from PC’s point of view. The Secret Service should solve this in a few moments.
Rumor has it that the files weren’t copied but sent to a printer and removed via hardcopy. Not sure why that would be preferable to making digital copies…but that’s one of the rumors.
We’ll see what happens next. I have been amazed that after the initial reports that this has fallen so quiet. When we see a PricewaterhouseCoopers asspciate being led away by the Secret Service or the FBI we’ll know that something is afoot.
In an additional side show stunt, Larry Flynt is offering one of his millions for Mr. Romney’s tax returns and off shore financial information.
And of course the press and other supposers are comparing this to Watergate?
But it comes at a critical moment during the 2012 presidential campaign. In its broadest outlines, the case might be compared to Watergate, the 1972 political break-in that led to President Richard Nixon’s resignation. But unlike Watergate, which started with the arrest of bungling burglars traced to Republicans, the Tennessee case is a baffling mystery so far, without any clear suspects. There is no evidence Democrats were involved.
I support the idea that Mr. Romney should release his tax documents voluntarily. Preferably 2007 to current, essentially the period that his has been running for President. But my fear is he will use this ‘event’ to say he refuses to be coerced into releasing the forms. I don’t want to see his tax forms stolen and released by a third party. If his returns have actually been stolen I hope the criminals involved are apprehended and dealt with through the legal system asap.
And I hope this actually isn’t a Watergate setup from the Republicans to make Mr. Romney look like a victim.