An anonymous group of hackers claim to have broken into PricewaterhouseCoopers' computers and stolen Republican presidential nominee Mitt Romney's tax return information. The group is ransoming the information for $1 million, but there are many questioning the alleged hack -- including PwC, which has said it is currently working with the Secret Service regarding the situation.
It appears that Ken Whitehouse for Nashville CityPaper was among the first to pick up on the alleged breach of these tax documents from the PwC Franklin, Tenn., office, after Romney's tax history has been called into question in recent months. Whitehouse states the hackers posted messages of their activities and terms on the file-sharing site Pastebin. Here's some of the hackers threat:
Romney's 1040 tax returns were taken from the PWC office 8/25/2012 by gaining access to the third floor via a gentleman working on the 3rd floor of the building. Once on the 3rd floor, the team moved down the stairs to the 2nd floor and setup shop in an empty office room. During the night, suite 260 was entered, and all available 1040 tax forms for Romney were copied. A package was sent to the PWC on suite 260 with a flash drive containing a copy of the 1040 files, plus copies were sent to the Democratic office in the county and copies were sent to the GOP office in the county at the beginning of the week also containing flash drives with copies of Romney's tax returns before 2010. A scanned signature image for Mitt Romney from the 1040 forms were scanned and included with the packages, taken from earlier 1040 tax forms gathered and stored on the flash drives.
The group will release all available files to the public on the 28 of September, 2012.
They will release the files, that is, unless they're paid $1 million in a transfer.
The hackers also claim to have sent an encrypted message with the sensitive to major media outlets. Passwords to unencrypt, they threaten, will be released to these outlets if their demands are not met. Unless of course the highest bidder actually wants the documents released. Adding to the odd threat, Whitehouse writes the hackers say they'll really do whatever the highest bidder wants:
So this is an equal opportunity for the documents to remain locked away forever or to be exposed before the September 28 deadline.
In addition, the Tennessean reported today that the Williamson County Republican Party and the local Democratic party alerted police to having received "suspicious looking packages containing a flash drive and a copy of the letter." Executive Director of the Republican group, Jean Barwick, told the Tennessean she didn't report the delivery until now as it didn't seem credible:
“A million dollars seemed kind of low,” Barwick said. “If you’re going to go for a million, why not go for $100 million.”
A spokesperson for the Democratic party said the situation seemed fishy as well, but given that both groups received a package, something could be up.
The Tennessean reports that the Republican party has not attempted to access the flashdrive. It doesn't report either way if the Democratic party has tried to access its documents.
Alexander Abad-Santos for the Atlantic Wire though finds much amiss with this alleged hack and subsequent threat that sounds like a "Nigerian e-mail scam" and the Austin Powers' character Dr. Evil combined:
First off there's a lack of proof. We're not really up to speed on the latest trends in blackmail, but most movies we've seen involving ransom notes include some sort of proof—of which this one offers none. And even though Whitehouse explains these 1040 purported hackers posted to Pastebin ("This same website has been used by hackers who have claimed to have infiltrated computers from companies like Apple in the past"), the whole notion of Pastebin is that anyone can anonymously paste anything to it. See? We just did, too. And there doesn't seem to be an outcry from the Romney camp.
International Business Times too writes "it is most likely a prank with no veracity."
No one in Romney's camp has commented about the alleged hack, but PwC released a statement (via Talking Points Memo):
We are aware of the allegations that have been made regarding improper access to our systems. 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.
Marc Ambinder, who is a contributing editor for GQ and The Atlantic, tweeted that the FBI has gotten involved in this extortion attempt as well.