Interesting news out of Tennessee today, where a group of hackers claims to have obtained Mitt Romney's tax returns through PricewaterhouseCoopers's Franklin, Tenn., offices.
From a document posted on text-storage website Pastebin on Sept. 2:
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.
Yesterday, a second document was posted on the same site, addressed to PricewaterhouseCooper:
All major news media outlets are going to be sent an encrypted copy of the most recent tax years that your company had on file since you did not have them all in a convenient electronic form. The years before 2010 will be of great interest to many. If the parties interested do not want the encrypted key released to the public to unlock these documents on September 28 of this year then payment will be necessary.
The deal is quite simple. Convert $1,000,000 USD to Bitcoins (Google if if you need a lesson on what Bitcoin is) using the various markets available out in the world for buying. Transfer the Bitcoins gathered to the Bitcoin address listed below. It does not matter if small amounts or one large amount is transferred, as long as the final value of the Bitcoins is equal to $1,000,000 USD at the time when it is finished. The keys to unlock the data will be purged and what ever is inside the documents will remain a secret forever.
For those unfamiliar, Bitcoins are a wholly digital currency, designed to be an untraceable alternative to currencies recognized by countries around the globe, allowing for illicit exchanges of goods.
What's interesting is that the unnamed hackers have extended a similar offer to those interested in releasing the contents of those documents; in the same message, a separate Bitcoin address was published, offering the keys to decrypting the documents to those willing to pay, again, a million dollars in Bitcoins.
An earlier messaged published by the hacking group claims to have sent packages containing flash drives and copies of their messages to the Republican and Democratic party offices of Tennessee's Williamson County, which appears to have been verified by The Tennesseean, though the parties have not attempted to access what is on the flash drives.
Responses appear to be skeptical, as they well should; PricewaterhouseCoopers claims that they've found no indication that their systems were breeched, though the Secret Service has said that they are investigating the matter.
So, in summation, this might just be a big ol' hoax, and I've wasted a fair amount of time that could better be used searching for videos of animals doing adorable things.
Or, this could be one of the most important bits of news coming through this election cycle, both for what those returns could reveal and as an illustration of the power that determined hackers have in today's digital world.
We'll keep you posted.
UPDATE: This, allegedly, is the first sheet of Romney's 2003 tax return.
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