Update: Group Claims to Be Holding Romney's Tax Returns for Ransom

Update 5:37 p.m. PwC has come out with a statement regarding the hacking. There's still no mention on their end if the hackers are credible, nor did they elaborate on whether or not it was possible for someone to, as the hackers say they did, physically set up shop on the second floor of their office.

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Update 5:37 p.m. PwC has come out with a statement regarding the hacking. There's still no mention on their end if the hackers are credible, nor did they elaborate on whether or not it was possible for someone to, as the hackers say they did, physically set up shop on the second floor of their office. But they do say that there's no evidence of the hack and that they have alerted authorities:

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.

With all this bad grammar and bit coinage and whatnot floating about, we took another look at Reddit where users are far more fluent in "crackers", hacking and ASCII things than we are. And one theory floating around is that the threats could be coming from two different sources. "There were two releases. I would say that the bitcoin part may be just someone trying to get free bitcoins and is not the work of the original cracker. But I could be wrong," writes redditor Jlbraun. He adds: 

Both of the verification keyphrases (presumably written on the packages so the receiver can verify the pastebin releases are from the crackers) are from Mormon speeches or writings:

1.all these considerations did not deter me from the path of duty

This is added in the second pastebin. If this is on another package received by either the DNC or the RNC, then the Bitcoin demand is real. If not, it's fake:

2.he moment I understood the will of my Heavenly Father

Update 4:10 p.m.: Well this is interesting. The group that claims to have stolen Mitt Romney's tax returns sent a hard drive and a letter to the local Republican party headquarters and Nashville City Paper's Ken Whitehouse has seen them:

Both the Democratic and Republican party offices in Williamson County received a letter and a flash drive last week allegedly containing the stolen tax records of GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney. Secret Service agents confiscated the drives on Wednesday morning.

No we can't explain why Franklin, Tenn., is the epicenter of this hacking story. Whitehouse describes what he saw before the Secret Service arrived.

A representative from The City Paper has seen both the letter and the drive, but GOP officials would not allow them to be photographed. Jean Barwick, the county Republican Party executive director, said that an envelope was found at the front door of their headquarters on main street in Franklin on Friday. The envelope was crudely addressed to Republican officials with the name of the party misspelled.

And apparently Williamson County Democratic Chairman Peter Burr, told Whitehouse that they received a similar note and hard-drive, and thought nothing of it. "We opened it and found a typewritten sheet of paper. I almost threw it out. The only thing missing was a Nigerian prince," Burr told Whitehouse. "It seems like it's someone looking for some gullible fool, but who knows?"

So far, PwC haven't returned Whitehouse's calls, though he does mention that someone in the Romney camp does know about the claims and that authorities have been alerted and are investigating. And then there's this bit from the letter, in which the group describes how they supposedly got acccess to the Romney returns:

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.

None of the new information proves that Romney's returns have in fact been stolen. But they would suggest that if this is a hoax, it's an increasingly elaborate one.

Original 12:19 p.m. In one of the more provocative hacking stories of the day (certainly more intriguing than your LinkedIn password being stolen), an anonymous group is claiming that they accessed PricewaterhouseCoopers's network servers in Franklin, Tennessee and are now holding Mitt Romney's tax returns ransom for $1 million in Bitcoins. Hmmm...

"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," wrote the group. They add: "Failure to do this before September 28, the entire world will be allowed to view the documents with a publicly released key to unlock everything." The Nashville City Paper's Ken Whitehouse was unable to confirm with PwC, which did prepare Romney's 2010 return, whether or not they were given proof of the hacks, while the FBI did not confirm or deny with Whitehouse if they were investigating the matter. Color us intrigued, but skeptical.

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.

The hive mind at Reddit is also wary. "Aside from the fact that it screams scam, I'd like to see this from a source other than an small Nashville paper," one Redditor writes, while another points out the long-winded logistics of the claim: "So they need to send US$1mn in Bitcoins to themselves, then send it to the supposed hackers and encode a message as pseudo-binary in the values of the transactions. Yep, that sounds like something totally reasonable to expect someone to do."

And there's also the fact that the message is written in style of a Nigerian e-mail scam and asks for the Doctor Evil-esque, "one millliooon dollars." Granted, we'd love to see those tax returns and yes, it seems like hacking is going to be one of the ways that might happen given the Romneys' reluctance. And if anything, this scam-hack just shows how in demand those documents are. We just don't think it's this group of hackers who have the magic 1040s. But hey, prove us wrong.

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