More on the Romney tax-return blackmail plot because I find it interesting if preposterous. Apparently PricewaterhouseCoopers does not believe that its systems have been compromised, but the Williamson County, Tenn., Republican and Democratic party offices have indeed received packages with USB thumb drives on which are encrypted files alleged to be Mitt Romney’s pre-2010 tax returns. They also allegedly include an image of Romney’s signature on these files. The Secret Service is investigating.
A couple of things to note. First, as pointed out by Guy McHendry, it’s not clear there was any hacking involved if the series of events published on Pastebin are to be believed. These may not be hackers, just burglars who know how to use encryption. The media should stop saying hackers.
Second, if real, the role of bitcoin here is fascinating. In a world without bitcoin, you could carry out the same scheme, but the million dollars would have to be delivered to you in a suitcase. Bitcoin makes anonymous extortion much easier. That said, it also makes the quid-pro-quo of extortion more unstable. If you pay a ransom, you want some guarantee that the extortionist won’t release the secrets anyway, and that assurance usually comes from knowing their identity so that you can turn them over to the police if they do not keep their end of the bargain. Bitcoin eliminates that assurance, which is why Romney or his supporters shouldn’t pay.
That all said, my money is on this being a hoax. I’m still trying to think through what the motivation is, but one suggestion is that it’s intended to move the bitcoin market.