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Authorities make hash of tax office hacking scandal

The latest scandal to grip Bulgaria has affected about 6 million Bulgarians. Someone, a computer hacker or a group of hackers, had successfully penetrated the National Revenue databases and stolen bits of the personal details of practically everyone of working age in Bulgaria. Of the 6 million, about 4.66 million are alive and 1.38 million are deceased. The hacked data covered a period of about 10 years. The leak was announced with an email sent from a Russia-based server and written in broken English. It billed the Bulgarian government "half-witted" and added computer security in this country was a "parody."

The police were quick to act. Within days they identified a 20-year-old computer specialist, Kristiyan Boykov, and detained him, alleging he was the one who hacked the National Revenue system. They raided the offices of TAD Group, Boykov's employer, and arrested TAD's owner and its commercial director.

Chief Prosecutor-designate Ivan Geshev appeared on TV and explained the hacking had been a "job" to violate national security committed by what he billed "rightist extremists" and blown out of proportion by the media associated with them. He meant Yes Bulgaria, a small but very vocal political grouping led by Hristo Ivanov, a former justice minister for Boyko Borisov who is now highly critical of his erstwhile boss. Yes Bulgaria is not in parliament. It has emphatically condemned anyone disagreeing with its tenets that it describes as being pro-democracy and pro-European. The media sympathetic to Yes Bulgaria includes Kapital and Dnevnik, the two newspapers owned by Ivo Prokopiev, and Bivol, an internet site that casts itself as a whistleblower and a vitriolic critic of Boyko Borisov and his GERB. Bivol is owned by the brother of the editor of Pik, an agency vitriolic about anyone who criticises… Boyko Borisov and his GERB.

Predictably, Yes Bulgaria rose up in arms, prompting the prosecutors to resort to the unusual practice of broadcasting bits of material they said proved that TAD group was behind the hack. Some of the material does include allegations that Bivol had acquired the leaked material before the supposed hacker sent his email to the media.

Though Bulgaria is reputed to be a cradle of computer geniuses, it has taken investigators and prosecutors over a month to piece together the National Revenue hacking scandal. The only person under arrest at the moment is TAD's local owner, Ivan Todorov. TAD Group is registered in California. Its lawyers have already threatened they will sue for a seven-figure sum for defamation.

Some of the important questions the National Revenue hacking scandal poses but no one asks, is what would be the motivation of a hacker to break into the National Revenue computers and broadcast some of the personal details of Bulgarian tax-paying citizens? Who – a criminal, a political party or an Internet site which thrives on real or imaginary scandal and real or imaginary finger-pointing – would benefit?

To a degree, the scandal has been internationalised. The Bulgarian prosecutors issued an European request to interrogate Atanas Chobanov, a political activist and editor for Bivol who ordinarily lives in France. Reporters Without Borders, with whom Chobanov is thought to have good links, have called on French police to ignore Bulgaria's order saying it is politically motivated.

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