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By Bruce Sussman
Mon | Sep 9, 2019 | 10:37 AM PDT

Two twenty-somethings in Pennsylvania pleaded guilty to charges after attempting to hack their way into the IRS to get President Trump's tax returns.

And they were close to achieving their goal, after finding a workaround to challenges that slowed their progress.

Hacking something in demand: Trump's tax returns

As you're probably aware, President Trump has declined to release his tax returns, both while running for president and after moving into the White House.

This led to shouting matches on TV news shows between talking heads and politicians, and to legal wrangling between attorneys.

Somewhere along the way, 22-year-old Justin Hiemstra and 23-year-old Andrew Harris got an idea: they might be able to use federal financial aid forms (which are online) to get into President Trump's tax returns.

Can you imagine if $900-an-hour attorneys could not get their hands on the President's tax returns, but a couple of college kids could? 

College students plot to get Trump's tax returns

Both of the young men were students at Haverford College outside of Philadelphia. That's apparently where the plot was born.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), the plot included a big idea:

"... to use computers at the school’s computer lab and the Free Application for Student Aid (FAFSA) website to illegally access the tax returns. The defendants opened a false FAFSA application in the name of a member of the Trump family...."

The FAFSA is a daunting form to apply and find out whether your student qualifies for U.S. government assistance to help pay for college.

And in this digital era, it allows you to electronically pull your tax records from the Internal Revenue Service into the form. Perhaps you can see where the college students were going with this one.

But they ran into a problem, according to the DOJ:

"... someone else had already obtained a username and password for Donald Trump. In order to reset the password, the defendants were prompted to answer challenge questions, which the original person had created when setting up the account."

And here comes the scary part for those who work in cybersecurity.

Overcoming the obstacle to attempt a hack of president's taxes

The two college kids were able to defeat the challenge questions and keep moving forward with their plans.

Says the DOJ:

"They were able to answer the questions and reset the password, and then used the President's personal identifier information, including his social security number and date of birth, to attempt to import the President's federal tax information into the bogus FAFSA application."

Although the Department of Justice says the attempt "ultimately failed," it is not clear why. We simply know the students got close to getting their hands on the President's taxes.

Trump tax hack attempt: serious crime or college prank?

Both college students have pleaded guilty, and a judge will hand down  sentences in December.

The attorney for Andrew Harris told the Associated Press this can be viewed as a college prank:  

"This was a 'Wayne's World' scene gone awry," says attorney William Brennan, referring to the 1990s comedic film about two teenagers with a TV show.

However, the U.S. Attorney in Philadelphia, William M. McSwain, is not laughing.

 "No matter what you think about the President's tax returns, clearly this kind of illegal activity cannot be tolerated or condoned. Now this un-funny plot has branded both Harris and his cohort, Hiemstra, with federal criminal convictions that they deserve."

If they are sentenced to jail, maybe they can watch reruns of "Wayne's World" while they are on the inside.

Read the U.S. Attorney statement in this case.

Tags: Hacking, Trump, DOJ,
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