RealTime IT News

GOP Laptop Stolen After Missouri Break-in

As break-ins go, this one has the whiff of political dirty tricks.

Someone or a group of people broke into the Independence, Mo. Victory Office of the Missouri Republican Party last week and apparently made off with a laptop belonging to regional coordinator Brian Johnson.

The laptop had "a great deal of strategic information" for that part of the state, Tina Hervey, director of communications for the party, told InternetNews.com.

The Victory Office is one of 10 opened by the Missouri Republican Party across the state August 13 to serve as command centers for staff and volunteers, who will work on behalf of Presidential candidate John McCain and the Missouri Republican ticket.

More than 20 other computers in the room were left untouched, Hervey said, adding that the stolen laptop was protected with a password.

The McCain-Palin campaign did not respond to requests for a comment by press time.

Missouri figures largely in the race for the White House. It has 11 seats up for grabs, and is leaning toward voting for McCain, according to some pollsters. But Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama narrowly won his party's primary against Sen. Hillary Clinton.

According to Hervey, the thief got in by breaking the plate-glass front of the offices, then took only the laptop and put another of the other laptops in its place in a bid to avoid calling notice to what was taken. That was not well thought out, as "the Dell laptop that was stolen was black, and they put a smaller, white laptop in its place."

Protecting your data

Hervey said the campaign staff had backed up the data on the laptop and has taken steps to ensure that whoever took the computer will not be able to access the party's network.

They reported the theft to the Independence, Mo. police but the Missouri Republican Party has not approached the FBI or other law enforcement organizations, Hervey added. "We don't have any proof that it's anything more than a break-in."

Still, it's a break-in raising some questions about what might happen next.

Exposure of the laptop's data could lead, at the very least, to embarrassment for the party. "From a strategic standpoint, all their plans for the last 30 days might be on the laptop," said Phillip Dunkelberger, president and CEO of security product vendor PGP. He said encrypting the hard drive is a stronger security measure than a password.

Could the theft be part of a political dirty tricks campaign? Computers have been stolen during various campaigns. Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY.) has been victimized twice this way.

Both times, the thieves who broke into his campaign headquarters walked off with computers and computer equipment, leaving cash and other valuables behind. Yarmuth's campaign has contacted the Louisville, Ky. police and the FBI.

The Missouri Republican Party's Hervey was reluctant to say whether the theft was politically motivated, but left the door open for that possibility. "We're not pointing fingers or jumping to conclusions, but, when you have an office that had at least 25 computers in it and only one was stolen, it makes you think," she said.

Since the theft was discovered, the party has "taken steps to secure our physical and intellectual property."