UPDATED throughout with details from news conference: The U.S. Attorney’s Office in New York has indicted an Iranian national in last summer’s HBO hack on charges of computer fraud, wire fraud, extortion and identity theft.
Behzad Mesri is charged with hacking HBO’s computer servers, stealing proprietary data, including information about then-unreleased episodes of Game of Thrones, then threatening to release the data unless he was paid $6 million.
A spokesman with the U.S. Attorney’s Office said Mesri has not been arrested and remains at large.
According to the indictment, Mesri, who went by the alias Skote Vahshat, has worked on behalf of his country’s military to “conduct computer network attacks” that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure. It also alleged that he helped an Iranian hacking group, Turk Black Hat Security Team, deface hundreds of websites in the United States and other countries.
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Mesri is charged with hacking into HBO from May to August and stealing unaired episodes of Ballers, Curb Your Enthusiasm and The Deuce.
Mesri also stole scripts and plot summaries for Game of Thrones, according to the indictment. Prosecutors say he obtained credentials from HBO employees, then used those accounts to steal data from the company’s servers from May to August of this year.
He demanded up to $6 million to keep the data secret in extortion emails to HBO staff, some of which ended with photos of Night King, a menacing zombie villain from Game of Thrones, according to the indictment.
In response to today’s announcement, HBO released the following statement.
“HBO has confirmed in the past that we were working with law enforcement from the
early stages of the cyber incident. As far as the criminal case is concerned, we prefer to leave any comments to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.”
In July, HBO confirmed its computer systems had been breached, resulting in the compromise of “proprietary information.”
In an email to employees, HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler said, “We immediately began investigating the incident and are working with law enforcement and outside cybersecurity firms. Data protection is a top priority at HBO, and we take seriously our responsibility to protect the data we hold.”
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