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Hacker suspected of extorting HBO over ‘Game of Thrones’ script is charged

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Macall B. Polay/HBO
Winter is coming for the hacker involved in one of the most publicized computer hacks of 2017. The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of New York named Iranian citizen Behzad Mesri responsible for the HBO hack that resulted in valuable data being stolen from the cable network, including full episodes, and plot information for an unaired Game of Thrones episode.

According to the indictment from the U.S. Attorney’s office, Mesri allegedly hacked into HBO’s computer servers to access the data by compromising multiple user accounts associated with HBO employees and other “authorized users.” Mesri allegedly stole unaired episodes of HBO series The Deuce, Room 104, Ballers, and Curb Your Enthusiasm. The indictment states, days after the hack, HBO received an anonymous email from the hacker threatening to wipe “80 terabyte hard drives.”

Mesri reportedly attempted to extort HBO for $6 million in Bitcoin. Days after the hack took place, the hacker released a message sent by HBO offering the anonymous hacker a $250,000 “bounty payment,” which HBO used as a stall tactic to determine the severity of the situation.

The indictment alleges Mesri was a member of Iran-based hacking group called the Turk Black Hat Security team and used the online hacker alias Skote Vahshat. The indictment also alleges he has worked with the Iranian military to “conduct computer network attacks.” The networks Mesri allegedly helped attack nuclear software systems, Israeli infrastructure, and military systems.

Mesri gaining access to HBO’s servers via compromised employee accounts falls in line with a popular theory about how the hack went down. A cybersecurity professional told Digital Trends in August the hack was possibly done thanks to HBO storing the stolen data using old software, or a senior executive at HBO having his personal information stolen by the hacker.

In August, law enforcement in India arrested four individuals involved in leaking the fourth episode of Game of Thronesseventh season to piracy sites weeks prior to the group’s arrest. The four individuals were either current or former employees of Prime Focus Technologies, a data management vendor for Star India, HBO’s pay-TV distribution partner in India.

Mesri is charged with three counts of computer fraud, one count of wire fraud, and one count identity theft.

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