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Hackers raise the heat in HBO blackmail attempt by leaking executive’s emails

HBO hacker leaks email revealing $250,000 bug bounty program

HBO Game of Thrones season 7, episode 4 photo
Macall B. Polay/HBO
Just last week, in an escalation of their threat to publicly release HBO stolen data, hackers sent private email correspondence of an unnamed HBO executive to the Hollywood Reporter as well as additional files. While the Hollywood Reporter didn’t release the specifics of what the attached files contained, file names included identifiers such as “Confidential” and “Script GOT7.” The latter is likely a reference to a script for an upcoming Game of Thrones episode.

But now, it would appear that the hackers are releasing more emails, and it reveals that HBO was willing to make a “bounty payment” of $250,000 in order to reward “white hat IT professionals” for “bringing these types of things to our attention,” where “things” obviously refers to data breaches. As first reported by Variety, the offered sum was meant to “stall for time while the company attempted to assess the serious situation.” Unfortunately, it appears that the amount was insufficient.

The newest leaked email also asks the hacker for an extension to the ransom deadline. “You have the advantage of having surprised us,” the message reads. “In the spirit of professional cooperation, we are asking you to extend your deadline for one week.”

HBO has not commented about this latest leak.

Some of the previously leaked Game of Thrones materials include “marketing spreadsheets and media plans” related to promoting the new season of the popular series. Other information includes casting and script summaries, including summaries for future episodes. It’s unclear if the hackers will attempt to leak this information to Game of Thrones fan sites or other news organizations prior to episode air dates.

The hackers have demanded a ransom from HBO, but the total sum of that ransom hasn’t been disclosed by HBO or the hackers. It’s rumored to be roughly $6 million, to be paid in Bitcoin. In addition, the hackers sent a video message to HBO CEO Richard Plepler which stated “We successfully breached into your huge network … HBO was one of our difficult targets to deal with but we succeeded (it took about 6 months).”

The hackers also claim that HBO is their seventeenth target.

Detailing HBO’s response to the hack, a spokesperson said “HBO believed that further leaks might emerge from this cyber incident when we confirmed it last week. As we said, the forensic review is ongoing. While it has been reported that a number of emails have been made public, the review to date has not given us a reason to believe that our e-mail system as a whole has been compromised.”

The statement continues “We continue to work around the clock with outside cybersecurity firms and law enforcement to resolve the incident. Meanwhile, our dedicated employees continue to focus on delivering the high quality of entertainment and service for which we are known.” It’s unclear if the leak of the August 6 “The Spoils of War” Game of Thrones episode had an impact on the ratings of the popular show.’

Update: The HBO hackers have released yet another email from an HBO exec, this one detailing a $250,000 bug bounty. 

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Mike Flacy
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