Iranian Tied to Military Charged in `Game of Thrones' Hack

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Kit Harington as Jon Snow on 'Game of Thrones.'
Kit Harington as Jon Snow on 'Game of Thrones.' Credit: Helen Sloan/Courtesy of HBO

An Iranian man with alleged ties to the country's military was charged with hacking into HBO's computer servers, stealing scripts to unreleased " Game of Thrones" episodes and trying to extort $6 million from the cable network.

Prosecutors claim Behzad Mesri, who isn't in custody, is a member of an Iran-based group of hackers called the Turk Black Hat Security team and was known online as "Skote Vahshat." He previously worked for the Iranian military to conduct computer attacks against military systems, nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure, according to the indictment.

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan charged Mesri with seven criminal counts including computer fraud. U.S. prosecutors have scheduled a midday news conference to detail the charges. A copy of his indictment, returned by a grand jury Nov. 7, was unsealed Tuesday.

Beginning in May, Mesri searched for ways to get into Home Box Office Inc.'s network, using access points where employees and other authorized users accessed the system from outside, according to prosecutors. He allegedly used the access to download huge amounts of data, including video files of unreleased episodes of "Ballers," "Barry," "Room 104," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Deuce."

He also stole scripts and plot summaries for unaired episodes of "Game of Thrones" and other shows, confidential lists of cast and crew contact information, financial documents, credentials and emails from at least one HBO employee.

In a July 23, 2017 email sent to HBO, Mesri allegedly threatened: "Hi to All losers! Yes it's true! HBO is hacked! ... Beware of heart Attack!!!"

Later the same day, Mesri sent another email: "I have the honor to inform you... that we successfully breached into your huge network" and that "in a complicated cyber operation, infiltration into your network [was] accomplished and we obtained most valuable information."

Masri told HBO he took 1.5 terabytes of data, which he threatened to release publicly if the network failed to pay a "nonnegotiable" ransom of $5.5 million in bitcoin. He later raised the amount to $6 million, according to prosecutors.

-- Bloomberg News

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