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Justice Department charges Iranian man for allegedly hacking HBO

24 November 2017

The U.S. government charged an Iranian hacker with infiltrating HBO's computer servers and seeking to extort the company after stealing popular episodes and scripts from the company, the Justice Department announced Tuesday. Behzad Mesri sought millions of dollars in bitcoins, threatening to post spoilers on the internet.

In late July, the hacker began contacting HBO employees to inform them of his theft and demand ransom payment. He released the Game of Thrones scripts a week later.

The indictment described Mesri as a "self-professed expert" in hacking who had worked on behalf of Iran's military to attack Israeli infrastructure. Mesri is accused of infiltrating HBO's networks and leaking internal company emails, as well as unreleased episodes and scripts for Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Insecure.

The FBI and U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of NY revealed Tuesday at a press conference than an Iranian named Behzad Mesri is wanted for "stealing proprietary data, including information about then-unreleased episodes of the popular television series, Game of Thrones, and then allegedly seeking to extort HBO".

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"American ingenuity and creativity is to be cultivated and celebrated - not hacked, stolen, and held for ransom", Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said of the case.

Mesri, who uses the online handle Skote Vahshat, said he would release the material and destroy data unless he was paid $5.5 million in Bitcoin currency, the indictment charges.

Mr Mesri, a member of the Iran-supported Turk Black Hat Security team, conducted "hundreds of website defacements" in the U.S. and across the world, prosecutors said. He was not, however, working for the Iranian government when he allegedly hacked HBO. Yes it's true! HBO is hacked! Just previous year, he noted, the federal government charged seven Iranians with carrying out a cyber attack on dozens of U.S. banks on behalf of the Iranian government. Mesri has been added to the FBI's "Most Wanted" list and Kim noted, "He will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here to face these charges".

Phrases like "HB-Old is Dying...." and "HBO is Falling" can be clearly seen in the screengrab (the site was back to normal within an hour of the original hack).

Justice Department charges Iranian man for allegedly hacking HBO