An Iran-based hacker allegedly attempted to extort $6 million from HBO by hacking into the cable network’s servers and threatening to release sensitive material, including episodes and stolen scripts from “Game of Thrones,” authorities said Tuesday.
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An indictment filed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan accuses Behzad Mesri of hacking into the cable network's computer system in New York. It says he stole unaired episodes from shows including "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Deuce," story plot summaries and scripts for "Game of Thrones" and confidential cast and crew contact lists.
Mesri, 29, a fugitive living in Iran who used the alias "Skote Vahshat," earlier this year infiltrated computer accounts of HBO employees authorized to remotely access the network's servers, the indictment says. In July, he emailed HBO executives in New York providing evidence of the hack and demanding $5.5 million in digital currency, a figure later raised to $6 million, it says. Included was an image of "Game of Thrones" Night King character, leader of an army of zombies, with the words, "Good luck HBO."
After HBO apparently refused to pay, Mesri began leaking portions of the stolen material on websites he controlled, the indictment says. One of the leaks was an unaired episode of a new HBO comedy called "Barry" on which he superimposed an opening credit showing the Night King and the "HBO is falling" threat, according to the indictment.
At one point, HBO reportedly offered a $250,000 “bounty payment” to the hackers, Variety reported last August. The network also purportedly asked the hackers to extend a payment deadline.
U.S. authorities described Mesri as a computer whiz who sometimes works with a hacker group in Iran called Turk Black Hat Security. He also has teamed the Iranian military to conduct cyberattacks targeting military and nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure, they said.
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Although Mesri is not in custody, prosecutors decided to publicly charge him and put him on the FBI's most-wanted list to send a message to outlaw hackers that U.S. law enforcement has the means to identify, track and get them arrested if they travel to countries where the United States has better relations, acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said.
"Today, winter has come for Behzad Mesri," Kim said. "He will forever be looking over his shoulder. And if he isn't, he should be."
In a statement Tuesday, HBO said it is working with law enforcement but declined further comment.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.