Iranian Hacker Charged With Orchestrating This Summer's HBO Cyberattacks

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Iranian Hacker Charged With Orchestrating This Summer's HBO Cyberattacks

HBO was beset by hacks and leaks alike all summer long, but it looks like the pay-cable network’s nightmare may be nearing an end. ABC News reports that federal prosecutors have accused Iranian national Behzad Mesri of masterminding the summer cyberattack, charging him with computer fraud, wire fraud and other crimes in a seven-count indictment. Authorities made the announcement in a news conference Tuesday.

The HBO hacks compromised some of the network’s most popular shows, beginning in July when hackers obtained some 1.5 terabytes of HBO’s proprietary data, subsequently leaking unaired episodes of Ballers and Room 104, along with Game of Thrones script information and “confidential cast and crew lists and emails belonging to at least one HBO employee,” per ABC. “HBO is falling,” the hacker(s) promised at the time. Soon after, a full Game of Thrones episode hit the web, the epic “The Spoils of War,” though that leak was attributed to an HBO distribution partner, rather than the hacker(s). Then, it was reported that HBO had offered the hacker(s) a $250K “bounty payment” in an email that was then—of course—promptly leaked. Apparently, that olive branch did not have the desired effect, as just days later, the hacker(s) released full episodes of Insecure and Ballers, as well as unaired episodes of the much-anticipated new season of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and then-not-yet-premiered shows Barry and The Deuce.

Unfortunately for HBO, Mesri may not be within the grasp of American authorities, as he is believed to be in Iran. According to the Justice Department’s indictment, Mesri, known online by his hacker pseudonym “Skote Vahshat,” was “a self-professed expert in computer hacking” who had previously penetrated “military systems, nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure” at the behest of the Iranian military. He’s said to have defaced hundreds of websites, both in the U.S. and around the globe.

Mesri’s motive for the cyberattacks was—what else?—monetary. The indicment shows that the hacker “commenced the extortion phase of the scheme” in an email to HBO executives, writing, “Hi to All losers! Yes it’s true! HBO is hacked!” and demanding $6 million in bitcoin. Another email excerpted quotes Mesri as writing, “I have the honor to inform you … that we successfully breached into your huge network. We obtained most valuable information.” Mesri even taunted HBO with an image of a Game of Thrones villain, The Night King. You can read the full indictment here.

Meanwhile, winter is coming and HBO is taking precautions to prevent such leaks in the future. Last we heard, the Game of Thrones cast won’t even receive scripts while shooting the show’s final season, instead being fed their lines via earpiece. Just trying hacking that, Skote Vahshat!