A federal grand jury has charged a man accused of ruining HBO’s summer.
In July, a hacker indictment unsealed Tuesday. The indictment came from a grand jury for the US District Court for the Southern District for New York.as well as unreleased episodes of The alleged hacker, who the FBI identified as Behzad Mesri of Iran, demanded $6 million in bitcoin from HBO and threatened to release more sensitive content if the media company refused to pay up, according to an
“Winter has come for Fezhad Mesri,” Joon Kim, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, said during a press conference on Tuesday. “He will forever be looking over his shoulder. And if he isn’t, he should be.”
HBO declined to comment on the charges but said it has been working with law enforcement since the early stages of the cyberattack. “As far as the criminal case is concerned, we prefer to leave any comments to the US Attorney’s Office,” said an HBO spokesman.
Mesri, also known as “Skote Vahshat,” is a highly skilled hacker who has worked for the Iranian military, attacking nuclear software, Israeli infrastructure and rival armies, according to the indictment. He has also been a member of the Turk Black Hat Security team, a hacking group based out of Iran that vandalized hundreds of websites around the world, the indictment states.
Kim described Mesri as an “experienced and sophisticated hacker,” who had been “wreaking havoc on computer systems around the world for some time.”
Mesri allegedly used his skills to stake out HBO employees starting in May and was able to hack several staffers who had remote access to the network’s servers, according to the court document. From there, Mesri was allegedly free to loot HBO’s treasure trove of videos, scripts and personal information.
On July 23, Mesri allegedly sent an anonymous email to HBO, stating: “Hi to All losers! Yes it’s true! HBO is hacked! … Beware of heart attack!!!”
In the threat, Mesri claimed to have 1.5 terabytes of HBO’s data and demanded $5.5 million in bitcoin. He also taunted the network with images, including a photo of the Night King from “Game of Thrones” with the message “Good luck to HBO,” according to the indictment.
Three days later, Mesri allegedly bumped the ransom up to $6 million in bitcoin. In communications with HBO, Mesri used the name “Little Finger,” a reference to a “Game of Thrones” character.
Despite the leaked script, the “Game of Thrones” episode was the most-watched one at the time. Mesri, like the , hasn’t been arrested and is not in the United States. Officials said he was in Iran, but would have to worry about traveling outside the country for the rest of his life.
The charges against hackers outside the US serve more as a symbolic measure for the Justice Department, sending a message that there will be consequences for cyberattacks.
“Cybercriminals should know that they are not safe behind the anonymity of a computer screen, even if they are a world away,” Kim said.
Mesri is now on the FBI’s most wanted list. He’s been charged with accessing a computer without authorization, wire fraud, computer fraud, identity theft and extortion.
In August,, but they aren’t connected with Mesri’s alleged attack.
First published Nov. 21 7:18 am PT.
Update, 8 a.m. PT: Adds comment from HBO.
Update, 11:13 a.m. PT: Adds comments from the US attorney Joon Kim.
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