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Photo via Helen Sloan/HBO

Warrant issued for suspect in HBO hacking case

Federal prosecutors are unable to arrest the alleged hacker while he remains in Iran.

Nov 21, 2017, 2:17 pm

Internet Culture

Michelle Jaworski 

Michelle Jaworski

Federal prosecutors announced Tuesday that they have filed charges against an Iranian national for breaching HBO’s servers, leaking stolen information, and attempting to extort the network.

Behzad Mesri, who is also known as “Skote Vahshat,” allegedly stole emails, written summaries, scripts, episodes of unaired episodes including Game of Thrones, Ballers, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Room 104 over several months using his access to multiple HBO employees’ accounts to obtain information, according to Joon Kim, the acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York. Mesri, who the indictment alleges has ties to the Iranian military, has been charged with seven counts, which include computer fraud, wire fraud, extortion, and aggravated identity theft.

Press Conference 11-21-17

**Press conference today to announce charges against Behzad Mesri, an Iranian national, for allegedly hacking into the computer servers of Home Box Office, Inc. (HBO), stealing proprietary data, including information about then-unreleased episodes of the popular television series, “Game of Thrones,” and then allegedly seeking to extort HBO.

Posted by U.S. Attorney's Office for the Southern District of New York on Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Kim described Mesri, who is in his late 20s, as “an experienced and sophisticated hacker who has been wreaking havoc on computer systems around the world for some time.”

Mesri later allegedly emailed HBO with demands for $6 million in bitcoins between July 23 and July 29 in an email that included proof that the hacker had obtained confidential HBO data. Mesri allegedly threatened to destroy HBO data and included an image from an upcoming Game of Thrones episode and an image of the Night King. The indictment makes it unclear if HBO paid the ransom.

The HBO hack gained international attention, particularly as the hacker’s demands became public and multiple episodes of HBO shows and script summaries for Game of Thrones were leaked online. The leaking of two Game of Thrones season 7 episodes prior to their airdate was unrelated to the HBO hack.

U.S. prosecutors are unable to arrest Mesri as he is still in Iran, but they wanted to send a message to hackers by announcing the charges against him.

Mesri will be placed on the FBI’s Most Wanted list and is considered an international flight risk, so although federal authorities cannot arrest him today, he will risk capture if he travels out of Iran. By announcing charges against Mesri, federal authorities wanted to send a message to hackers and “would-be cybercriminals.”

“In The Game of Thrones, ‘Winter is Coming’ is the motto of the House of Stark, the rulers of the North,” Kim said during a press conference on the charges. “As you see in the indictment, Mesri allegedly uses the phrase to frighten HBO into meeting his extortion demands. Well today, winter has come for Behzad Mesri.”

You can read the indictment in full on Documentcloud.

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*First Published: Nov 21, 2017, 2:17 pm