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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.
Acting US Atty Kim: HBO hacker, Behzad Mesri, will forever be looking over his shoulder. He is now on FBI’s most wanted list pic.twitter.com/AagbTxcKPN— US Attorney SDNY (@SDNYnews) November 21, 2017
Press Conference 11-21-17Posted 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.”
Michelle Jaworski is a staff writer and the resident Game of Thrones expert at the Daily Dot. She covers entertainment, geek culture, and pop culture and has brought her knowledge to conventions like Con of Thrones. She is based in New Jersey.