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Iranian National Indicted for $6m HBO Extortion Plot

An Iranian national who tried to extort $6m from HBO whilst leaking stolen content online has been named in an unsealed indictment.

Behzad Mesri (aka Skote Vahshat) is a former Iranian military cyber operative and member of the hacking group Turk Black Hat security team, according to the Department of Justice.

Back in May, he began reconnaissance work on HBO, looking for restricted parts of the corporate network, before compromising multiple user accounts to obtain unauthorized access to the TV network’s servers.

The DoJ explained:

“Through the course of the intrusions into HBO’s systems, Mesri was responsible for stealing confidential and proprietary data belonging to HBO, including, but not limited to: (a) confidential video files containing unaired episodes of original HBO television programs, including episodes of ‘Barry’, ‘Ballers’, ‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’, ‘Room 104’, and ‘The Deuce’; (b) scripts and plot summaries for unaired programming, including but not limited to episodes of ‘Game of Thrones’; (c) confidential cast and crew contact lists; (d) emails belonging to at least one HBO employee; (e) financial documents; and (f) online credentials for HBO social media accounts.”

Mesri is then said to have sent emails demanding $6m from the company and threatening to destroy data on its servers.

He then leaked content to the world via websites under his control and a Twitter account. In late August, this included information such as confidential plot summaries for the Game of Thrones season finale — sending statements to media outlets in an attempt to pressure HBO into paying.

The network, to its credit, never caved.

The 29-year-old hacker has been charged with wire fraud, computer hacking, threatening to impair the confidentiality of information, aggravated identity theft and transmission of an extortionate communication.

However, Mesri is unlikely to ever stand trial in the US, as he remains at large in Iran.

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