Shades of Sony: Scope of HBO Hack Widens

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The hackers that broke into HBO’s systems have apparently gained access to much more than a few pieces of content, according to reports.

A security contractor from IP Echelon hired by HBO to remove leaked material from online sources found that the hackers stole “thousands of Home Box Office (HBO) internal company documents”, including employee data and possibly internal corporate email, in a situation that’s reminiscent of the massive 2014 attack on Sony Pictures Entertainment.

According to Variety, the revelations were made in a take-down notice sent to Google from IP Echelon telling the search engine to remove links to the leaked files. The notice also said that the perpetrators accessed “masses of copyrighted items including documents, images, videos and sound,” while an image file appears to show screenshots of HBO’s internal administration tools, listing employee names, email addresses and titles.

But that’s not all. According to the report, “the hackers appear to have also leaked personal information of a senior HBO executive. That information, published online in a text document, contains access information to dozens of online accounts, including paid newspaper subscriptions, online banking, and personal health services. At least one of these accounts may also have given the hackers access to the executive’s work email.”

CEO Richard Plepler, in an email to employees on Wednesday, appeared to downplay the reports. He wrote that “we do not believe that our email system as a whole has been compromised,” and said that the investigation was ongoing.

HBO acknowledged the hack on Monday, and said that it was working with law enforcement on the issue. The hackers allegedly leaked the script for the fourth episode of this season’s Game of Thrones and claimed to publish upcoming episodes of Ballers and Room 104. They also said they made off with 1.5 terabytes of content in all from the premium cable network, also promised that more leaks are “coming soon.”

As the 2014 Sony breach showed, the stakes for properly securing access to corporate resources and handling security incidents for media companies couldn’t be higher. In the aftermath of that event, chief Amy Pascal was forced to step down amid scandal brought on by leaked emails.

Unfortunately for HBO, the latest reports indicate that hackers targeted specific HBO content and data housed in different locations, suggesting multiple points of entry—and the bad actors stole more than seven times as much as the 0.2 terabytes taken in the Sony hack, according to Corey Williams, senior director of products and marketing at Centrify. The impact on the company, which released positive earnings for its Q1 on Wednesday, could be extensive.

“In the last three months, HBO’s revenues increased one percent to $1.5 billion,” said Williams. “AT&T also recently agreed to buy HBO’s parent company Time Warner. There’s a high possibility that this hack could have huge financial ramifications on both HBO’s revenues and the acquisition.”

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