United States officials are charging an Iranian hacker in the theft of 1.5 terabytes of data from HBO in May, an attack that tormented network executives and included the release of several unaired programs and scripts.
Behzad Mesri, who went by the pseudonym of “Skote Vahshat,” was charged with computer fraud, wire fraud, extortion and identity theft, according to an indictment filed Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Manhattan.
Mr. Mesri “had worked on behalf of the Iranian military to conduct computer network attacks that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure,” the indictment said, but it did not suggest that the hacking was sanctioned by the state. He was also part of a hacking group known as the Turk Black Hat Security team.
He was accused of trying to extort $6 million worth of Bitcoin from HBO in July, the indictment said. A news conference was planned for Tuesday afternoon to provide more details.
From May to August, the data theft proved a nightmare for HBO. The hacker gradually released stolen materials on the internet, including unaired episodes of “Ballers,” “Barry,” “Room 104,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “The Deuce.” The hacker also released the script of an episode of “Game of Thrones” that had not yet been broadcast.
The data cache also included financial documents, cast and crew contact lists, emails belonging to at least one HBO employee and credentials for social media accounts, according to the indictment.
In a statement, HBO said: “HBO has confirmed in the past that we were working with law enforcement from the early stages of the cyber incident. As far as the criminal case is concerned, we prefer to leave any comments to the US Attorney’s Office.”
Mr. Mesri was not accused of participating in two other HBO security breaches over the summer. The network’s Twitter account was hacked in August, and two episodes of “Game of Thrones” were leaked online before they were broadcast, but neither was linked to the larger data theft.
“Game of Thrones” didn’t appear to suffer from the leaks. It set a ratings record with 12.1 million viewers for its finale, or 16.5 million when including numbers from its streaming services.