Charges Filed against HBO Hacker

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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HackerThe United States has filed criminal charges against an Iranian hacker accused of stealing 1.5 terabytes of data from HBO earlier this year.

As reported by the New York Times, the stolen material included full episodes of shows that had not yet aired as well as the script for an upcoming episode of “Game of Thrones.”

According to the Times, “Behzad Mesri, who went by the pseudonym “Skote Vahshat,” was charged with computer fraud, wire fraud, extortion and identity theft.”

Mesri, 29, is charged with trying to extort a payment of $6 million in bitcoin from HBO in exchange for not releasing the material to the public.

Bitcoin Ransom

According to The Guardian,

While bitcoin is considered a pseudonymous currency that cannot be tracked in the same way as traditional currencies, monitoring its movement is possible due to the way transactions are written into a distributed ledger called the blockchain.

That makes turning ill-gotten gains into traditional currencies harder to do anonymously. To do so requires the use of techniques such as a bitcoin mixer or tumbler, which intentionally confuses the trails of bitcoin transactions to protect the anonymity of the bitcoin owners.

Stolen Data

Mesri gradually did allegedly release shows such as “Ballers” and “The Deuce” on the internet, as well as the “Game of Thrones” script.

The stolen data included company financial documents, emails, and social media account credentials.

Mesri is still in Iran, and law enforcement officials admitted that it would be hard to actually arrest him. However, the indictment may make it difficult for him to travel abroad.

Government Involvement?

According to the Times,

The indictment stops short of formally accusing Mr. Mesri, 29, of working on behalf of the Iranian government, though it notes that he previously “had worked on behalf of the Iranian military to conduct computer network attacks that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems, and Israeli infrastructure.”

The Sony Hack

In 2014, Sony fell victim to a far broader hack attack.

As the Times reported,

Some of the studio’s 7,000 employees, arriving at work, turned on their computers to find macabre images of [Chief Executive Michael] Lynton’s severed head. Sony shut down all computer systems shortly thereafter, including those in overseas offices, leaving the company in the digital dark ages: no voice mail, no corporate email, no production systems.

In that case, hackers revealed thousands of embarrassing emails and released personal information about 50,000 current and former Sony employees — including their Social Security numbers and salary information.

The attack was widely viewed to have originated in North Korea, and tied to Sony’s release of the Seth Rogen/James Franco comedy “The Interview,” which depicts a fictional assassination of North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-Un.

Amy Pascal, the head of Sony Pictures at the time, was fired in the wake of the attack.

Sony was also sued for negligence, defamation, and invasion of privacy, among other causes of action, for injuries to current and former employees caused by the attack.

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