According to The New York Times, the man behind the cyber attack on HBO this summer has been indicted on charges of wire fraud, computer fraud, identity theft and extortion. Behzad Mesri, an Iranian national, hacked into HBO’s system under the pseudonym “Skote Vahshat”, where he stole data from May to August. Additionally, Mesri released the stolen data including episodes of popular HBO shows like “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and the script for one episode of HBO’s highest grossing show, “Game of Thrones.” The gradual release of these episodes was done to extort millions of dollars from HBO.
In addition to the episodes and scripts, Mesri was able to collect financial documents, contact lists, and employee e-mails totaling 1.5 terabytes of data theft. Shortly after the attack, HBO’s chief executive wrote an e-mail to employees saying that the hack is “unsettling and disturbing for all,” but “unfortunately all too familiar in the world we now find ourselves a part of.” This is especially true for HBO who has found itself a victim of cyber attacks on more than one occasion. In 2015, four episodes of “Game of Thrones” were released online prior to their airdate. Earlier this year, Netflix was also a target of hackers who released episodes of “Orange is the New Black.”
Although hacking has become a prevalent concern for networks wishing to keep their online data secure, there is still difficulty in finding and punishing online hackers. Joon H. Kim, the acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York where the HBO indictment has been released, has acknowledged the difficulty in punishing a foreign national. Currently, Mesri is still in Iran and detaining him is unlikely. However, Kim commented that Mesri should “forever be looking over his shoulder.” As of now, that warning is all the government can do to prevent further attacks by the hacker.
Jenna El-Fakih is an Entertainment Highlight Contributor for the Harvard Journal of Sports and Entertainment Law and a current first year student at Harvard Law School (Class of 2020).