U.S. prosecutors charged an Iranian with hacking into computer systems of the cable TV channel HBO earlier this year, stealing information about the hit program “Game of Thrones” and attempting to extort millions of dollars from the company.
In an indictment Tuesday, prosecutors said 29-year-old Behzad Mesri has had ties to Iran’s military and is a member of an Iran-based hacking group known as the Turk Black Hat security team.
Mesril’s stolen material included video of unaired episodes of several original HBO shows, scripts and plot summaries of upcoming episodes of “Game of Thrones,” and confidential cast and crew contact information, according to the indictment.
Mesri claims to have stolen 1.5 terabytes of data from HBO.
Demanded $6 million in Bitcoin
In late July, Mesri emailed HBO executives on several occasions, threatening to release the material unless the entertainment company paid him $5.5 million worth of Bitcoin digital currency, a ransom amount he later increased to $6 million.
“Hi to all losers! Yes, it’s true. HBO is hacked! Beware of heart attack!!!” he allegedly wrote in one anonymous email. In another he bragged that “HBO was one of our difficult targets to deal with but we succeeded.”
After HBO refused to make a payment, Mesri allegedly posted portions of the stolen videos and five scripts from Game of Throne episodes on websites he controlled.
Mesri has not been arrested, and faces multiple charges, including wire fraud, which carries a maximum sentence of 20 years and one count of computer hacking, which could be punished with up to five years in prison.
More indictments expects
The indictment is one of several cases involving Iranian suspects prosecutors plan to announce in the coming month, the Washington Post reported on Sunday, citing people familiar with the matter. In July, the Justice Department indicted two Iranian nationals with hacking a Vermont-based software company.
“Mesri now stands charged with federal crimes, and although not arrested today, he will forever have to look over his shoulder until he is made to face justice,” said Acting U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon Kim.
Prosecutors allege that Mesri “had previously worked on behalf of the Iranian military to conduct computer network attacks that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems, and Israeli infrastructure.”
As a member of the Turk Black Hat, Mesri is alleged to have conducted hundreds of website defacements in the United States and elsewhere using the online pseudonym Skote Vahshat, according to the indictment.
In a note to journalists, HBO said it had been “working with law enforcement from the early stages of the cyber incident.”