An Iranian hacker was accused by federal prosecutors in New York Tuesday of orchestrating the summertime cyberattack that targeted HBO and compromised some of the channel’s most popular programming.
Behzad Mesri was charged in a seven-count indictment with computer fraud, wire fraud and other crimes. He is believed to be in Iran and likely beyond the reach of American authorities, but federal prosecutors and the FBI scheduled a lunchtime news conference to discuss the case.
The hack of HBO lasted for several months this past summer and exposed confidential and proprietary data, including video files of unaired episodes of "Ballers," "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Deuce," the indictment said. Scripts for "Game of Thrones," confidential cast and crew lists and emails belonging to at least one HBO employee were also compromised.
The motive was money. According to court records, Mesri “commenced the extortion phase of the scheme” in an email to HBO executives: “Hi to All losers! Yes it’s true! HBO is hacked!” The email demanded $6 million worth of the digital currency bitcoin, federal prosecutors said.
Another email quoted in court records said, “I have the honor to inform you…that we successfully breached into your huge network.” The message continued: “We obtained most valuable information.”
Acting Manhattan U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said in a statement today: “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. American ingenuity and creativity is to be cultivated and celebrated -- not hacked, stolen, and held for ransom. For hackers who test our resolve in protecting our intellectual property -- even those hiding behind keyboards in countries far away -- eventually, winter will come.”
Bill Sweeney, assistant director in charge of the FBI's New York field office, said that Mesri "lurked in the alleyways of the Internet, identified the vulnerabilities of his victim, and pickpocketed their information from thousands of miles away. After he had successfully identified their proprietary secrets, he held their future for ransom. Today's charges show that international cybercriminals are never beyond the reach of U.S. laws."
Mesri was a self-professed expert in computer hacking, court records said. He had worked previously “on behalf of the Iranian military” to hack military systems, nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure.
He was known online as Skote Vahshat, a hacker pseudonym federal prosecutors said Mesri used to deface hundreds of websites in the United States and elsewhere around the world.