The Justice Department announced today that it has charged an Iranian man with this year’s hack of HBO, a high-profile security breach that led to the early release of TV episodes and scripts.
Mesri allegedly stole unaired TV episodes
In an indictment, prosecutors allege that Behzad Mesri gained server access to HBO by hijacking employees’ accounts. With that access, according to the indictment, Mesri stole unaired episodes of shows like Ballers and Curb Your Enthusiasm, as well as scripts for other shows, including Game of Thrones. Financial documents and logins for social media accounts were also taken.
When he had the data, prosecutors allege, Mesri reached out to HBO and demanded about $5.5 million — and later $6 million — in bitcoin as a ransom for the stolen data. Mesri, who prosecutors claim has worked as a hacker for the Iranian military, faces charges of computer fraud, wire fraud, identity theft, and extortion.
The charges are the latest chapter in an embarrassing story for HBO. In August, as the hack was unfolding, the company reportedly offered a $250,000 “bug bounty” payment to the hacker, although it’s unclear whether it actually intended to pay the ransom.
“Because Mesri is in Iran, we are unfortunately unable to arrest him today,” acting United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York Joon Kim said during a press conference livestream today.
“While Mesri remains at large, there will be some real consequences for him,” Kim continued. “For the rest of his life, and he’s a relatively young man, he will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here to face these charges.”
Update November 21st, 1:00 PM ET: This article has been updated with details from the official press conference.