United States charges Iranian man in HBO's 'Game of Thrones' hack

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The U.S. government charged an Iranian hacker with infiltrating HBO's computer servers and seeking to extort the company after stealing popular episodes and scripts from the company, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.

Behzad Mesri, who went by the alias Skote Vahshat, has been indicted for cybercrimes related to the alleged hacks, the Manhattan U.S. Attorney's Office said. The decision to indict him is part of a "name and shame" strategy the US government has used in the past to try to curb the work of foreign hackers it doesn't expect to apprehend.

According to the indictment, Mesri is a "self-professed expert in computer hacking techniques, and had worked on behalf of the Iranian military to conduct computer network attacks that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems, and Israeli infrastructure". They also said he was a member of the Iranian-based Turk Black Hat Security hacking group, targeting hundreds of websites in the United States and around the world.

Mesri is accused of orchestrating a hack of HBO from May to August, then threatening to release stolen data unless the premium cable network paid a United States dollars 6 million ransom in the digital currency Bitcoin.

The Department of Justice has charged an Iranian national over a hack resulting in stolen data from HBO, including unaired episodes of the "Game of Thrones" series.

But in the HBO hack, authorities say his motives may have been simpler: greed. Over a period of three months, he successfully compromised multiple user accounts and used these to obtain unauthorized access to HBO's computer servers, stealing "confidential and proprietary data" belonging to the channel.

"It has been widely reported that there was a cyber incident at HBO. That's a game we're not going to participate in", the company said in a statement.

Some federal officials have raised concerns that unsealing cases now could imperil ongoing investigative work or make it harder to catch suspects who might travel out of Iran, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss active investigations.



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