US charges Iranian man in HBO’s ‘Game of Thrones’ hack

Posted at 4:21 PM, Nov 21, 2017
and last updated 2017-11-21 18:21:06-05

(CNN Money) -- The criminal investigation into last summer's hacking of HBO has nabbed a suspect.

On Tuesday, the U.S. Attorney's office in New York announced charges against an Iranian national who stands accused of hacking into the network's servers.

The indictment of Behzad Mesri alleges that he stole proprietary data, including information about unreleased episodes of "Game of Thrones," and then sought to extort the company.

Related: HBO is latest hacking victim

Mesri has been charged by a grand jury with various counts of computer fraud, as well as wire fraud, interstate transmission of an extortionate communication, and aggravated identity theft, according to court paperwork.

He allegedly stole scripts and plot summaries for "Game of Thrones," as well as confidential video files containing unaired episodes of HBO shows including "Curb Your Enthusiasm," "The Deuce" and "Ballers."

A government spokesman said Mesri, who prosecutors say had previously hacked computer systems for the Iranian military, is not in custody at this time.

Although he isn't in custody, "he will forever have to look over his shoulder until he is made to face justice," U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said at a press conference Tuesday.

"This is a reminder that our country and our businesses remain prime targets of hackers around the world. Today's charges make clear that nation states like Iran routinely employ alleged criminals, mercenaries like Mesri to conduct network attacks ... in America and elsewhere," Kim said.

The cyber intrusion dealt a serious blow to HBO in July and August. The illegal leak of TV episodes, as well as an email system breach, created weeks of uncertainty within the company.

Related: HBO says full email system likely not compromised in data breach

According to the indictment, Mesri, aka "Skote Vahshat," engaged in the hack attack in the spring. He allegedly orchestrated a hacking scheme in an attempt to extort the company for $6 million worth of bitcoin.

"HBO has confirmed in the past that we were working with law enforcement from the early stages of the cyber incident," the network said Tuesday. "As far as the criminal case is concerned, we prefer to leave any comments to the US Attorney's Office."

HBO and CNN are corporate sisters. Both units are owned by Time Warner.