The Department of Justice on Tuesday charged an Iranian national with hacking the computer servers of HBO and seeking to extort the company after stealing episodes and scripts of popular shows, including “Game of Thrones.”
Behzad Mesri, aka “Skote Vashat,” was charged with fraud, aggravated identity theft and interstate transmission of an extortionate communication, among other charges, according to a new unsealed indictment.
According to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Southern District of New York, Mesri is not in custody. The FBI released a “wanted” poster of Mesri Tuesday afternoon, and said he speaks Farsi, currently resides in Iran and is a flight risk.
The prosecutors’ office also said they were not aware of any U.S. lawyer for the defendant.
Assistant director in charge of the FBI’s New York field office Bill Sweeney said at a news briefing that Mesri “lurked in the alleyways of the Internet, identified the vulnerabilities of his victim, pickpocketed their information from thousands of miles away and sought a ransom. Today’s charges show that international cybercriminals are never beyond the reach of U.S. laws.”
Mesri, who was a “self-professed expert in computer hacking techniques,” according to the indictment, at one point worked on behalf of the Iranian military to “conduct computer network attacks that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure.”
The indictment also reveals Mesri defaced hundreds of websites in both the U.S. and globally under his pseudonym Skote Vashat.
Between May and August, Mesri began his hacking and extortion scheme of HBO, working to obtain “unauthorized access to HBO’s computer systems” and “steal proprietary data from those systems.”
Mesri then attempted to extort HBO for $6 million worth of Bitcoin, a form of digital currency.
The confidential and proprietary data belonging to HBO he stole included video files of unaired episodes of “Ballers,” “Barry,” “Room 104,” “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” and “The Deuce,” scripts and plots for “Game of Thrones,” cast and crew contact lists, financial documents, emails belonging to at least one HBO employee, and log in information for HBO social media accounts.
The extortion scheme began in July, the indictment alleges.
“Hi to All losers! Yes it’s true! HBO is hacked! … Beware of heart Attack!!!” an anonymous email sent to HBO personnel on July 23 included in the complaint reads. The email claimed 1.5 terabytes of data was stolen.
The indictment alleges starting around July 30 and continuing to at least August, the defendant leaked portions of the stolen data to the Internet on websites he controlled.
HBO, which is owned by Time Warner, struggled over the summer with numerous high-profile hackings. A group called OurMine hijacked HBO’s main Twitter account, as well as other HBO shows’ accounts.