USA prosecutors have charged an Iran-based hacker with penetrating the network of cable TV provider HBO and stealing episodes and plot summaries for unaired programs including "Game of Thrones", and then threatening to release the data unless he was paid $6 million.
The indictment, unsealed in NY on Tuesday, said that Behzad Mesri, "had worked on behalf of the Iranian military to conduct computer network attacks that targeted military systems, nuclear software systems, and Israeli infrastructure".
"Today's charges make clear that nation-states like Iran routinely employ alleged criminals [and] mercenaries like Mesri to conduct network attacks in America and elsewhere", Mr. Kim said.
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Data stolen during the hacks included Game of Thrones content, which was in high demand online.
Court documents seen by the BBC state that Mesri began spying on the media giant's computer networks and its employees in May and after a couple of months he successfully broke into a number of user accounts, obtaining unrestricted access to the HBO servers.
Although Mesri is not in custody, prosecutors chose to publicly charge him and put him on the FBI's most-wanted list to send a message to outlaw hackers that U.S. law enforcement has the means to identify, track and get them arrested if they travel to countries where the United States has better relations, acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said. In July, he began to send taunting messages to HBO executives, before ultimately demanding a ransom of $5.5m in Bitcoin. "Yes it's true! HBO is hacked!"
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The theft consisted of terabytes of information, which wasn't limited to scripts and unaired episodes.
In a statement Tuesday, HBO said it was working with law enforcement but declined further comment. The email concluded with an image of the Night King, a character from "Game of Thrones", and said: "Good luck to HBO". The hacker demanded $6 million in bitcoin from the media company and threatened to release more confidential information if his demands weren't met.
It is unclear if HBO paid any part of the ransom to the hacker.
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