Iran-based hacker charged with trying to extort HBO over stolen show scripts

Last Updated Nov 21, 2017 4:07 PM EST

NEW YORK — An Iran-based hacker plotted to extort HBO out of $6 million by threatening to release stolen episodes and scripts of hit shows such as "Game of Thrones," at one point taunting the network with a twist on a catch phrase from that series: "Winter is coming. HBO is falling." 

An indictment filed Tuesday in federal court in Manhattan accuses Behzad Mesri of hacking into the cable network's computer system in New York. It says he stole unaired episodes from shows including "Curb Your Enthusiasm" and "The Deuce," story plot summaries and scripts for "Game of Thrones," and confidential cast and crew contact lists. 

The indictment says Mesri, 29, a fugitive living in Iran who used the alias "Skote Vahshat," earlier this year infiltrated computer accounts of HBO employees who were authorized to remotely access the network's servers. In July, he emailed HBO executives in New York providing evidence of the hack and demanding $5.5 million in Bitcoin digital currency, a figure later raised to $6 million. Included was an image of "Game of Thrones" Night King character, leader of an army of zombies, with the words, "Good luck HBO." 

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Screenshots of two messages allegedly sent to HBO by a hacker accused of breaking into the cable network's computer system and stealing scripts and episodes of shows.

Department of Justice

After HBO apparently refused to pay, Mesri began leaking portions of the stolen material on websites he controlled, the indictment says. One of the leaks was an unaired episode of a new HBO comedy called "Barry" on which he superimposed an opening credit showing the Night King and the "HBO is falling" threat, according to the indictment. 

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Behzad Mesri

FBI

U.S. authorities described Mesri as a computer whiz who sometimes works with a hacker group in Iran called Turk Black Hat Security. He also has teamed with the Iranian military to conduct cyberattacks targeting military and nuclear software systems and Israeli infrastructure, they said. 

Although Mesri is not in custody, prosecutors decided 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. 

"Today, winter has come for Behzad Mesri," Kim said. "He will forever be looking over his shoulder. And if he isn't, he should be." 

In a statement provided to CBS News Tuesday, HBO said it is working with law enforcement but declined further comment. 

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