Don’t be an ac­com­plice to the HBO hack

Breach is straight­for­ward graft, an at­tempt to grab an enor­mous amount of money

The Hamilton Spectator - - COMMENT - SONNY BUNCH

HBO, the pro­ducer of the most beloved tele­vi­sual prod­ucts the world has ever seen, has fallen vic­tim to an at­tack from a group of cy­ber­crim­i­nals hop­ing to make a quick buck off of the com­pany’s mis­for­tunes. If these vil­lains are to fail in their ef­fort, we — news pro­duc­ers and news con­sumers alike — are go­ing to have to make a rather dif­fi­cult choice: to sim­ply ig­nore any il­lic­itly ob­tained ma­te­rial re­leased in the in­for­ma­tion dumps that fol­low.

As bits and pieces of in­for­ma­tion have drib­bled out, the hack­ers claim to have stolen a phe­nom­e­nal amount of data — some 1.5 ter­abytes of it. Some of that data comes in the form of TV shows; the goons say they have ob­tained ac­cess to un­aired episodes of pro­grams such as “Ballers” and have por­tioned out lit­tle bits of sup­posed in­for­ma­tion about the net­work’s crown jewel, “Game of Thrones,” as a sort of per­verse proof of life.

What might be even more dam­ag­ing is that the crim­i­nals claim to have gained ac­cess to HBO’s in­ter­nal email servers. In a sort of warn­ing shot, the hack­ers re­leased a tiny per­cent­age of the mis­sives that they claim to have ob­tained — sup­pos­edly in­clud­ing notes with per­sonal con­tact in­for­ma­tion for “Game of Thrones” ac­tors and draft scripts from fu­ture episodes. HBO said in a state­ment Mon­day that it had no “rea­son to be­lieve that our email sys­tem as a whole has been com­pro­mised” and is still in­ves­ti­gat­ing the ex­tent of the hack.

It’s the emails, more than the episodes of TV, that would likely give HBO ex­ecs se­ri­ous rea­son to con­sider pay­ing off the hack­ers. The risk of lost rev­enue from the hack is prob­a­bly min­i­mal: I’m will­ing to bet that most peo­ple who watch HBO’s hit pro­grams will likely wait for the shows to de­but on the net­work — they al­ready pay for the ser­vice and would pre­fer to watch the pro­grams on real tele­vi­sions rather than lap­top screens in the com­pany of oth­ers on­line, tweet­ing along in real time and read­ing re­caps the next morn­ing. HBO is one of the few chan­nels left to of­fer true des­ti­na­tion view­ing, a real sense of com­mu­nity among fans.

No, as any­one who re­mem­bers the Sony hack from a few years back or the hack of Hil­lary Clin­ton cam­paign chair John Podesta’s emails dur­ing last year’s pres­i­den­tial cam­paign will tell you, it’s the emails that will keep ex­ec­u­tives up at night, the emails that will nudge them a lot fur­ther to­ward pay­ing off the ran­som than any­thing else. Af­ter all, who among us would want their per­sonal, pri­vate busi­ness com­mu­ni­ca­tions dis­played for the world to see?

Who would want peo­ple pick­ing apart what we wrote and said about those we worked with and for? Who wants strangers sift­ing through their Ama­zon pur­chase his­tory, as hap­pened to Sony’s Amy Pas­cal when the writ­ers and edi­tors at Gawker’s Jezebel de­cided the world needed to know about the per­sonal groom­ing prod­ucts she pur­chased?

The sim­ple fact of the mat­ter is that this crime, like any other form of black­mail, re­lies on the po­ten­tial of em­bar­rass­ment for the vic­tim for it to truly have any power. The fi­nan­cial dam­age the at­tack could do to HBO may be mod­est in com­par­i­son with the per­sonal, rep­u­ta­tional dam­age it could do to HBO em­ploy­ees. But that threat of black­mail re­ally only works if we, the peo­ple, al­low it to. If we re­porters and writ­ers dig through and high­light the sala­cious de­tails; if you read­ers and news con­sumers share the grotes­queries un­cov­ered.

This will take a rather re­mark­able amount of re­straint on be­half of all in­volved — in­deed, it may be worth con­sid­er­ing whether or not it’s time for a sea change in norms when it comes to the me­dia’s role in pro­mul­gat­ing sto­ries. This is not a par­tic­u­larly tough case, as one could ar­gue the Podesta email breach — nom­i­nally a news­wor­thy dump about a pow­er­ful po­lit­i­cal fig­ure ex­e­cuted in the name of “trans­parency”; more likely a cy­ber­at­tack en­abled by a for­eign power in or­der to im­pact a do­mes­tic elec­tion — was.

It’s not even like the re­cent avalanche of nude celebrity photos to hit the web a cou­ple of years back, which was a crime but an al­most chaotic one, Joker-es­que in its pruri­ent ran­dom­ness. The HBO breach is straight­for­ward graft, an at­tempt to earn an enor­mous amount of money by cir­cum­vent­ing any num­ber of laws.

As such, it is in­cum­bent upon us not to aid in the crime, to not serve as un­wit­ting ac­com­plices. Just don’t look. Just don’t share. And never for­get: You could very eas­ily be next.

Sonny Bunch wrote this for The Washington Post


Rob Corddry, left, and Dwayne "The Rock" John­son in a scene from HBO’s Ballers, one of the shows that has been hacked.

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