Hackers post files from HBO, demand ransom
A hacker or hackers going by the name “Mr. Smith” dumped a trove of stolen HBO files online Monday, hinting at the extent of the channel’s security breach last week.
The files include five Game of Thrones scripts and a month’s worth of emails from Leslie Cohen, the channel’s vice president for film programming. This is the second data dump from the recent hack, according to The Associated Press.
The hackers also demanded a ransom from HBO, threatening to release more of remaining files they claim to have obtained.
The Game of Thrones scripts, including one for a coming episode, were watermarked with the words “HBO is Falling,” which is the hackers’ motto, according to Wired. Also included in the data dump were internal documents such as financial balance sheets, a report of legal claims against the channel and job offer letters for several of its top executives, AP reported.
The hackers sent HBO’s Chief Executive Off icer Richard Plepler a video letter showing a scroll unfurling while the Game of Thrones score plays, Wired reported. The scroll read, in part, “We successfully breached into your huge network… . HBO was one of our difficult targets to deal with but we succeeded (it took about 6 months),” according to The Hollywood Reporter.
The hackers demanded “our 6 month salary in bitcoin,” which appeared to be at least $6 million, The New York Times reported.
HBO, in a statement to the Hollywood Reporter, doubled down on its claim that “the review to date has not given us a reason to believe that our e-mail system as a whole has been compromised.” But the channel did say it “believed that further leaks might emerge from this cyber incident when we confirmed it last week.”
HBO publicly disclosed the hack on July 31 after a leak that included “the unauthorized release of several upcoming TV episodes from the series Ballers, Insecure and Room 104, as well as a script for an upcoming episode of Game of Thrones,” The Washington Post’s Brian Fung and Craig Timberg reported.
The hackers claimed to have stolen 1.5 terabytes of data, though the first release only included about 300 megabytes, according to The Post. Monday’s data dump included 500 megabytes, Wired reported.
Security experts said figuring out exactly how much data was stolen could take weeks.
“You don’t know what you don’t know,” said Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor and founder of Internet security company SSP Blue.
Dealing with hackers has become an increasingly common challenge for studios and networks in the Internet age. As the actual materials used in the production of film and television, such as scripts and video files, become increasingly digitized, they’re naturally more vulnerable to hackers.
Many hackers have taken advantage of this, stealing files from major entertainment companies such as Netflix and Sony Pictures.
“No company is really off limits today,” Jim McGregor, principal analyst at Tirias Research, told Tech NewsWorld. “But the bigger and more prominent you are, the bigger target you become for a wider variety of hackers.”
In many cases, financial gain appears to be a driving factor behind the hacks.
HBO isn’t the first channel to be faced with the decision to pay up or have coming episodes of its popular shows leaked. In December, a hacking group known as the Dark Overlord stole several files from Larson Studios, including the entire fifth season of Netflix’s popular original show Orange is the New Black.
“Once I was able to look at our server, my hands started shaking, and I almost threw up,” the studio’s director of digital systems Chris Unthank told Variety.
The hackers demanded 50 bitcoin, or about $50,000, from Larson Studios or else it would release the episodes. The studio paid up. Rather than upholding its end of the deal, though, the Dark Overlord then pressured Netflix to pay an additional ransom.
Netflix refused. In response, the Dark Overlord leaked the stolen episodes online in late April, weeks before their scheduled release on June 9, the Times reported.