HBO hackers demand ransom following Game of Thrones leak

Image credit: Dreamstime

The group of hackers responsible for what appears to be large-scale theft of private files from Home Box Office (HBO) have demanded a multi-million dollar ransom to prevent the further leak of sensitive content, including entire television series.

HBO have acknowledged that some “proprietary information” has been stolen by hackers and it is currently investigating the breach with police and cyber-security experts. It has said that it does not believe its entire email system has been compromised.

In a recent dump of 3.4Gb of HBO data, the hackers have included draft scripts – watermarked with an “HBO Is Falling” logo – from the first five episodes of the current and final series of Game of Thrones, HBO’s most-viewed TV series. Other content includes emails from Leslie Cohen, HBO’s vice president for film programming, personal contact information for high-profile members of the Game of Thrones cast, a spreadsheet of legal cases against the network, technical confidential data and slides discussing future plans for technology.

The hackers claim to have acquired 1.5Tb of data in total after a six-month effort to break into the network.

In a five minute-long video addressed directly to Richard Plepler, chief executive of HBO, the hackers, under the alias “Mr Smith” demand a payment within three days or HBO faces further leaks of sensitive content, including full television series.

“Our demand is clear and non-negotiable: we want XXXX dollars to stop leaking your data,” the ransom note says. The note specified that they wanted their “six-month salary in bitcoin” and that their annual earnings from a year of blackmail total $12-15 million (£9-11.5 million). The group claims that of 16 previous targets, only three have refused to pay ransoms.

The letter – in video form – claims that the hackers bought zero-day exploits which enables them to break into unknown network holes to acquire the data.

The note ends with an image of the “Night King”, the major antagonist of HBO’s Game of Thrones.

In 2014, a hacker group named “Guardians of Peace” likely backed by North Korea targeted Sony Pictures to steal thousands of emails and the personal information of 50,000 employers. The group demanded that The Interview, a Sony Pictures comedy about North Korean dictator Kim Jon-Un, be withdrawn and threatened terrorist attacks at cinemas showing the film.

If the group targeting HBO has acquired 1.5Tb of data as it claims, this could constitute a leak on a scale almost a magnitude higher than that which affected Sony Pictures.

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