Behzad Mesri, 29, an Iranian man with alleged ties to the country’s military, has been charged with seven criminal counts, including breaking into HBO’s computer servers, stealing unaired episodes of TV shows and trying to extort millions of dollars in bitcoin from the TV network.
Mesri is an alleged member of hacking group Turk Black Hat Security Team, and in the past, prosecutors say, has worked for Iran’s military to attack Israeli computers and infrastructure.
In the indictment, filed Tuesday in the U.S. District Court in Manhattan, the federal authorities do not accuse Mesri of working on behalf of the Iranian government when he allegedly hacked HBO. Using the name “Skote Vahshat,” Mesri allegedly launched a campaign in May to gain access to HBO’s servers through employee user accounts.
WATCH BELOW: ‘Game of Thrones’ hacker Iranian Behzad Mesri used ‘Winter Is Coming’ meme to taunt HBO
Prosecutors say that Mesri started sending provocative, taunting emails to HBO executives in July.
“Hi to all losers!” one read.
“Yes it’s true! HBO is hacked… Beware of heart attacks,” reads another. Often, the emails included images of Game of Thrones characters like the Night King, with accompanying messages like “Good luck to HBO.”
Mesri has also been accused of defacing numerous HBO-affiliated pages, like the network’s Giphy page (above). Phrases like “HB-Old is Dying….” and “HBO is Falling” can be clearly seen in the screengrab (the site was back to normal within an hour of the original hack).
In the indictment, Mesri has been charged with computer fraud, wire fraud, extortion and identity theft, among other charges.
HBO spokesman Jeff Cusson declined to comment on the developments.
“As far as the criminal case is concerned, we prefer to leave any comments to the US Attorney’s Office,” he said.
As of this writing, Mesri isn’t in U.S. custody and his whereabouts were not revealed, though it’s thought that he’s overseas.
From May to August, executive emails and the personal phone numbers, email addresses and home addresses of Game of Thrones Season 7 cast members, among them Emilia Clarke (Daenerys), Lena Headey (Cersei), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) and Kit Harington (Jon Snow), were leaked online, in addition to multiple episodes of HBO shows.
At the time, the hacker claimed they were not criminals, but “white hats” (used to reference people of good and moral standing, or, in computer speak, someone who hacks into a network to evaluate its security).
In the initial ransom note sent to HBO, the hacker said, “Its [sic] a game for us. Money isn’t our main purpose. We don’t want to endanger HBO’s situation nor cause it to lose its reputation. We want to be your partner in a tiny part of HBO’s huge income.”
The hacker claimed to have 1.5 terabytes of data, including scripts, upcoming episodes of HBO shows and movies, and information damaging to HBO.