Iranian Man Indicted for HBO Hack, Extortion Scheme

Behzad Mesri charged, but not arrested, after allegedly stealing and leaking sensitive data, unreleased TV episodes

An Iranian man, Behzad Mesri, has been charged but not arrested for allegedly hacking and extorting HBO. Credit: Jaap Arriens/NurPhoto via Getty Images

An Iranian man, Behzad Mesri, has been charged in the massive HBO hack and extortion scheme, NBC News reports. Mesri is accused of infiltrating HBO's networks and leaking internal company emails, as well as unreleased episodes and scripts for Game of Thrones, Curb Your Enthusiasm and Insecure.

Despite the charges, Mesri has not been arrested. The decision to indict him is part of a "name and shame" strategy the U.S. government has used in the past to try to curb the work of foreign hackers it doesn't expect to apprehend.

Still, U.S. Attorney Joon H. Kim said there would be "real consequences" for Mesri if he was ever detained. Mesri has been added to the FBI's "Most Wanted" list and Kim noted, "He will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here to face these charges. The memory of American law enforcement is very long." He added, with a nod to Game of Thrones: "Winter has come for Behzad Mesri."

Mesri is reportedly a member of the Turk Black Hat Security hacking team. According to documents, Mesri honed his skills while working for the Iranian government and has reportedly hacked computer systems on behalf of the country's military. He was not, however, working for the Iranian government when he allegedly hacked HBO.

Mesri allegedly infiltrated HBO's servers through employee user accounts in May. In July, authorities say he contacted HBO executives via email, demanding $5.5 million in Bitcoin if the company wanted to prevent any leaks. By July, Mesri was allegedly leaking episodes of scripts and claiming to have obtained 1.5 terabytes of data. Not long after, he reportedly upped his ransom demand to $6 million.

At the time, HBO said of the extortion scheme, "That's a game we're not going to participate in." Additionally, Kim declined to say whether or not the network ever offered to pay the ransom fee. 

In a statement, Kim said, "Mesri now stands charged with federal crimes, and although not arrested today, he will forever have to look over his shoulder until he is made to face justice. American ingenuity and creativity is to be cultivated and celebrated – not hacked, stolen, and held for ransom."