The U.S. government charged an Iranian hacker with infiltrating HBO’s computer servers and seeking to extort the company after stealing popular episodes and scripts from the company, the Justice Department announced Tuesday.
Behzad Mesri was charged with conducting the high-profile attack in which hackers over the summer demanded $6 million from the channel before leaking unreleased episodes of HBO’s top-rated shows, including "Game of Thrones."
The accusations against Mesri come as the Trump administration cracks down on hacking cases against U.S. companies involving Iranian suspects.
Federal prosecutors in New York charged Mesri with seven counts, including wire fraud, aggravated identity theft, computer hacking, and extortion. U.S. officials believe he is in Iran, leaving few options for American authorities to pursue charges.
Acting U.S. Attorney Joon Kim said Mesri will face "real consequences" as the "memory of American law enforcement is very long." The FBI released "Wanted" posters of Mesri on Tuesday.
"He will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here to face these charges," Kim said.
Mesri has worked for the Iranian military to launch cyberattacks against Israel and has been a member of a Tehran-based hacking group called Turk Black Hat Security, which has conducted hundreds of website defacements against U.S. sites. The indictment did not say whether Mesri was working on behalf of the Iranian government when he hacked HBO.
According to the indictment, Mesri sought to gain access to HBO’s networks by breaking into employee user accounts. He was then able to steal unaired episodes of popular shows such as "Ballers," "Curb Your Enthusiasm," and "Room 104" between May and July.
Mesri threatened to release the episodes if HBO executives did not pay him $6 million in the digital currency bitcoin.
"In the simplest of terms, he lurked in the alleyways of the Internet, identified the vulnerabilities of his victim, and pickpocketed their information from thousands of miles away," FBI Assistant Director William Sweeney said in a statement. "After he had successfully identified their proprietary secrets, he held their future for ransom.