Breach Notification , Data Loss Prevention (DLP) , Governance & Risk Management

Hackers Threaten 'Game of Thrones' Episode Leaks

HBO Confirms Breach as Attackers Leak Programming and Personal Information
Hackers Threaten 'Game of Thrones' Episode Leaks
"Game of Thrones." (Photo: Helen Sloan, HBO)

Hackers have struck Hollywood again, claiming HBO as their latest victim.

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Some stolen content, including details relating to a forthcoming "Game of Thrones" episode, and personal information for a senior HBO executive, have already been leaked online, Entertainment Weekly reported Monday.

HBO, an American cable and satellite television network owned by Time Warner, has confirmed that attackers breached its network.

"HBO recently experienced a cyber incident, which resulted in the compromise of proprietary information," the network said in a statement issued Monday. "We immediately began investigating the incident and are working with law enforcement and outside cybersecurity firms. Data protection is a top priority at HBO, and we take seriously our responsibility to protect the data we hold."

Hackers claimed to have stolen 1.5 terabytes of data, including full episodes of forthcoming TV shows and at least one script for next week's fourth episode of fantasy drama "Game of Thrones." Already, forthcoming episodes for HBO shows "Ballers," "Barry," "Insecure" and "Room 104" have been leaked by the attackers.

HBO could not be immediately reached for comment on what all was stolen, how its networks were breached, or when the attack occurred.

'HBO is Falling'

On Sunday, someone using the handle "Little.Finger66" - in reference to a "Game of Thrones" character - began emailing many reporters, promising to grant interviews to media outlets that reported favorably on its activities.

Their emails read: "Hi to all mankind. The greatest leak of cyber space era is happening. What's its name? Oh I forget to tell. Its HBO and Game of Thrones......!!!!!! You are lucky to be the first pioneers to witness and download the leak. Enjoy it & spread the words. Whoever spreads well, we will have an interview with him. HBO is falling."

HBO employees were alerted to the breach Monday morning, via an email from Richard Plepler, chairman and CEO of HBO, Entertainment Weekly reported.

"As most of you have probably heard by now, there has been a cyber incident directed at the company which has resulted in some stolen proprietary information, including some of our programming," he wrote. "Any intrusion of this nature is obviously disruptive, unsettling, and disturbing for all of us. I can assure you that senior leadership and our extraordinary technology team, along with outside experts, are working round the clock to protect our collective interests. The efforts across multiple departments have been nothing short of herculean."

Spoiler Alert

Despite Little.Finger66's promises, no unaired "Game of Thrones" episodes appear to have been dumped online - good news for HBO, which relies on the series to bring in new subscribers.

While HBO's "Game of Thrones" is based on a series of books by American author George RR Martin, the latest, seventh season covers events from the as-yet-unpublished sixth book, titled "Winds of Winter."

Accordingly, the narrative arc of the show remains a closely guarded secret, so much so that HBO has ceased issuing DVDs to reviewers in advance of episodes airing, as well as begun using code words on set, according to media reports.

Cast members also report that they can only receive copies of upcoming scripts via email if they have enabled two-factor verification.

Even so, from a hack-attack timing standpoint - although it may be coincidence - HBO has recently been advertising for a senior information security manager on LinkedIn, according to incident response expert Matt Suiche.

Disney, Netflix Recently Targeted

HBO is only the latest entertainment company to be targeted by hackers.

In May, a would-be extortionist claimed to have stolen a digital copy of "Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales" ahead of its late-May debut. Disney CEO Bob Iger, in a memo to employees, told them that hackers had threatened to release the movie in segments online unless they received a bitcoin booty. Disney, however, declined to pay, and the leak never surfaced, suggesting that the whole thing was a hoax.

The prior month, Larson Studios, a Hollywood post-production facility, got burned after paying a $50,000 ransom to a group of attackers who call themselves "The Dark Overlord." In exchange for the payoff, the hackers promised to not release three dozen titles they'd stolen from the studio's systems, including the forthcoming season of Netflix's TV series "Orange Is the New Black."

But after Larson Studios amassed $50,000 worth of bitcoins - which required 7 days' effort and 19 separate transactions - the hackers leaked 10 "Orange is the New Black" episodes anyway.

About the Author

Mathew J. Schwartz

Mathew J. Schwartz

Executive Editor, DataBreachToday & Europe, ISMG

Schwartz is an award-winning journalist with two decades of experience in magazines, newspapers and electronic media. He has covered the information security and privacy sector throughout his career. Before joining Information Security Media Group in 2014, where he now serves as the executive editor, DataBreachToday and for European news coverage, Schwartz was the information security beat reporter for InformationWeek and a frequent contributor to DarkReading, among other publications. He lives in Scotland.

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