HBO hack: Studio won't bow down to ransom demand or engage with hackers
Time Warner-owned cable network HBO is renowned for its path-breaking programming — be it Sex and the City, True Detective, Silicon Valley or their most successful show, Game of Thrones. Most recently, however, the studio giant has been in the news for being the target of a hack that's said to be among the biggest in the entertainment industry — reminiscent of the worst effects of the 2014 incident involving Sony.
Let us look back at how the hack has played out for HBO:
In a report, Entertainment Weekly stated that certain journalists received an email on 30 July, notifying them of the hack. The email, purportedly from the hacker, 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 (sic)."
With that the hackers also reported that they had access to 1.5 terabytes of HBO's propriety content. On the following day, unaired episodes of HBO's Ballers and Room 104 were leaked online.
Around 3.4 GB of HBO programming content had already been leaked, reported The Guardian. The hackers, in a video letter addressing to HBO CEO Richard Plepler, asked the company to pay a ransom — which equalled the "six-month salary" (sic) of the organisation — in order to prevent further leaks.
At the same time, the hackers also seemed to backpedal and said that they are"white hats" and not criminals. The ransom letter quoted them saying,"It's 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" as per a Wired report.
Meanwhile, The Week reported that the hackers threatened to superimpose their logo 'HBO is Falling' on the network's original content and release it online. The hackers had further claimed that HBO was their 17th victim and that only three of their targets so far had refused to pay up.
The Guardian reported that the hackers claimed to earn $12-15 million a year by similarly blackmailing other organisations whose security they have breached in the past and acquired copyright content.
Undoubtedly, access to Game of Thrones related material is what has got the HBO hackers most attention. As per reports from The Verve, the leaked content includes draft scripts from five Game of Thrones season 7 episodes, technical documents pertaining to network security, the personal contact information of all the actors from Game of Thrones including Peter Dinklage (who plays Tyrion Lannister), Lena Headey (Cersei Lannister), and Emilia Clarke (Daenerys Targaryen). Along with these are private emails from Leslie Cohen, vice president of HBO's film programming.
The authenticity of some of these official files was however contentious, at least in the degree to which the hackers claim.
Without refuting the gravity of the situation, HBO spokeperson Jeff Cusson seemed cautiously optimistic when he told Wired, "...the review to date has not given us a reason to believe that our email system as a whole has been compromised."
Over the week, the content of many other not-so-popular shows — Insecure season 2, Barry, The Deuce, an untitled show by Silicon Valley director Mike Judge and Curb Your Enthusiasm season 9 — has been leaked.
So far, none of these leaks have had consequences as significant as the 2014 Sony hack.
Meanwhile, HBO has released an official statement on the ransom demand. "We are not in communication with the hacker and we’re not going to comment every time a new piece of information is released. It has been widely reported that there was a cyber incident at HBO. The hacker may continue to drop bits and pieces of stolen information in an attempt to generate media attention. That’s a game we’re not going to participate in. Obviously, no company wants their proprietary information stolen and released on the internet. Transparency with our employees, partners, and the creative talent that works with us has been our focus throughout this incident and will remain our focus as we move forward. This incident has not deterred us from ensuring HBO continues to do what we do best," a report in Variety stated.