The Hacking of HBO


It’s not as thrilling and energetic as they make it look in the movies. David Fincher had to add a Nine Inch Nails soundtrack to “The Social Network” so audiences wouldn’t fall asleep watching Jesse Eisenberg type.

The process itself may not be terribly exciting for those who aren’t intrigued by computer programming. The potential outcome, however, can be devastating.

Regardless of who you suspect was the perpetrator, someone certainly hacked into the emails of the DNC and the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign in an effort to embarrass top officials in both organizations. Whether or not the email leak was the primary motivator for her loss is debatable, but it’s not debatable that it was a huge setback.

Obviously, most hacks don’t come close to having such weighty implications. Many hacks are exactly what you think they are: attempts at identity theft. Or if not identity theft per se, theft of some variety.

Just ask HBO, as they are the latest Hollywood victims of a major hack.

The Facts

At the end of July, Entertainment Weekly reported that HBO’s security system had been breached. Not much was known right at the onset, but it was clear that the hacker(s) got a hold of an astounding amount of data, 1.5 terabytes to be exact.

If you don’t really know how much 1.5 terabytes amounts to, think of it this way: 1.5 terabytes can store 750 hours worth of movies. And it’s not like HBO specializes in movies or anything. Oh wait… you see the problem.

Soon after the hack, unaired episodes of shows like “Ballers” and “Room 104” quickly found their way online. So did the fourth episode of from the new season of “Game of Thrones.”

However–and this is where things start to get a little bit more confusing–it appears the leak of that “Thrones” episode was *not* connected to the late July hack.

That’s the conclusion of the investigation that is currently being conducted by the FBI and the cybersecurity firm Mandiant.

So that does that mean that there were two separate hacks? It appears not (more on that later).

There was certainly one hack though. This has been confirmed by HBO’s CEO Richard Pleper, and executives usually are not keen on admitting publicly that their systems have been breached.

The victim is well-known. The perpetrator, however, is not. To this point, little is known about the identity of the hacker(s). The leading suspect behind the hack uses the name “Kind Mr. Smith.” The name has appeared in multiple circumstances. Someone using that name emailed several news outlets, corroborating some of the suspicions regarding the hack. Kind Mr. Smith has also posted messages regarding the intent of the hack, saying that it was, “Just about money.”

The ransom aspect was confusing for investigators at first. There was no specified ransom before the hackers started publishing hacked content. That is until Monday, August 7, when the hackers started leaking more than just unaired episodes; they started leaking personal information and emails.

On Monday, the phone numbers for cast members of “Game of Thrones” found their way online, along with emails of HBO executives. The hacker(s) also uploaded a video message, stating that they were requesting the equivalent of $6 million in bitcoin.

While Kind Mr. Smith has been vocal and is a suspect, it is possible that s(he) could just be a troll posing for attention. The identify of those responsible for the hack is still unknown.

Hacking in Hollywood

We may not know everything about the hack against HBO. Indeed, we may not know even close to everything. We *do* know, however, that Hollywood is now increasingly on red alert.

This is only the most recent hack to harm a Hollywood establishment. In 2014, there was the famous Sony hack. In that hack, the hackers not only obtained content from Sony Pictures; they got into the email server as well. The hackers published those emails, all of which exposed private conversations that were embarrassing to the studio executives. The public humiliation got to the point where co-chair Amy Pascal stepped down from her position.

And then there was the debacle revolving around “The Interview.” The comedy starring James Franco and Seth Rogen was slated for a Christmas Day release, that is until the alleged hackers threatened to attack theaters screening the film. The hackers claimed that it was an insult to North Korea and its dictator, Kim Jong Un. As a result, Sony pulled the film from a regular worldwide release, and went straight to streaming services and video-on-demand instead.

No one has been prosecuted or charged in regards to the hack, although American authorities suspect that the North Korean government was responsible.

Until this most recent hack of HBO, the hack on Sony was the biggest in Hollywood’s history. But earlier this year, Netflix also suffered the consequences of hacking. While it may have been at a smaller scale, hackers got a hold of the newest season of “Orange Is the New Black” earlier this year. The hackers demanded monetary ransom before publishing the episodes online; Netflix declined.

The “Game of Thrones” Leak

So no, HBO is not the first Hollywood establishment to suffer from hacking. Indeed, in his statement, Pleper alluded to the fact that hacking was a new world reality that Hollywood was insufficient from protecting itself from.

But it wasn’t just the hack that has plagued HBO recently. On Friday, August 4, the newest episode of HBO’s current flagship program “Game of Thrones” leaked online, two days in advance of its world premiere.

Because of the proximity in time, many understandably associate the hack and the leak of the “Thrones” episode. That confusion probably isn’t helped by the fact that the script for that episode *was* stolen and leaked as a consequence of the July hack.

However, the hacking and the leak of the latest “Thrones” episode are actually not related.

HBO partners with Star India, a distribution company in, well, India.

It turns out that Star India–or at least an employee of it–are to blame for the leak. And it really wasn’t that hard to figure out; there was a watermark of the company’s logo in the corner of the leaked footage. Not only that – the episode was leaked through the company’s website. Fans spotted a link to an MP4 containing the episode, and it didn’t take long before the episode was linked to Reddit.

Star India has since apologized for the leak, saying that, “This is a grave issue and we are taking appropriate legal remedial action.”


Under normal circumstances, Star India would probably be the biggest victim of HBO’s ire. However, HBO has their hands full. Not only do they have to figure out how to recoup the 1.5 terabytes of stolen content, they now need to figure out how to plug the holes in their cybersecurity system.

And if the rest of Hollywood is smart, they will be looking to fix their systems as well, because there is no reason to believe that this trend will not only continue, but that the hacks will get bigger and bigger.

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