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Last year’s Game of Thrones leaks were allegedly part of a $6 million ransom demand

The leaker, indicted in November, was among the Iranian hackers sanctioned by the US on Friday.

Game of Thrones
Welcome to Daenerys and Drogon’s excellent adventure.
Constance Grady is a senior correspondent on the Culture team for Vox, where since 2016 she has covered books, publishing, gender, celebrity analysis, and theater.

On Friday morning, the US Treasury announced sanctions against a network of Iranian hackers — including Behzad Mesri, who was charged in 2017 for hacking the HBO network’s servers to leak then-unaired episodes of Game of Thrones.

Last July, an anonymous hacker stole scripts and unaired episodes of Game of Thronesseventh season from HBO, then leaked some of them on the internet. The hacker then sent a series of cryptic and grandiose emails to members of the media alerting them to the leak. Here’s a sampling:

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.

The emails claimed that the hackers had stolen 1.5 terabytes of raw data from HBO, or nearly seven times as much data as that stolen from Sony in 2014. According to court papers, the hacker demanded $6 million in Bitcoin from HBO executives in exchange for stopping the leaks. HBO has not commented on whether or not it paid the ransom.

The US government indicted Behzad Mesri for the HBO hacks in November. The court papers don’t make any claims about whether or not Mesri hacked HBO at the behest of the Iranian government, but they do note that Mesri has ties to the Iranian Revolutionary Guard Corps.

Under the sanctions announced Friday, Mesri — who is still at large, according to officials — will not be able to travel to the US or any countries that have extradition treaties with the US without risking arrest. He’ll also be unable to access any assets he might possess under US jurisdiction.