The US Justice Department has charged a part-time Iranian government hacker with infiltrating HBO and trying to extort the premium broadcaster, a move that comes amid allegations the charges were rushed to bolster President Donald Trump’s case against Tehran.
The man, Behzad Mesri, is charged with orchestrating the high-profile hack of the US cable channel earlier this year, which led to a standoff over a demanded ransom payment and the leak of unaired episodes of some of HBO’s biggest shows, including Game of Thrones and Ballers.
Speaking at a press conference, Joon Kim, the acting US attorney for the Southern District of New York, called Mesri “an experienced and sophisticated hacker who has been wreaking havoc on computer systems around the world for some time.”
According to prosecutors, Mesri used stolen login credentials to access HBO’s network, stole material including TV episodes and demanded the company pay $6 million in the digital currency bitcoin.
As Mesri is currently in Iran, US officials have admitted arresting him will be difficult. The indictment, however, appears to be part of a “name and shame” strategy the U.S. has used in the past to quell interference by foreign hackers it doesn’t expect to be turned over.
Kim said there will be “real consequences” for Mesri, whose face has now been put on FBI “Wanted”
“He will never be able to travel outside of Iran without fear of being arrested and brought here to face these charges,” Kim said. “The memory of American law enforcement is very long.”