HBO loses programming in cyber attack

August 1, 2017 |

It is no longer news that intellectual property is a lucrative and high status target for hackers.  And entertainment ip, such as films, is particularly sought after .  In 2014 Sony was hacked, probably by North Korea, and lost a huge trove of data, including personal information, highly embarrassing email communications and also some films which had been yet to be released.  Earlier this year Netflix was hacked and 10 episodes of Orange is the New Black was stolen and leaked on line after a failed extortion attempt.  Both the Sony and Netflix hacks occurred because of weaknesses in third party contractors security systems.  The method of choice by many hackers.  Using a medievil warfare analogy, why attack a well defended fortress on a hill head on when you can smuggle yourself onto a wagon driven by an oblivious serf providing food or whatever for the garrison.  Once inside the secondary defences and means of detecting intrusions are commonly non existent or rudimentary.

The Wall Street Journal reports that Home Box Office (“HBO”), producer of Game of Thrones, has been hacked and had its content leaked on line.  Episodes of HBO shows Ballers,” “Insecure,” “Room 104” and “Barry ” were leaked on line though not forthcoming episodes of Game of Thrones.  It is not just the programs that have been stolen but also scripts and treatments of potential new productions.  The agony may be prolonged as the hackers are promising to leak further material.

For entertainment companies whose business model is centered on highly anticipated release of large and expensive productions having programs leaked is a major blow. An Entertainment article neatly sums up what happened:

EW has learned that upcoming episodes of a couple series and at least one alleged script or treatment have been put online by hackers who breached the company’s systems — with more threatened to be coming soon.

“HBO recently experienced a cyber incident, which resulted in the compromise of proprietary information,” the network confirmed in a statement. “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 obtained 1.5 terabytes of data from the company. So far, an upcoming episode of Ballers and Room 104 have apparently been put online. There is also written material that’s allegedly from next week’s fourth episode of Game of Thrones. More is promised to be “coming soon.” 

HBO is not commenting on what content might have been stolen, confirming specific titles or the amount of data accessed. This morning, HBO chairman and CEO Richard Plepler sent an email to HBO employees alerting them of the breach.

“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. It is a textbook example of quintessential HBO teamwork. The problem before us is unfortunately all too familiar in the world we now find ourselves a part of. As has been the case with any challenge we have ever faced, I have absolutely no doubt that we will navigate our way through this successfully.”

On Sunday, an anonymous email was sent to many reporters announcing the hack: “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.” 

It’s not clear if the hackers actually have what would be the crown jewel target for an HBO cyber breach — upcoming episodes of the company’s biggest hit, Game of Thrones. So far, no GoT episodes have leaked.

In April, a hacker penetrated Netflix to release episodes from season 5 of Orange Is the New Black ahead of its summer return. And in May, a hacker claimed to have stolen Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales, but Disney chief Bob Iger later said the threat was a hoax. The biggest Hollywood hack victim was Sony in 2014, where approximately 100 terabytes of data was uploaded online (versus the 1.5 TB claimed in the HBO attack).

For years, HBO has fought a cyber-battle to keep Game of Thrones storylines secret and the show’s content from being illegally distributed — particularly before episodes air. In season 5, the first four episodes leaked online before the show’s season premiere after review DVDs that were sent to the press and industry insiders. HBO has since halted the practice of sending any episodes in advance. That same year, some clips leaked ahead of time from overseas HBO distributors, and even images of Jon Snow’s death found their way online before the finale aired. Just a couple weeks ago, a Thrones trailer to be screened at Comic-Con leaked onto YouTube in advance of its release. But those incidents were accidental content leaks. This is the first time the company has been the victim of an actual cyber attack. 


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