It seems HBO is giving in to the demand of the Game of Thrones hackers for millions of dollars in Bitcoin in exchange for not leaking sensitive information. Two separate news outlets claim that an HBO executive offered the hackers $250,000 as a “bounty payment.”
“Bounty payment” to Game of Thrones hackers
A ransom note that was apparently sent to HBO from a hacker calling himself Mr. Smith was leaked on Monday. The hacker demands about $6 million in Bitcoin to prevent any further leaks of HBO shows. According to the ransom note, Time Warner’s premium cable network had three days to make the payment.
Now both Variety and The Hollywood Reporter claim that they have obtained a copy of a recent email which includes leaked details of the hacker’s correspondence with the HBO executive. One of the leaked messages says that the network has been “working hard” to negotiate with the Game of Thrones hackers to extend the ransom deadline by a week.
One email, according to The Hollywood Reporter, read, “As a show of good faith on our side, we are willing to commit to making a bug bounty payment of $250,000 to you as soon as we can establish the necessary account and acquire bitcoin.”
Variety has also reportedly confirmed the authenticity of the email. Both publications named the HBO executive in question.
It must be noted here that HBO is not using the term “ransom”; instead, the company is stressing the phrase “bug bounty payment.” Bug bounties are pretty common in the tech world, and they’re paid to hackers who reveal flaws in companies’ cyber-security. Use of this term could help the network avoid legal issues.
So there are good chances that HBO has submitted to the Game of Thrones hackers’ demand and just wants some time to collect the full $250,000 in Bitcoin. However, MarketWatch, citing a source close to the investigation into the hack, says the HBO email “was an obvious stall tactic and that it should make it apparent that it wasn’t an attempt at any real engagement with the hacker.” An extension would buy the network some time to talk to its employees, distributors and creative talent and analyze the situation.
Should HBO submit to the Game of Thrones hackers’ demands?
The note from the hacker calling himself Mr. Smith included scripts from five Game of Thrones episodes, emails from the account of HBO’s vice president for film programming, Leslie Cohen, and two internal documents. One of them was a summary of legal claims against the company, and the other was the job offer letters to the top executives, reports The New York Times.
Following the leak of the note on Monday, the network said it is not able to determine whether its entire email system has been hacked. This was the second data leak from the hackers, but so far, the damage to the network has been limited compared to a similar hack on Sony’s network in 2014. In that breach, the hackers leaked personal information, including the salaries and social security numbers of employees, and thousands of embarrassing emails. The leaks cost Amy Pascal, who was heading up Sony Pictures at the time of the breach, her job.
The hackers behind the HBO theft, however, claim to have more data on HBO and its shows and movies, including scripts, episodes and damaging information.