(Some of the so-called “HBO emails” sent out by the hackers have had their veracity questioned, and in this particular case, a person involved with the hacking investigation as well as an anonymous HBO executive have confirmed its legitimacy to the best of their knowledge. There is still the possibility that it may have been doctored or altered.)
The hackers leaked a screenshot of the email, dated July 27, which shows a senior VP at HBO offering the money and attempting negotiation. While some critics of the email are pointing to its vague language, Variety reports that it’s purposefully cryptic in an effort to make it seem less like a payoff and more like a reward, hence the term “bug bounty” — HBO wants to make it seem more like a payment for the hackers in exchange for revealing how they got in (therefore exposing “a bug” in HBO’s system) rather than simply paying them a ransom.
Unfortunately, Global News couldn’t secure its own image of the email, but most sources are reporting that it takes a non-confrontational tone, and opens the negotiation to stop the leaks of valuable information. The Hollywood Reporter acquired the email, quoting this segment:
“[HBO has] been working hard since [July 23] to review all of the material that you have made available to us … In the spirit of professional cooperation, we are asking you to extend your deadline for one week… 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.”
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So far, the hackers have released multiple episodes of HBO shows including Game of Thrones, Ballers and Room 104, along with scripts of already-aired and upcoming episodes.
They’ve also leaked executive emails, and on Tuesday released the personal phone numbers, email addresses and home addresses of Game of Thrones Season 7 cast members, among them Emilia Clarke (Daenerys), Lena Headey (Cersei), Peter Dinklage (Tyrion) and Kit Harington (Jon Snow). All documents that have been leaked bear a watermark with the message “HBO is Falling.”
As of this writing, the email screen grab is the latest move on the part of the hackers. HBO has not publicly commented on their investigation or the “bounty payment.”
The quarter-million offer is peanuts compared to the hackers’ original demand: their “six-month salary in Bitcoin,” which equals approximately $6 million.
The hackers claim that they’re not criminals, but “white hats” (used to reference people of good and moral standing, or, in computer speak, someone who hacks into a network to evaluate its security).
In the ransom note sent to HBO, they say “Its [sic] a game for us. Money isn’t our main purpose. We don’t want to endanger HBO’s situation nor cause it to lose its reputation. We want to be your partner in a tiny part of HBO’s huge income.”
So far the HBO leaks have been limited, falling well short of the chaos inflicted on Sony in 2014. In that attack, hackers unearthed thousands of embarrassing emails and released personal information, including salaries and social security numbers, of nearly 50,000 current and former Sony employees.
The hackers claim to have more data, including scripts, upcoming episodes of HBO shows and movies, and information damaging to HBO. To date, they have released only 3.4 GB of data from the initial hack of 1.5 TB.
Variety reported on Wednesday morning that at least one of the leaked documents seems to have been manipulated by the hackers — to make it look like they accessed the email of HBO CEO Richard Plepler — casting doubt on the severity of the hack and the abilities of “Mr. Smith.”