HBO hack: Insiders fear leaked emails as FBI joins investigation


On July 27, Richard Plepler's worst corporate nightmare unfolded. The HBO CEO learned that his company's network had been breached by an apparently coordinated cyberattack that experts explained could expose a staggering 1.5 terabytes of data. That would be roughly seven times the size of the epic 2014 hack of Sony Pictures.

The attack was sophisticated, insiders tell The Hollywood Reporter, targeting specific content and data housed in different locations, suggesting multiple points of entry. Even more chilling, there was no ransom demand, say sources, leaving the motive in question and raising the specter that video footage, internal documents or even email correspondence could be leaked.

Two days later, HBO sent an alarming email on a Saturday to its 2,500-plus employees, notifying them that the company had been hit, followed by a second email warning staff not to open suspicious emails. On July 30, hackers going by the name of little.finger66 boasted to the media about pulling off "the greatest leak of cyber space era" [sic]. As a teaser, they provided a link to a script for an Aug. 6 episode of Game of Thrones and promised much more. At the same time, unaired episodes of Ballers and Room 104 began surfacing online.

To put in context the 1.5 terabytes — or 1,500 gigabytes — claim, in the Sony case, about 200 gigabytes of data was released online, a damaging deluge that brought the studio to its knees and led to the ouster of then co-chair Amy Pascal. "A traditional business-grade DSL link would take about two weeks at full blast to exfiltrate that much data," says Farsight Security CEO Paul Vixie, noting that a finished Blu-ray is about 30 gigabytes. "If not for video and sound, a corporation the size of HBO might fit [entirely] in a terabyte, including all the email and spreadsheets ever written or stored."

Adds Ajay Arora, CEO of security firm Vera, "The entire Library of Congress is estimated to contain 10 terabytes of print content. As such, it's hard to believe that video and/or audio are not part of what was stolen. It will be interesting — and terrifying to HBO and their parent, Time Warner — to see what comes out."

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'Game of Thrones' cast net worths
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'Game of Thrones' cast net worths

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau Net Worth: $16 Million

Nikolaj Coster-Waldau might be best known for his role as Jaime Lannister on "Game of Thrones," but he also appeared in the 2016 film "Gods of Egypt," 2001's "Black Hawk Down," Tom Cruise's "Oblivion" and "The Other Woman" with Cameron Diaz, Leslie Mann and Kate Upton.

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Peter Dinklage Net Worth: $15 Million

Peter Dinklage had an established movie career before he joined the "Game of Thrones" cast as Tyrion Lannister in 2011. He appeared in "The Station Agent," "Elf," "The Chronicles of Narnia: Prince Caspian" and "X-Men: Days of Future Past." In 2012, Dinklage's role on "Game of Thrones" won him a Golden Globe for the category Best Supporting Actor in a Series, Miniseries or Television Film.

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Emilia Clarke Net Worth: $13 Million

Emilia Clarke, who plays Daenerys Targaryen (also known and Khaleesi and the Mother of Dragons), has a net worth of $13 million. The British actress got her big break from her fire-proof role on the show but has since expanded her acting repertoire with starring roles in the film adaptation of Jojo Moyes' best-selling novel, "Me Before You," and the 2015 film "Terminator: Genisys" alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger. She's currently filming an untitled "Star Wars" spin-off based on Han Solo, due out in 2018.

Related: The Highest-Grossing Movie Spin-Offs, Sequels and Reboots 

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Kit Harington Net Worth: $12 Million

Kit Harington was a fairly unknown actor before he joined "Game of Thrones" as Jon Snow, but he now has several feature films under his belt. These include Paul W.S. Anderson's "Pompeii" and "How to Train Your Dragon 2." Kit Harington's net worth is $12 million.

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Lena Headey Net Worth: $9 Million

Lena Headey was nearly two decades into her professional acting career when she landed the role of Cersei Lannister on "Game of Thrones." Headey has starred in "The Purge," "The Brothers Grimm" and "300."

According to the Los Angeles Times, the actress said she had less than $5 in her bank account after filing for divorce in 2012, but she seems to be on the road to recovery. Headey and her leading "Game of Thrones" co-stars Nikolaj Coster-Waldau, Peter Dinklage, Emilia Clarke and Kit Harington all make $1.1 million per episode, according to Celebrity Net Worth.

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Carice van Houten Net Worth: $5 Million

Carice van Houten plays Red Priestess Melisandre, otherwise known as the Red Woman on "Game of Thrones." Van Houten's character debuted in the second season of the show and has been a source of major plot shifts ever since. With a reported net worth of $5 million, van Houten has also appeared in films such as "Valkyrie," "Repo Men" and "The Fifth Estate."

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Aidan Gillen Net Worth: $4 Million

Aidan Gillen, whose net worth is reported at $4 million, plays the conniving Petyr 'Littlefinger' Baelish on "Game of Thrones." Gillen played a similarly seedy role in HBO's "The Wire" between 2004 and 2008 as Tommy Carcetti, the mayor of Baltimore. Besides his time on television, Gillen has landed film roles on works like "12 Rounds," "Shadow Dancer" and "The Dark Knight Rises."

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Sophie Turner Net Worth: $3 Million

Sophie Turner began her acting career at the age of 3, becoming a member of the Playbox Theatre Company. But it was her 2011 casting as Sansa Stark in "Game of Thrones" that made her widely known to audiences. Since then, Turner has garnered five award nominations from the Screen Actors Guild for the Outstanding Performance by an Ensemble in a Drama Series award, as well as the 2013 nomination for Best Supporting Young Actress in a TV Series from the Young Artist Awards.

Sophie Turner's net worth stands at a respectable $3 million. Besides "Game of Thrones," Turner starred as Jean Grey in 2016's "X-Men: Apocalypse" and will reprise the role in the upcoming "X-Men: Dark Phoenix," due in 2018.

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Maisie Williams Net Worth: $3 Million

Maisie Williams plays Arya Stark on "Game of Thrones," just one of many strong female leads the series has produced. Since her 2011 debut as the scrappy younger Stark sister, Williams has garnered a number of film and TV credits, including starring roles in "Cyberbully," "iBoy" and "The Book of Love." Williams will also be joining the "X-Men" universe in "X-Men: The New Mutants," expected in 2018.

Photo credit: Reuters

Jacob Anderson Net Worth: $3 Million

Jacob Anderson joined the cast of "Game of Thrones" in 2013 as Grey Worm, the head of Daenerys Targaryen's Unsullied army. He's no stranger to TV roles: Anderson did a six-episode stint on the English crime drama "Broadchurch" and starred in the series "Episodes" and "The Mimic." A multitalented performer, Anderson is also a signed recording artist with Columbia records. He's released three EPs since 2013. 

Photo credit: Reuters

Iain Glen Net Worth: $3 Million

Scottish actor Iain Glen has gained widespread notoriety for his role as Jorah Mormont on HBO's "Game of Thrones." With a reported net worth of $3 million, Glen is no newcomer to show business, having starred in a number of high-profile movies, including "Lara Croft: Tomb Raider," "Kingdom of Heaven," "Kick-Ass 2" and three "Resident Evil" movies. Glen will appear in the upcoming immigration drama "The Flood" alongside his "Game of Thrones" co-star Lena Headey in 2018.

Photo credit: Getty

Alfie Allen Net Worth: $2 Million

Alfie Allen plays Theon Greyjoy, also known as Reek, on "Game of Thrones." Though his character has suffered through most of the "Game of Thrones" TV series, Allen has picked up a slew of successful acting credits over the course of his career, including roles in "John Wick" and "Atonement." Alfie Allen's net worth stands at $2 million. 

Photo credit: Reuters

Isaac Hempstead-Wright Net Worth: $2 Million

Playing the role of Brandon "Bran" Stark, Isaac Hempstead-Wright has been a staple "Game of Thrones" character since the series began in 2011. Coincidentally, that was the also the first year of Hempstead-Wright's acting career, as he made his film debut in "The Awakening." As a young actor new to the industry, his $2 million net worth is very respectable, and sure to grow.

Other Child Stars: Here's the Rundown on the Cast of "Stranger Things"

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John Bradley Net Worth: $1 Million

John Bradley also came onto the scene in 2011 and has been busy ever since. He book-ended his role as Samwell Tarly in "Game of Thrones" with other TV appearances, including roles in "Borgia," "Shameless" and "Merlin." Bradley has amassed a net worth of $1 million, which might increase given his roles in "Patient Zero" and "American Satan," both due out later this year.

Photo credit: Getty

Nathalie Emmanuel Net Worth: $1 Million

Though she's best known for her role as Missandei in "Game of Thrones," Nathalie Emmanuel got her start on the stage. As a 10-year-old, Emmanuel starred in "The Lion King" on London's West End before transitioning to film and television. She played the lead in the TV series "Hollyoaks" from 2007 to 2010 and has appeared in film series like "The Fast and the Furious" and "Maze Runner."

Photo credit: Reuters

Gwendoline Christie Net Worth: $500,000

Gwendoline Christie plays Brienne of Tarth on "Game of Thrones," a character who has changed loyalties and roles throughout the course of the show. Like her co-stars, Christie has seen wider success and increased film credits since the show's debut, including roles in "The Hunger Games: Mockingjay – Part 2," "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" and its upcoming sequel, "Star Wars: The Last Jedi." Christie's net worth is reported to be $500,000.

Up Next: See How Much the "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" Cast Is Worth

All net worth figures are according to celebrity finance website Celebrity Net Worth unless otherwise noted.

Photo credit: Reuters 

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Sources say HBO is working with the FBI and cybersecurity firm Mandiant, which led the forensic investigation on the Sony hack (ironically, Mandiant also was targeted by hackers around the same time as the HBO breach). The FBI and Mandiant declined comment, and HBO wouldn't elaborate beyond a statement acknowledging the hack.

At press time, it was unclear what exactly the HBO attackers had taken, even to those investigating. In a July 31 email to staff, Plepler characterized the stolen items as "proprietary information, including some of our programming." Insiders say hackers pilfered a combination of media-rich data and text. Though full or partial episodes of Game of Thrones — the crown jewel of the HBO lineup — would be problematic, it's the prospect of stolen text that is far more alarming.

Read more: FBI Gives Hollywood Hacking Victims Surprising Advice: "Pay the Ransom"

"At 1.5 terabytes, it could be a whole block of TV, or worse, it could be emails, financial documents, employee or customer information," says Erik Rasmussen, a former deputy prosecuting attorney and special agent with the Secret Service who now works at the cybersecurity firm Kroll. "The fact that you have law enforcement and a [cybersecurity] firm involved most likely means this will be a very large incident for HBO."

Hollywood has been under siege from cyber criminals. In the past year, at least six studios and talent agencies have been hit with extortion attempts, including Netflix, UTA and WME-IMG. Netflix balked at ransom demands, and the collective known as TheDarkOverlord released 10 episodes of Orange Is the New Black ahead of its June debut.

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Privately, security experts say the HBO hack appears to be far more vicious. One insider calls it "nefarious" because it was targeted to specific content and data (as with Sony) and not simply a trawling sweep (as was the case with the Orange Is the New Black heist).

And the HBO hack comes at a delicate time for Time Warner. In October, AT&T agreed to buy the company for $85 billion. It's no secret that HBO is the star performer of the portfolio, so a sprawling hack could impact the ultimate sale price.

"It's fair to draw parallels to the Yahoo hack in this case," says Hemanshu Nigam, a former federal prosecutor of online crime and onetime chief security officer of News Corp. In that case, at least 500 million customer accounts were compromised, leading Verizon to extract a $350 million discount in its $4.5 billion purchase of the online giant.

HBO is taking a proactive approach. Plepler called for employees to be notified even before news of the hack broke. "It was one of the best examples of how to react to a crisis and communicate to your employees," says Nigam. "I've never seen it happen this fast." (With Sony, it took then-chairman Michael Lynton 12 days to email employees about the status, though he was in largely unchartered waters at the time.)

Still, the scope of the breach has many in Hollywood once again holding their collective breath. Says Rasmussen, "The question now is what do they have, who did this, and what was the motive?"

A version of this story first appeared in the Aug. 2 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.

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'Sopranos' finale gandolfini/bracco love
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Lorraine Bracco and James Gandolfini (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/WireImage for St. Jude Children's Research Hospital)
James Gandolfini with Lorraine Bracco at 'The Sopranos' season premiere screening after-party at the Hilton Hotel in New York City. 02/21/2001. Photo: Evan Agostini / ImageDirect
Actors James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco attend 'The Sopranos The Complete Fifth Season' DVD launch party at English is Italian on June 6, 2005 in New York CIty. (Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)
James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco at a 'Sopranos' benefit at Pier 60 at Chelsea Piers in New York City for the St. Jude Children's Research Hospital. (Photo by George Napolitano/FilmMagic)
Actors James Gandolfini and Lorraine Bracco attend 'The Sopranos The Complete Fifth Season' DVD launch party at English is Italian on June 6, 2005 in New York CIty. (Photo by Paul Hawthorne/Getty Images)
Actors James Gandolfini getting kissed by Lorraine Bracco at screening of HBO's second season opener of their television series The Sopranos. (Photo by Dave Allocca/DMI/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
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James Gandolfini, star of HBO's "The Sopranos," has died of a possible heart attack in Rome. He was 51. Gandolfino was known for his role as Tony Soprano in the HBO series "The Sopranos." (Photo Credit: Globe Photos/ZUMAPRESS.com via Alamy)
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