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HBO Hacker May Have Faked Leaked Document to Target CEO Richard Plepler (EXCLUSIVE)

The hackers who broke into HBO’s computer networks seem to have manipulated at least one of the leaked documents to make it look like they got into the email account of HBO chairman/CEO Richard Plepler, Variety has learned from a source close the investigation of the hack. This also raises questions about some of the hackers’ other claims, and their interactions with the media.

After first leaking some un-aired episodes of HBO shows like “Ballers” and “Barry” last week, the hackers sent emails to a number of news outlets early Tuesday to direct them to a new stash of leaked documents. The newly-leaked data included a file named “Richard Contact list.txt” that contained thousands of email addresses, suggesting that the hackers may have been able to steal Plepler’s email address book.

However, upon closer inspection, it’s clear that this is not the case. The file in question only contains email addresses from within HBO and Time Warner, including those of thousands of employees. There’s not a single email for anyone from outside of the company — curious for what’s supposed to be the address book of a renowned industry power player like Plepler.

What’s more, the list also includes addresses for dozens of internal test accounts, email addresses for HBO’s most popular shows, addresses for payroll and other HR matters and email addresses used to reserve conference rooms — also not something one would expect a CEO to deal with.

To complicate matters even further, a source close to the investigation told Variety that the file was actually renamed by the hackers before it got sent to the press. The original version, as it was stolen from HBO’s servers, was called “Vivianne Contact list,” according to that source.

Apparently, it was part of some files that originally belonged to another senior HBO executive who also had seen passwords to many of her personal online accounts leaked last week. It’s unclear why this executive had the list in her possession, but it doesn’t seem to be her email address book either.

Renaming a single file may seem like a smaller detail in the grander scheme of things, but it does raise some important questions about the trustworthiness of the hackers, and the way the media should engage with them. Since the beginning of last week, the hackers have actively reached out to the press to give journalists their version of the story. This included claims that they had stolen a total of 1.5 terabyte of data, accessed internal email and other sensitive documents, and worked for half a year on the hack.

HBO meanwhile has kept quiet on details of the hack. The network acknowledged last week that it had incurred a breach, and on Monday sent out the following statement: “HBO believed that further leaks might emerge from this cyber incident when we confirmed it last week. As we said, the forensic review is ongoing. While it has been reported that a number of emails have been made public, the review to date has not given us a reason to believe that our email system as a whole has been compromised.”

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