×

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.”

More TV

  • Pinewood Studios James Bond

    Netflix's Shepperton Studios Deal Is Stretching the U.K.'s Production Limits

    Netflix’s huge new hub at Shepperton Studios outside London is a further fillip for Britain’s booming production sector. Amid jitters over Brexit and its effects on the economy, the streaming giant’s commitment is a vote of confidence in the U.K. entertainment industry and a continuing source of local jobs. But the decision by Netflix to [...]

  • BBC ITV BritBox Streaming

    BritBox to Roll Out in the U.K. in Fourth Quarter

    British broadcasters the BBC and ITV have formally agreed to launch their joint streaming service, BritBox, in the U.K. in the fourth quarter of 2019. It will be priced at £5.99 per month, making it the same price as the cheapest Netflix subscription in the U.K. ITV will control BritBox, holding a 90% stake. The [...]

  • Kamala Harris

    Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Face Rematch in Next Democratic Debate

    Former Vice President Joe Biden and Senator Kamala Harris will have the opportunity to square off again in the second debate among Democratic hopefuls vying for their party’s nomination in the 2020 presidential election CNN, which will broadcast the next round of debates on July 30 and 31, televised a draw Thursday night that decided [...]

  • Jon Wax

    Jon Wax Joins Amazon Studios as Head of Genre Programming

    YouTube’s head of scripted programming Jon Wax is joining Amazon Studios as its head of genre programming, Variety has learned. Wax will take up the position recently vacated by Sharon Tal Yguado. He had joined YouTube in August 2017, heading up drama, unscripted and current programming for YouTube’s premium channel. Prior to that, he had [...]

  • South Park Donald Trump

    TV News Roundup: Comedy Central Sets 'South Park' Season 23 Premiere Date

    In today’s TV News roundup, Comedy Central announces the premiere date of “South Park” Season 23 and Netflix sets the premiere date and offers a first look at “Unbelievable.”  DATES Comedy Central announced that Season 23 of “South Park” will premiere Wednesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. Because the episodes are written and animated so [...]

  • US actor Kevin Spacey (C) is

    Kevin Spacey Shouldn't Be Exonerated in Hollywood Even as Criminal Case Ends (Column)

    The news that criminal charges against Kevin Spacey in the Nantucket groping case have been dropped raises an inevitable question: does this mean he can claw his way back into Hollywood’s good graces? Or maybe more importantly: should it?  Spacey’s rapid descent was startling, even as it quickly followed that of the once untouchable producing [...]

More From Our Brands

Access exclusive content