A person familiar with HBO's response to the attack told Reuters that the company sent the email "as a stall tactic" and had never meant to make the $250,000 payment or pay the full $6 million the hackers had demanded to hold off going public with data stolen from HBO.
The Time Warner-owned premium channel sent a message to the hacker in response to an initial video letter where the hacker informed HBO of the company's massive data breach.
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HBO declined to comment.
Variety, citing sources "close" to HBO, said the network was merely trying to buy time to figure out its next move, and it never had an intention of paying what the email termed as a "bounty". The same hackers have subsequently released two dumps of HBO material and demanded a multi-million dollar ransom. "In the spirit of professional cooperation, we are asking you to extend your deadline for one week". A few days after HBO sent the note, the hackers went to the media with details of the breach.
"Hackers are not in this game for $250,000; this probably took them a lot of time and effort", Goel said.
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About a fortnight back, hackers broke into HBO's servers and stole a staggering 1.5 terabytes of data including five draft scripts of the seventh season of Game of Thrones as well as the personal numbers and addresses, home and email both, of the cast members of season 7 including Emilia Clarke, Lena Headey, Peter Dinklage, and Kit Harington. There were also internal documents, including a report of legal claims against the network and job offer letters to top executives.
When Netflix refused to pay, the hacker posted a torrent for the episodes to The Pirate Bay.
But paying ransoms to hackers can be unsafe because it shows that being a bad-guy hacker is a good business, said cybersecurity expert Oren Falkowitz, CEO of Redwood City, California-based Area 1 Security.
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"The reason they got in this scenario is they didn't have the right pre-emption strategy", Falkowitz said.