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Hackers allegedly tried to trick HBO with altered document

The hackers leaked a "Game of Thrones" script and said they had 1.5 terabytes of data left. One of those could be a lie.


It's getting hard to tell fact from fiction in the massive HBO hack.


With HBO's hack, it's becoming harder to separate fact from fiction.

The company was hit in a massive cyberattack, which the thieves claimed took six months of planning. Information slowly started to trickle out last month as the hackers threatened to release unaired episodes of "Game of Thrones," "Ballers" and "Barry," as well as documents with financial records and internal operations.

Hacks against media companies are becoming the latest trend for cybercriminals, who are lured by their weak security and massive payouts. The hackers see value in popular TV shows and the measures that media companies will take to prevent them from being spoiled for legions of fans. HBO's hackers pointed out that "Game of Thrones" spent $5 million for advertising, and wanted a cut.

On Monday night, the cybercrooks posted a script for an episode of "Game of Thrones," along with a demand: pay up, or have more of your secrets leaked.

One of those secrets was a contacts list that appeared to belong to HBO Chairman and CEO Richard Pleper, the hackers threatened. But a person familiar with the investigation confirmed to CNET that the document is most likely forged. Variety first reported the phony file on Tuesday night.  

The file, named "Richard Contact list.txt," has email addresses from thousands of HBO and Time Warner staffers, but was renamed from its original version, "Vivianne Contact list," the source said. The contacts and the document are real, but the file appears to have been doctored to look like it was the CEO's contact list instead of another executive's.

HBO declined to comment beyond the statement it released on Monday, in which the company said it had no "reason to believe that our e-mail system as a whole has been compromised."

If the contacts document is altered, it calls into question the other 1.5 terabytes of data the hackers claim to have. They've released scripts and episodes to show HBO that it's a legitimate threat, but the doctored file could mean even more documents are forged.

It's unclear how many of the released documents have been altered.

HBO said Monday the investigation is ongoing and it's working with cybersecurity companies and law enforcement. 

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