Connect with us

Hi, what are you looking for?



HBO Hacker Linked to Iranian Spy Group

A man accused by U.S. authorities of hacking into the systems of HBO and attempting to extort millions of dollars from the company has been linked by security researchers to an Iranian cyber espionage group tracked as Charming Kitten.

A man accused by U.S. authorities of hacking into the systems of HBO and attempting to extort millions of dollars from the company has been linked by security researchers to an Iranian cyber espionage group tracked as Charming Kitten.

Security firm ClearSky has published a new report detailing the activities of Charming Kitten, which is also known as Newscaster and NewsBeef. The threat actor has been active since at least 2014 and it has targeted numerous entities in Iran, the U.S., Israel, the U.K. and other countries. Its attacks have often been aimed at individuals involved in academic research, human rights and the media.

The ClearSky report describes the group’s activities during 2016-2017, including the infrastructure used and a new piece of malware named DownPaper. It also details the connection between the individual accused of hacking HBO and Charming Kitten, and reveals the identities of two other alleged members of the group.

Behzad Mesri, also known as Skote Vahshat, was charged last month by U.S. prosecutors on seven counts related to hacking HBO, stealing scripts and other information on popular TV shows, and threatening to release the data unless the network paid $6 million in Bitcoin.

When they unsealed the indictment, authorities said Mesri had also launched cyberattacks on behalf of the Iranian military against military systems, nuclear software systems, and Israeli infrastructure. They also claimed he was a member of an Iran-based hacking group called Turk Black Hat, which conducts website defacements.

Collin Anderson, a researcher specializing in state-sponsored attacks, particularly ones attributed to Iran, was the first to point out that based on the information in the indictment, Mesri appeared to be a member of Charming Kitten.

ClearSky has also found connections between Masri and Charming Kitten. One of the links is through “ArYaIeIrAN,” another member of Turk Black Hat. Email addresses associated with this individual have been used to register several Charming Kitten domains. The same email address also registered a domain for an Iranian hosting firm named MahanServer, which has hosted Charming Kitten infrastructure.

Advertisement. Scroll to continue reading.

The CEO of this company appears to be one Mohammad Rasoul Akbari, and ArYaIeIrAN could be one Mohammadamin Keshvari, who is listed as MahanServer’s only other employee on LinkedIn. Akbari is linked to Masri via their Facebook profiles.

“We estimate with medium certainty that the three are directly connected to Charming Kitten, and potentially, along with others – are Charming Kitten,” ClearSky wrote in its report.

In the past years, security researchers have linked several cyber espionage groups to Iran, including APT33, Rocket Kitten, Cobalt Gypsy (Magic Hound), and CopyKittens. There are many overlaps between these actors, both in terms of infrastructure and malware, which means the individuals identified by ClearSky could be part of other Iranian groups as well, not just Charming Kitten.

Related: Iranian Cyberspies Use New Trojan in Middle East Attacks

Related: Iranian Hackers Target Aerospace, Energy Companies

Written By

Eduard Kovacs (@EduardKovacs) is a contributing editor at SecurityWeek. He worked as a high school IT teacher for two years before starting a career in journalism as Softpedia’s security news reporter. Eduard holds a bachelor’s degree in industrial informatics and a master’s degree in computer techniques applied in electrical engineering.

Click to comment

Daily Briefing Newsletter

Subscribe to the SecurityWeek Email Briefing to stay informed on the latest threats, trends, and technology, along with insightful columns from industry experts.

SecurityWeek’s Threat Detection and Incident Response Summit brings together security practitioners from around the world to share war stories on breaches, APT attacks and threat intelligence.


Securityweek’s CISO Forum will address issues and challenges that are top of mind for today’s security leaders and what the future looks like as chief defenders of the enterprise.


Expert Insights

Related Content


WASHINGTON - Cyberattacks are the most serious threat facing the United States, even more so than terrorism, according to American defense experts. Almost half...


The changing nature of what we still generally call ransomware will continue through 2023, driven by three primary conditions.


A recently disclosed vBulletin vulnerability, which had a zero-day status for roughly two days last week, was exploited in a hacker attack targeting the...


No one combatting cybercrime knows everything, but everyone in the battle has some intelligence to contribute to the larger knowledge base.


Websites of German airports, administration bodies and banks were hit by DDoS attacks attributed to Russian hacker group Killnet

Malware & Threats

Threat actors are increasingly abusing Microsoft OneNote documents to deliver malware in both targeted and spray-and-pray campaigns.


The war in Ukraine is the first major conflagration between two technologically advanced powers in the age of cyber. It prompts us to question...

Application Security

Fortinet on Monday issued an emergency patch to cover a severe vulnerability in its FortiOS SSL-VPN product, warning that hackers have already exploited the...