HBO CEO Richard Plepler told staff in a note on Wednesday that "we do not believe that our e-mail system as a whole has been compromised, but the forensic review is ongoing."
The statement comes as the network deals with a major data breach that was discovered last week, with staffers expressing concern that their emails may have been caught up in the hackers' net. At the same time, HBO is going on the offensive, attempting to prevent internet users from finding any stolen content that has already been made available.
Google received a Digital Millennium Copyright Act takedown notice from HBO and is removing searches that link to sites hosting the leaked content. The unknown hackers, who claim to have pilfered 1.5 terabytes of data from the network, began releasing the content — a combination of rich-media data and text — on Sunday. But as quickly as the content appears on a site, the links stop working and users find an error messages.
The DMCA move signals that HBO fears it has a lot more to lose than just soon-to-air episodes of Game of Thrones, Ballers and Insecure or the 2018 series Barry, starring Bill Hader. After all, much of that content quickly appears on torrent sites and is viewed by millions.
Instead, the network appears to be preventing Game of Thrones fans from stumbling upon and sharing sensitive documents that are mixed in with the cache of data that the hackers stole. For example, the first release of documents included an upcoming Ballers episode alongside a document that contained the passwords for the personal accounts of a high-ranking business affairs executive. Plepler's note to staff did not address the status of internal documents that also may have been taken.
In emails sent to reporters on Sunday, the hackers urged recipients to "spread the words. Whoever spreads well, we will have an interview with him. HBO is falling."
For years, HBO has been using the DMCA to prevent Game of Thrones pirates from sharing stolen goods, but the effort has not been nearly as aggressive as the network's post-hack offensive. On a related front, HBO also released a series of images from season seven, episode four, which hackers going by the name little.finger66 claim to have and say they plan to release (hackers already appear to have released a screenshot from that episode, though it can't be independently verified).
HBO declined comment beyond Plepler's executive memo, which is below:
As promised, I wanted to update you on our recent cyber incident and where we currently stand. There has been and will continue to be an enormous amount of speculation in the media. It is important to understand that, as is often the case, things you read may very well not be true. Many people have expressed particular concern about our e-mail system.
At this time, we do not believe that our e-mail system as a whole has been compromised, but the forensic review is ongoing. We are also in the process of engaging an outside firm to work with our employees to provide credit monitoring and we will be following up with those details.
Meantime, continue to do the excellent work which defines this company across all departments and know that the appropriate teams are working round the clock to manage our way through this difficult period.