HBO hacked as Game of Thrones spoilers leaked

Blockbuster: The main actors from Game of Thrones will earn around $2m per episode. © HBO

The TV network HBO has been hacked for a second time this month after a group broke into its social media. Is this HBO’s problem, or should consumers take more of a stand against cybercrime?

The first episode of the current series of Game of Thrones (GoT) was watched by 16m people in the USA, breaking a record for the show. The fantasy drama has ballooned into an era-defining classic. Only Super Bowls and inaugurations can guarantee more viewers.

So when HBO, the network that airs the show in the USA, is subject to a series of cyber-security breaches, it is big news.

In July unidentified hackers claim to have stolen 1.5TB of data from the company. Out of that haul they released Game of Thrones scripts (don’t worry, no spoilers here!), company documents and unseen episodes of other HBO shows such as Curb Your Enthusiasm and Insecure. The Guardian is also reporting that personal phone numbers of GoT actors were leaked.

In a separate incident, a GoT episode was leaked from India before it aired. Soon afterwards, came another leak from Europe when an episode of the show mistakenly appeared on HBO’s Spanish and Nordic streaming platforms days before it was due to be released.

And then this week, the company’s Facebook and Twitter accounts were broken into as well. A group called OurMine started tweeting on HBO’s accounts, as well as on those of its main shows. The official GoT account tweeted: “Hi, OurMine are here, we are just testing your security, HBO team please contact us to upgrade the security — ourmine .org -> Contact”.

When episodes are leaked, the natural curiosity of many ardent GoT fans takes over: it is easy, and tempting, to watch their favourite show early.

The Institute for Policy Innovation estimates that illegal streaming of films and TV programmes costs the US economy $20.5 billion per year. But illegally streaming something online just does not feel like a crime to many people. Most of the people who watched the leaked GoT episode would never dream of robbing their local supermarket, and yet one could argue that there are few moral differences between the two acts.

Is it up to consumers to shun illegal streams, or should networks try harder to protect themselves from hackers in the first place?

Main stream

“This is about supply and demand,” say some. Hackers will only leak episodes of popular programmes if they know they will profit from it. And they will only profit if people watch it. Penalties for watching things illegally need to be increased, and consumers need to develop a bit more self-restraint. If they do not, they risk destroying the industry.

“Wishful thinking,” reply others. Watching illegal streams has now become completely normalised, and realistically nothing is going to change that. TV networks and legal outlets will simply have to adapt and improve their resistance to being hacked. HBO must learn from this.

You Decide

  1. Should consumers take some blame for HBO hacks?
  2. Is watching something on an illegal stream akin to theft?


  1. In groups, come up with an idea for a TV show in the mould of Game of Thrones.
  2. Imagine you are a government minister responsible for tackling cybercrime. Come up with three new laws to help prevent it.

Some People Say...

“People who watch illegal streams should face prison.”

What do you think?

Q & A

What do we know?
That the TV network HBO, which is currently showing the hit fantasy series Game of Thrones, has been subject to a series of leaks by numerous groups of computer hackers over the last few months. Two episodes were released onto the internet before they were scheduled to be shown. We know that illegal streams cost TV networks and others involved in the industry billions of pounds every year.
What do we not know?
Whether anything can be done about this. A report in 2013 found that over half of Americans watched illegal streams, and that number is likely to be a lot higher now. We do not know the identities of many of the hackers, and whether there are fully effective ways of stopping them completely.

Word Watch

Game of Thrones
Based on a series of books by George R. R. Martin, Game of Thrones is a fantasy series set on the fictional continents of Westeros and Essos. The series is known for its numerous plot lines, high turnover of characters and for showing a significant amount of sex and gore.
Super Bowls
Last year’s Super Bowl, which was won by the New England Patriots against the Atlanta Falcons, saw a total US audience of 172,000,000 people.
A premium cable and satellite television network that is owned by Time Warner. It is the the oldest and longest operating pay television service in the United States.
TB means terabyte. A terabyte is 1,000 gigabytes, and a gigabyte is one billion bytes.
OurMine has a reputation for hacking high profile Twitter accounts. Last year it hacked into the official account of Netflix, as well as co-founder of Wikipedia Jimmy Wales, and Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg.

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