Dark Overlord … Not a New Netflix Series, Real World Netflix Ransomware Hacker


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In the 1996 movie, Ransom, criminals kidnap a multi-millionaire’s son and send an email demanding $2 million for his safe return. In 2017, hackers stole unreleased copies of a popular series from multi-billion dollar media company Netflix Inc. and demanded payment in exchange for not releasing the bootlegged copies. 

Netflix refused to pay, and the hacker—known as the Dark Overlord—announced on Twitter that he/she had released episodes from Season 5 of the popular show Orange Is the New Black. However, the Dark Overlord may not be done. The hacker tweeted April 30 that “It’s nearly time to play another round” and previous tweets suggest that possible targets may include Fox, IFC, National Geographic and ABC. 

“Money-oriented cybercriminal groups know how to hit where it hurts, and they will hit you in your weak spot to increase the chances of your paying to make the pain go away” Matthew Gardiner, cybersecurity strategist at email security company Mimecast in Boston, told Bloomberg BNA. Netflix faced the premature release of “one of their most prized assets is their original programming which they use to differentiate their service and attract an ever-growing list of subscribers,” Gardiner said.

According to Bob Noel, director of Strategic Relationships and Marketing for software company Plixer International, “the hacker seems to have targeted a small production vendor in which more content may have been stolen.” This isn’t surprising because 63 percent of “all data breaches can be attributed to a third party vendor,” he said. What is surprising, Noel said, is “that the hacker has demonstrated that he has the means to not only steal the content, but also release it as well.”

According to Gardiner, “no matter how strong the security program is at Netflix, if there are weaknesses in their supply-chain the attackers will hit them there.” Unfortunately, “these types of attacks are now a key element of the risks that all organizations face,” he said.

This is bad news for Netflix and other companies with popular shows and movies. For example, Orange Is the New Black helped Netflix to reach the 50-million-user milestone and is one of the most popular shows on the content streaming service. 

Online streaming services aren’t the only entities that should be worried about ransomware, as hackers do not discriminate among targets. In 2016, Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center in Los Angeles was forced to pay $17,000 to a hacker that took control of the hospital’s computer systems. 

Additionally, ransomware isn’t the only threat to the entertainment industry. Ever since peer-to-peer file sharing services such as Napster, Gnutella, Kazaa and LimeWire revolutionized how consumers listen to songs and watch movies, online piracy has become a reality of the entertainment business. For example, in 2009, an unfinished copy of X-Men Origins: Wolverine was leaked on the internet, granting netizens with early access to the movie, with unfinished graphics and works in progress. It isn’t as if the movie needed this embarrassing episode to be a complete disaster.

With new seasons of popular shows on the horizon—Netflix’s House of Cards returning May 30 and HBO’s Game of Thrones returning in July 16—and the summer blockbuster season approaching—Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 opening May 5, Wonder Woman opening June 2 and Spider-Man: Homecoming opening July 7, and —it is prime ransom season for hackers.

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