Ever since news broke that hackers were able to break into HBO’s computer networks, there have been plenty of comparisons to the Sony Pictures hack of 2014. Some reports have seized on the amount of data stolen to claim that the HBO hack was seven times bigger, or possibly worse, than the Sony hack. That comparison turns out to be meaningless.
First, a quick recap: On Monday, news broke that hackers compromised HBO’s networks, and leaked a handful of unreleased episodes from shows like “Insecure,” “Barry,” and “Ballers.” The hackers also leaked scripts for unaired “Game of Thrones” episodes, as well as the personal information of a senior HBO executive and an assortment of other files.
Altogether, those leaks amounted to around 300 gigabyte of data. The hackers claimed that they stole a total of 1.5 terabyte of data from HBO, and have since threatened to release additional material as early as this Sunday.
That claim, though unproven, has led to comparisons with the Sony Pictures hack of 2014, when 200 GB of emails and other internal documents were released. Those releases included tens of thousands of internal emails and social security numbers for thousands of employees. The Sony leaks ultimately led to the ouster of Sony Pictures chief Amy Pascal, and a multi-million-dollar settlement with the studio’s employees.
Compared to that, the material leaked by the HBO hackers thus far seems relatively benign. The website used by the hackers to release the material has been inaccessible for days, making it challenging to analyze all of the leaked data. However, one Reddit user who claimed to have downloaded at least part of it characterized it as “trash from HBO servers,” with one shared archive file allegedly containing Windows backups and tutorials for popular database software.
The user also shared what he claimed to be a screenshot of the archive file:
Variety separately learned that some of the leaked data contained IT help desk requests, dating back as far as 2012 — data that’s likely of little consequence to the company today.
An HBO spokesperson declined to comment on the authenticity of the screenshot, or any other data allegedly obtained by the hackers.
That’s not to say that the hackers didn’t get their hands on any additional sensitive information. For all we know, they may release much more explosive material this coming Sunday. It’s also worth keeping in mind that an HBO security contractor revealed in a filing Tuesday that the hackers got their hands on “thousands of internal documents.”
But for now, comparisons to the Sony hack seem to be unfounded — and simply looking at the sheer amount of data that hackers claim to have stolen is definitely the worst possible way to make any judgement about the severity of the hack.