Has the hot new Digital Satellite System fallen victim to signal pirates?
The RCA Digital Satellite System (DSS) was introduced with much fanfare in mid-1994. The all-digital, direct satellite broadcast system delivers high quality TV signals to satellite dishes only 18 inches in diameter. Modern data-compression technology allows a pair of geostationary satellites co-located above the equator at 101 [degrees] West longitude to transmit about 150 or more high fidelity programs to the continental U.S. That number might even increase in the future.
Will the piracy that haunted large-dish, C-band satellite program delivery during the late 1980's and early 1990's do the same to the small-dish direct-satellite industry? Perhaps - the system's encryption technology is based on a modified version of the VideoCrypt conditional-access system, which has been in operation in Europe for more than five years and has been repeatedly compromised by hackers and signal pirates.
According to the information we have available, the Digital Satellite System is on the verge of being hacked. Pirate smart cards, which will give the DSS receivers access to programs, are expected be available by the time you read this.
Signal pirates are planning to make four tiers of pirate cards available. The first tier, which is expected to cost $150, will provide access to only the basic programs. The second tier card will add the subscription movie channels. The third tier card will provide access to the sports packages. The last card will give access to all services and will include a ceiling of $500 in pay-per-view (PPV) credit. Pirates are, in essence, forming an alternate access control system that will supplant the official DSS billing system with their own.
The pirate cards will contain features that will prevent them from being pirated, or at least make piracy more difficult. For example, each card will be "married" to an individual receiver or IRD (integrated receiver/descrambler). Pirates in Europe found piracy of their own cards to be a major problem. (More information on the European scrambling situation, and valuable background information on signal piracy is contained in the companion article, "Satellite Piracy: The European Experience," on page 37.)
The majority of the pirate smart cards for the European VideoCrypt system are based on the PIC16C84 microcontroller. Although that microcontroller has a code-protection fuse that normally prevents the contents of the program memory from being read out, pirates were able to "pop" the device and extract the program code of other pirates.
As a result of this, the program for hacking VideoCrypt spread rapidly throughout Europe. A repeat of this situation is the last thing that the DSS pirates want - they want to maintain control over the distribution of pirate cards. Therefore the new smart cards might be based on a more secure processor. …