AccessMyLibrary provides FREE access to millions of articles from top publications available through your library.
Hackers have repeatedly compromised the satellite-scrambling system commonly used in Europe.
Signal pirates are threatening to break the encryption system used by the RCA Digital Satellite System. Hackers, armed with the knowledge gained by breaking VideoCrypt, Europe's similar encryption scheme, are confident that they are close to a break of DSS. (See "Has DSS Been Hacked?" on page 33.) This article outlines the history of the VideoCrypt hack in Europe.
There are three main encryption systems in European satellite TV. The first and most visible is VideoCrypt, used by BSkyB, the broadcaster of Sky and a number of other channels. (BSkyB is the broadcaster of the Sky Multichannels Package, which carries three movie channels and a few general entertainment channels intended for Ireland and the United Kingdom (UK). An estimated 2.5 million subscribers use VideoCrypt smart cards to gain access to programming.
The second principle system is EuroCrypt-M, used by Canal Plus, TV3, FilmNet, TV1000, and a few other programmers. There may be as many as 400,000 subscribers to channels encoded with the EuroCrypt-M scrambling system. The third scrambling system is Nagra Syster, the only one that is still secure from signal hackers. It is used by Premiere, Canal Plus, and Teleclub. While hackers are now actively working on a viable hack for Nagra Syster, the system has fared well during the past four years.
One major difference between Europe and the United States is the uniformity of American laws and their enforcement. Piracy has been able to thrive in Europe because each nation has its own copyright laws, and generally protects only its own channels. This makes it possible, for example, to legally sell pirate smart cards that allow access to VideoCrypt-encoded channels throughout all of Europe, except in the UK.
The VideoCrypt scrambling system used by the DSS system in the United States differs from the European implementation. European VideoCrypt is a purely analog system that scrambles only the video. DSS is a completely digital system that encrypts the digitally encoded video and audio. However, there are many similarities between DSS and European VideoCrypt, including the use of smart cards.
The VideoCrypt scrambling system, like DSS, is based on a secure detachable processor - a removable smart card holds all of the critical information. The smart cards are both the systems' greatest strength and their greatest weakness. Smart cards permit broadcasters to change or upgrade their conditional-access system. In small quantities, an upgrade can be relatively inexpensive, but when the number of cards that have to be replaced increases, so does the cost. For example, BSkyB paid 21 million pounds for its last card upgrade. Originally, BSkyB planned to issue new versions of smart cards on a three- to …