DirecTV Strikes Back at Hackers

ByABC News
January 27, 2001, 3:18 PM

S A N  J O S E, Calif. -- After years of playing cat-and-mousewith hackers, the nation's leading provider of satellite TV servicestruck back with an electronic attack so overwhelming that piratesare calling it "Black Sunday."

DirecTV delivered a special signal to millions of receiver boxesin homes across North America last Sunday to shut down theunauthorized access cards used by hackers to capture scores of freechannels. Thousands of satellite TV pirates may have to pull outold-fashioned antennas to watch the Super Bowl.

Several hacker Web sites said it could take weeks to takeadvantage of DirecTV again if it's possible at all.

From Satellite Dish Back to Rabbit Ears "What I'm telling my customers is that it never hurt anyone toget out the rabbit ears or play with the kids for a few days," aCanadian access card dealer known online as "DLCT" said in ane-mail interview.

DirecTV has about 9.5 million subscribers in the United States,and rival EchoStar Communications' DISH Network counts 4.5 million.A legitimate satellite TV subscription costs anywhere from $22 to$250 per month after an initial outlay of around $150.

DirecTV officials acknowledged that the company uses electroniccountermeasures, but they declined to confirm or deny any detailsabout Sunday. A spokesman, Bob Marsocci, said the company "takessatellite signal theft very seriously."

Cat and Mouse GameSince DirecTV began six years ago, hackers have figured out howto get around paying for it.

First, they buy set-top receivers from former subscribers orover the Internet. Each receiver is equipped with an access card -a smart card with an embedded microchip that essentially runs thesystem.

The card is programmed with a unique code, which lets thereceiver take from the DirecTV satellite signal only the channelsthat the subscriber has paid for, and leaves the rest scrambled.

Hackers have figured out ways to program cards that grant accessto all channels, including pay-per-view movies and sports events.This is especially popular in Canada, where DirecTV is not licensedto provide service, and where selling hacked access cards andequipment is not a crime.