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DirecTV's Secret War On Hackers

michael posted more than 13 years ago | from the not-as-think-as-you-dumb-we-were dept.

Hardware Hacking 619

Belch writes "4 or more years ago DirecTV launched its service. DirecTV was one of the very first large distributors of smart card technology in their product. So much so, that Hughes corp. (the primary owner of DirecTV) decided to create their own smart cards. Each receiver has a smart card located inside that is keyed to the subscriber, and actively participates in the decryption of the digital satellite video stream. However, considering Hughes decided on this technology when it was virtually in its infancy, they made several mistakes. The hacker community caught onto these mistakes, and there has been a war between DirecTV and the hacking community ever since. For the past two or more years, it was apparent the hacking community would win this war, completely opening the DirecTV signal. However, over the last 6 months, DirecTV has fought back with a vengeance, displaying the most extensive technical campaign against the hacking of their product..." Click through for the rest of the story.

"Allow me to give you some background.

"One of the original smart cards, entitled 'H' cards for Hughes, had design flaws which were discovered by the hacking community. These flaws enabled the extremely bright hacking community to reverse engineer their design, and to create smart card writers. The writers enabled the hackers to read and write to the smart card, and allowed them to change their subscription model to receive all the channels. Since the technology of satellite television is broadcast only, meaning you cannot send information TO the satellite, the system requires a phone line to communicate with DirecTV. The hackers could re-write their smart cards and receive all the channels, and unplug their phone lines leaving no way for DirecTV to track the abuse. DirecTV had built a mechanism into their system that allowed the updating of these smart cards through the satellite stream. Every receiver was designed to 'apply' these updates when it received them to the cards. DirecTV applied updates that looked for hacked cards, and then attempted to destroy the cards by writing updates that disabled them. The hacking community replied with yet another piece of hardware, an 'unlooper,' that repaired the damage. The hacker community then designed software that trojanized the card, and removed the capability of the receivers to update the card. DirecTV could only send updates to the cards, and then require the updates be present in order to receive video. Each month or so, DirecTV would send an update. 10 or 15 minutes later, the hacking community would update the software to work around the latest fixes. This was the status quo for almost two years. 'H' cards regularly sold on eBay for over $400.00. It was apparent that DirecTV had lost this battle, relegating DirecTV to hunting down Web sites that discussed their product and using their legal team to sue and intimidate them into submission.

"Four months ago, however, DirecTV began sending several updates at a time, breaking their pattern. While the hacking community was able to bypass these batches, they did not understand the reasoning behind them. Never before had DirecTV sent 4 and 5 updates at a time, yet alone send these batches every week. Many postulated they were simply trying to annoy the community into submission. The updates contained useless pieces of computer code that were then required to be present on the card in order to receive the transmission. The hacking community accommodated this in their software, applying these updates in their hacking software. Not until the final batch of updates were sent through the stream did the hacking community understand DirecTV. Like a final piece of a puzzle allowing the entire picture, the final updates made all the useless bits of computer code join into a dynamic program, existing on the card itself. This dynamic program changed the entire way the older technology worked. In a masterful, planned, and orchestrated manner, DirecTV had updated the old and ailing technology. The hacking community responded, but cautiously, understanding that this new ability for DirecTV to apply more advanced logic in the receiver was a dangerous new weapon. It was still possible to bypass the protections and receive the programming, but DirecTV had not pulled the trigger of this new weapon.

"Last Sunday night, at 8:30 pm est, DirecTV fired their new gun. One week before the Super Bowl, DirecTV launched a series of attacks against the hackers of their product. DirecTV sent programmatic code in the stream, using their new dynamic code ally, that hunted down hacked smart cards and destroyed them. The IRC DirecTV channels overflowed with thousands of people who had lost the ability to watch their stolen TV. The hacking community by and large lost not only their ability to watch TV, but the cards themselves were likely permanently destroyed. Some estimate that in one evening, 100,000 smart cards were destroyed, removing 98% of the hacking communities' ability to steal their signal. To add a little pizzazz to the operation, DirecTV personally "signed" the anti-hacker attack. The first 8 computer bytes of all hacked cards were rewritten to read "GAME OVER".

"For more information, visit"

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Oh my god...! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#481893)

They killed my H card!

The bastards!

(Guess I'll have to use cable to watch Comedy Central now...!)

game is not over (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#481894)

the cards are not permanently damaged. I've read the code. the eeprom is marked to force the card into an infinite loop. This has been fixed before, and will be fixed again.

The real "hack" is emulation where the smart card is emulated with a PC, and the actual card is protected from writes and other malicious mischief.

There is a deliberate disinformation campaign being waged along with the electronic counter-measures.

Re:game is not over (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#481895)

Interesting. Can you provide proof?

Re:Uh yeah. (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#481896)

If you're a legitimate subscriber, they'll send you a new card, free, overnight.

not much grounds/damages to sue over.

Re:Physically destroyed? (2)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#481907)

Don't try that repair. It won't work, and it will destroy your card.

see this []

Re:finally (3)

Anonymous Coward | more than 13 years ago | (#481913)

but stealing tv is wrong

I am so sick of this attitude! It is not "stealing TV". When you steal something, the person that you stole it from no longer possesses it. An example of stealing TV would be smashing a shop window, grabbing a television set under your arm, and running. This is by no means the same thing.

DirecTV are broadcasting their signal over satellite. Whether you pay for their service or not, it gets beamed into your property. If you have a dish, you will pick up the signal. If you happen to have the means of decoding this signal, you can watch their TV shows. How is this stealing? This is no more stealing that watching the Superbowl at a friend's place because he has DirecTV and you don't. Are you "stealing TV is wrong" advocates suggesting that DirecTV should send agents round to their subscribers houses to issue them with an extra pay-per-view bill for any of their friends who happen to be parked on the couch with a bag of doritos watching the game?

No, this is an outrageous abuse. If DirecTV don't have a business model which can earn them a profit as they beam their signal into EVERYONE'S airspace, then they shouldn't be in business, end of story. Or, as they would say, "game over".

Oooo. (5)

Chris Johnson (580) | more than 13 years ago | (#481920)

So, the big nasty corporation solves its problem with hacks of fiendish ingenuity whereupon the 'hackers' bury them in lawyers? *g*


Re:Who are the hackers here? (1)

Enry (630) | more than 13 years ago | (#481923)

\/\/3 0\/\/n j00! D1r3ctTV ru1ez!!

Beautiful! (1)

Caine (784) | more than 13 years ago | (#481926)

Well, I guess there's at least one company with hackers of their own. Incredibly beautiful hack, especially the hackeresque text "Game Over" in the end. All in all, a hack worthy to become classic.

impressed (2)

ragnar (3268) | more than 13 years ago | (#481944)

I'm pretty impressed by this. I'm sure the real hackers, namely the ones who worked on the code and enjoyed tinkering respect this sort of orchestrated response. The 99% of lusers who just bought a card and plugged in the code I'm sure are very ticked off, but they were never into for a good hack, they just wanted free TV.

There may be some ground to say that DirectTV overstepped its bounds to destroy cards that were at one time rightfully sold. I would suspect that their legal department has some sort of "appropriate use" clause. Besides, any one with a functional frontal lobe knows that people were stealing. Those who had their cards fried should think fondly on their time of beating the system, but above all they should respect that DirectTV outsmarted them.

Of course... this assumes that someone isn't right now figuring out a way to reverse the process or come up with a new way of hacking the system. Any way you cut it, this is one of the most interesting and impressive reactions in years. Maybe the cuecat people could take a hint and decide to get smarter instead of making legal threats.

You know, I think I'm with DirecTV on this (5)

jht (5006) | more than 13 years ago | (#481960)

On one side, you have folks who hack the hardware to get free service.

On the other side, you have a company that sells a dish and programming, at pretty reasonable prices compared to cable rates, and wants to get paid for their goods.

Given that's it's at an interesting intellectual game at best to figure out how to hack a DTV smart card system, and theft of service at worst, it just appears that DirecTV has figured out how to win the cat and mouse game once and for all. Good for them. If DirecTV was the only form of television service available (ie., a monopoly), I'd look on theft of service a little more tolerantly, but there's all sorts of TV alternatives out there - broadcast, cable, and other satelite providers.

This is different from, say, the i-Opener hack because the i-Opener hack was fundamentally about hardware. Buying the box did not incur an obligation to use the service (due to a mistake on Netpliance's part), and the hack didn't allow you to steal their service - it allowed you to re-purpose the hardware. That would be like hacking a DirecTV box to work with Dish Network instead. A cool, "because it's there" hack.

So if DirecTV won the war, more power to them. There may be a fine line between hacking and theft at times, but hacking a DTV smart card for free service is definitely on the wrong side of that line.

Besides, stuff like descramblers and smartcards are usually what spammers are filling my emailbox with, and I hate spammers! :-)

- -Josh Turiel

Re:If this is true... (1)

howardjp (5458) | more than 13 years ago | (#481961)

I agree. This attack is nearly the work of science fiction (think Independence Day and similar). Hughes showed an incredible ability to run the attack stealthly and brilliant without ever hiding anything. This was amazing.

"Hacking Community" (1)

Vic (6867) | more than 13 years ago | (#481965)

If I read the words "hacking community" one more time today, I'm gonna barf!

I find this story quite funny and amusing, but it's playing up the 'noble hackers fighting for TV freedom' bit a little too much. These guys just want free movies....


Nice to see, for a change (5)

The G (7787) | more than 13 years ago | (#481968)

Damn but it's nice to see a company that's willing to fight on the technical ground rather than running to its lawyers at the first sign of trouble. That's downright brave and honourable, there.

Say what you may about the real and supposed sins of DirecTV and its crackers, they were fighting the war on its technical merits rather than with hordes of lawyers. That's good stuff. It's nice to see a company with the integrity to defend itself within its market and its product rather than look for protection from above.

Wow! (1)

cymen (8178) | more than 13 years ago | (#481969)

This leaves me wondering who works at DirectTV! Obviously some very smart people at that company. Personally I think the people who hacked DirectTV to get free service got what they deserved to a degree. Of course now they can figure out how to hack the next generation (if possible). Dynamically updating the code in the receivers is a brilliant strategy... Chalk one up for DirectTV. Lets see if the hackers (crackers) can get their TV back!

If this is true... (5)

xyzzy (10685) | more than 13 years ago | (#481977) is a thing of beauty... Not because of who won or lost, but because of the elegance with which it was done!

[someone should forward this article to the "Beautiful code" guy!]

Blockquoting as a defensive measure (1)

The Dodger (10689) | more than 13 years ago | (#481978)

I <blockquote> in order to maintain a de-militarized zone between my comments and the rest of Slashdot. I'm terrified by the prospect of getting infected by the Stupidity virus (also known as the Troll Syndrome) that seems so prevalent amongst Slashdot posters.


Three Cheers for Hughes! (5)

The Dodger (10689) | more than 13 years ago | (#481979)

First of all, let's point out here that what this little story refers to as "hackers" are actually "pirates".

Secondly, what the Hughes technicians did was far more worthy of the term "hack". It stands out simply because it was the "big nasty corporation" who turned the technical tables on the crackers, and defeated them.

The whole thing smacks of genius - the subtlety, (in sending out the updates in a fragmented manner), the timing (ambushing the pirates a week before one of the biggest US TV events), the technical brilliance - all these are trait too often missing in so-called "hackers".

Respect to the Hughes guys.


Cool (1)

Pope Slackman (13727) | more than 13 years ago | (#481995)

It's nice to see a company that tries a more novel approach to fighting media 'piracy' than just herds of lawyers.
(Which, as we see in the RIAA and MPAA cases, doesn't really *do* anything at all, aside from annoying people.)
They solved their illicit reception problem, while at the same time gained some respect from the 'hacker' community.

Now the question is, will the blackhats try to crack the new firmware, or will they look for a new target?


Re:If this is true... (3)

griffjon (14945) | more than 13 years ago | (#482015)

Exactly! DirecTV did fall back to lawyers for a bit, but in general they did the absolute correct thing--fix the damned problem. Mad props to the proigrammer/team that handled the multipart code. If only more companies would respond to security threats and other flaws by fixing them instead of legally snuffing out their discoverers.

Uh yeah. (1)

Shoeboy (16224) | more than 13 years ago | (#482027)

Don't believe everything you read.

For starters, H cards are damn near indestructible. I've seen one go through a washing machine and still function.

Secondly, even there would be no need to add the offending code bit by bit, you could just send 1 update. The only reason to send it bit by bit is to save bandwidth and this isn't a concern. Sounds mildly improbable eh?

Thirdly the destruction of the cards would force Hughes to replace them. Not a cheap move. They'd be opening themselves to a lawsuit from everyone who was willing to say "I hadn't modified my card, honest" otherwise.

Finally, the site Michael linked to requests financial support by clicking a paypal link. Sounds like an elaborate setup to fleece the /. community.

Way to go Michael.


Re:"Hackers"? (1)

still cynical (17020) | more than 13 years ago | (#482028)

Because it's NOT "hacking for hacking's sake". It's "hacking for stealing's sake". "hacking for hacking's sake" would be hacking the cards and keeping it to yourself, satisfied in overcoming the challenge. Maybe even informing the company of the hole in their security, in which case you've accomplished a challenging hack and done a good deed. But stealing services that cost huge $$$ to provide is cracking, not hacking.

"Hackers"? (5)

still cynical (17020) | more than 13 years ago | (#482030)

For all the noise that /. makes over the user of Hacker vs. Cracker, one would think that stealing services would fall into the latter category. While I think that the reverse engineering and cleverness involved in cracking the smartcards is quite impressive, I see no noble motivation, just stealing a service that is quite expensive to develop and provide. The real Hackers in this story work for Hughes.

Re:Now this is gaming (1)

TheCaptain (17554) | more than 13 years ago | (#482031)

Well...with the card toasted and the fact that they mentioned their $400 price tag on Ebay, I think alot of people will be a bit hesistant about it. $400 bucks makes for one expensive game!

Awww, too bad... (1)

mustard (23354) | more than 13 years ago | (#482051)

Why post a story that sounds like Evil Corporation is battling innocent hackers, when in reality it's a company fighting THEFT of service. If this were on the cable side of things, it'd be illegal. Amazing how people can forget the ethics of things.

It doesn't matter if there's a computer involved or not, it's still stealing.

DirecTV is very cool about this whole situation. (5)

NickV (30252) | more than 13 years ago | (#482073)

Honestly, DirecTV is very cool about this situation. They even have a guy on alt.dss.hack that TALKS to the hackers and actually goes about in conversation with them. They truly look at this as a game of chess, and I was always intrigued by the complexity of the "war" at times.

To show you how cool things have become... The latest trend in DSS is using emulation software on a PC to intercept the signal and then sending it to your reciever. It truly is an innovative solution!

I swear, words like ECMs (Electronic Counter Measures) that literally destroy cards, and Unloopers (thinks that fix "looped" or destroyed cards") really make this feel like some hollywood hacker movie. But it's not. It's for real! Damn, that is just too cool!


WOW. (1)

Unknown Poltroon (31628) | more than 13 years ago | (#482082)

Now THIS is the way to handle hackers. Screw high priced lawyers.

So the hackers got hacked. (5)

Patman (32745) | more than 13 years ago | (#482091)

This is the perfect solution to a nagging problem.
Direct TV sells a service. They make money from
the sale of this service, and they provide the
infrastructure, the broadcast, the hardware, etc.

Then, a bunch of kids decide that they want what
DirectTV has, but not at their terms. So they steal
the service. Yes, they stole it. Hell, they
admit it in the article.

So what does DirectTV do? They beat the hackers at their
own game. They outplay, outsmart, and outfox them.

Bravo. They protected themselves and their market
share in the best way possible. In the end, we
can all appreciate the beauty of this particular hack.

Re:finally (3)

DirkGently (32794) | more than 13 years ago | (#482094)

Actually, you *are* taking something from them. If you subscribe to thier service, they know what channels you are capable of watching, and can tell the actual HBO people (for instance) that they have 18 million viewers and want to be billed as such (I can only think that as the number of viewers increases the actual cost to the provider decreases due to an increase in effectiveness of advirtising). So its not JUST your monthly billing statement that they are losing out on.

So if they increase thier profits by having more subscribers, you *are* stealing from them, in a very real sense.


Re:"Hackers"? (2)

segmond (34052) | more than 13 years ago | (#482100)

They are both hackers! You have no idea the amount of skill it takes to crack smart cards, you don't go to and get a script, run it and bam! It takes some very indept knowledge of electrical engineering and digital logics with some programming. Give respect where respect is due. If anyone that breaks a code is called a cracker then cryptobreakers should just be called crackers, so everyone running those distributed cryto attacks are crackers. :-)

Re:Three Cheers for Hughes! (2)

segmond (34052) | more than 13 years ago | (#482101)

It all depends on opinion, some of those guys you called pirates are hackers. In the pirate world, you have hackers, crackers, the pirates, lamers, etc. The hackers are the ones who usually figure out the system, the crackers are the ones who build tools to crack it based on info obtained by the hackers, the pirates are the ones selling the cloned cards, etc, etc. anyway, Dodger, ltns! :-)

Troll? (1)

GoofyBoy (44399) | more than 13 years ago | (#482149)

Correct me if I'm wrong as I only read the slashdot article and the website linked.

>H cards are damn near indestructible.

Irrelvent to this issue. DirectTV wrote on a WriteOnce part.

>you could just send 1 update

Regardless if they need to to it or not changing their tactics is brillent. It called psycological warfare and will now keep hackers (doesn't crackers apply here since what they were doing was stealing?) on their toes.

>the destruction of the cards would force Hughes to replace them

Most likely not. I haven't read the EULA but I'm sure that this is covered. Besides DirectTV will just point to the physical evidence of the card being hacked. The customer just has his word. Which one would hold in court?

>the site Michael linked to requests financial support by clicking a paypal link

Oh please. Slashdot has banners. And the paypal is _optional_.

Nano robots (2)

MrP- (45616) | more than 13 years ago | (#482153)

The story is a lie, it wasnt code they were sending, they were sending armies of nano robots, then these robots attacked and physically destroyed the cards... damn nano bots

Heh, I can't say that I feel bad.. (2)

xtal (49134) | more than 13 years ago | (#482159)

If you're interested in actually hacking these boxes as opposed to blatant theft of service (not much of a distinction, but, hey, we all gotta rationalize), then you probably don't have much to worry about. I suspect that the 2% that weren't affected were using emulators of the smartcard, quite likely running their own software that they themselves wrote to hack the dish.

*grin* There's gotta be one helluva pissed pile of pirates out there though. The GAME OVER thing is just classic, too, eh! heh heh.

Cracked, goddammit! (1)

Jay Maynard (54798) | more than 13 years ago | (#482164)

This isn't a hack. It's a crack. Please don't besmirch the honorable term "hacker" by associating it with this kind of theft of service.


Re:Physically destroyed? (1)

drp (63138) | more than 13 years ago | (#482182)

It turns out that there's an area on the smart cards that is 'write once', kind of like an EPROM, which they probably wrote garbage into.

Brings up the image of a card smoking and slowing curling up inside your receiver, doesn't it?

Cool or what? (5)

gadders (73754) | more than 13 years ago | (#482217)

I mean it must have been a pisser if you were getting free TV but still, that was quite a cool plan.

Can we set-up an interview with the techie that planned it?

It's not wrong to figure it out... (3)

Panamon777 (78286) | more than 13 years ago | (#482220)

...but I wouldn't make the claim that it's RIGHT to watch their content for free. Just because it's digital does't make theft of service (or whatever you want to call it) moral.


Best hack (1)

Rexifer (81021) | more than 13 years ago | (#482225)

Wow... it looks like the best hack in this case was pulled off by the DirecTV engineers. Kudos.

Say what you like.... (1)

biglig2 (89374) | more than 13 years ago | (#482234)

...but that's a superb piece of engineering work on their part, don't you think? In fact, a superb piece of hacking. ;-)

Game Over? (2)

mcdade (89483) | more than 13 years ago | (#482235)

Where do you find this?? From what I have read and heard that the PROM had been over written to 00000000, if that's what you mean by game over then ya.. sure.. but i haven't seen or read anyone discussing this..

this ofcourse kills the card because in the ROM there is a beginning look that looks to the address of the PROM and if it's not equal to 33 then then goes into an infinate loop. I'm sure someone will come of with a way to cloak the Ram section over the PROM so the card will be read as valid.. it will just take some time.

Also for those who think that any sort of satellite hacking is done by kids in basements while mommy and daddy are asleep, well, that's just ridiculous.. this isn't some ddos hack, little bit of code and your linux pc and you are elite haxor. No, to do this you need both money and some brainpower.. there are only a few key people that understand this and supply the community with the software tools and scripts to crack the signal...oh..and you need to drop cash on either a ISO7816 programmer or unlooper just to get started.. after that you can get your hands on a whole array of equipment to work with the data stream.. and it's not cheap.

hacking satellite was a fun game.. looks like i'm going to have to get a new hobby..


ps... no i don't really know how any of the stuff works. i'm the equiv of a script kiddie in the satellite world.

Re:"Hackers"? (1)

offline (94346) | more than 13 years ago | (#482239)

Gross. That's the only word i have for that attitude. Since when is theft a right?


Dynamic programs (1)

Kreeblah (95092) | more than 13 years ago | (#482241)

I can't believe how carefully this would have had to be planned. Sending a few bytes at a time to form a program? And nobody in the DirecTV cracker community caught on? If they were bright enough to reverse engineer the smartcards themselves, in addition to the code on them, you'd think at least one of them would have analyzed the "random" bytes coming through the satellite dish and noticed a program being formed. After all, they did code workarounds into their cracks (which probably included the parts of the program that had come down the "wire").

Re:Uh yeah. (1)

Kreeblah (95092) | more than 13 years ago | (#482242)

If you read the information that comes with the receivers and cards, you'll notice that they state that the cards are the property of Hughes and are on loan to the user. So they aren't liable for a lawsuit because they were destroying property they owned.

Aww man... (1)

Demon-Xanth (100910) | more than 13 years ago | (#482252)

...I hope I don't have to listen to a bunch of people whining that they can't use something they have been stealing.

Finally... (2)

FoxIVX (104861) | more than 13 years ago | (#482255)

A company gets it right. Fight back with technology, not lawsuits. I'm impressed with their technical fortitude, and the manner in which they did it. The "GAME OVER" comment in the first 8 bytes was especially showing of a good attitutde towards the whole event.

Of course, it's just a matter of time till the crackers redouble their efforts and beat the new system... "GAME ON"


About Time (4)

bmoore (106826) | more than 13 years ago | (#482261)

This is the way to "defend" against software piracy. Defeat the hackers in a struggle through technology. Litigation in the courts is just not the way to stop people in the end. I have no problem with people wanting to have their customers pay for their product. I like how DirectTV responded to the piracy. Corporations (RIAA, MPAA, etc): BEAT US TECHNICALLY, NOT IN COURT! It means SO much more.

Re:Games are for KIDS? (2)

Ashran (107876) | more than 13 years ago | (#482263)

belive me, such stuff is far more fun than playing normal games ..

It's the best game, because the enemies are not a stupid AI, but humans! ;)

Re:Uh yeah. (3)

n3rd (111397) | more than 13 years ago | (#482267)

They'd be opening themselves to a lawsuit from everyone who was willing to say "I hadn't modified my card, honest" otherwise.

Sorry, but you're wrong. Do you think a bank robber can sue a bank who puts a dye pack in his bag of money to render the money useless? Do you think that people who put razor bars around their stereo equipment can be sued by the theif who loses a finger?

Thirdly the destruction of the cards would force Hughes to replace them. Not a cheap move.

What do you think is cheaper: letting people take $30 or $40 per month out of Hughes' pocket by not paying for the service, or replacing a single smart card. I'm not an authority on the subject, but I think making these people pay for 2 months of service would make up for the cost of a new smart card. BTW, is "thirdly" a word?

Finally, the site Michael linked to requests financial support by clicking a paypal link. Sounds like an elaborate setup to fleece the /. community.

We're glad Shoeboy is looking out for our interests. Slashdot requests financial support by displaying banner ads, and so do 99% of all other sites on the web. The one in question uses PayPal for its financial support instead of banners. What's the problem?

Bravo! (1)

MajroMax (112652) | more than 13 years ago | (#482269)

Kudos to the obviously smart DirecTV Engineers behind this plan - it was conducted masterfully.

THIS is how you defeat crackers - you don't go after them with lawyers, you defeat them at their own game.

Of course, how long again do we have until they repeat the process all over again? :)

Who are the hackers here? (2)

Leto2 (113578) | more than 13 years ago | (#482271)

Man, it must be pretty cool to work for DirectTV now. Being able to say: I was the one who came up with the plan to lure a whole community of hackers.

Those first bytes should have read: "DirecTV is the ueberhacker! Bow before us".

Beautiful Hack (1)

smcdow (114828) | more than 13 years ago | (#482275)

What else can be said? Simply stunning.

Wow! (1)

dabadab (126782) | more than 13 years ago | (#482289)

It is great to see such a heroic and nobble battle.
Tales about this mythical fight will be told for centuries, I'm sure.
Even Hollywood may find it worth as a base of a movie - 'Haxxor Warz' :)

Re:*Shrug* (1)

The Cookie Monster (129545) | more than 13 years ago | (#482294)

I really don't see anything wrong with DirecTV trying to stop people from accessing channels which normally cost extra for free.
DirecTV isn't being slammed here for protecting their income, they're being admired for pulling off a cool stunt. 'Company outhacks hackers' isn't something you hear everyday.

Shocker... (1)

DavidpFitz (136265) | more than 13 years ago | (#482302)

The shocking this is that they obviously required very expensive expertise to make this work. And boy, did it work.

If only they had been careful in the first place, they would never have needed to do this.

At the end of the day, it boils down to that legitimate DirecTV customers have to pay for the pirates TV, directly through the revenue lost for non-payment for services, and indirectly through the costs of hiring the people to fix it.

There's only one thing I can say... (1)

notcarlos (139684) | more than 13 years ago | (#482306)

Ouch. Very Ouch. Devious plans like this make you almost respect the enemy, like Optimus Prime vs. Megatron. With any luck, we're Megatron, since anyone who remembers (or has watched again recently) the Transformers Movie knows what happens to the good guys in war.

Geek Culture killed my dog/
and I don't think it's fair...

Re:Dynamic programs (1)

ellem (147712) | more than 13 years ago | (#482320)

--Most of the "crackers" bought the cards from their cousins, friends, guy I know, etc.

--Direct TV should have blown their TVs up.



finial (151096) | more than 13 years ago | (#482327)

But you know what's coming next. The RIAA & MPAA will point to this and say, "See? This is what we're trying to stop but we don't smart tech people like Hughes does so please, Mr. Congresscritter, make it illegal to copy our stuff. Make us safe from all these hackers[sic] because what they really are are thieves. Just look at Hughes."

finally (1)

blugecko (152079) | more than 13 years ago | (#482328)

well, it's nice to see that at least one company has enough sense to outsmart the smartest. i'm all for open source, but stealing tv is wrong. why should you not have to pay for the company to launch satellites, install systems, and organize programming? I think this is brilliant and would like to see more of it from other companies, Rock on!

Hackers? (1)

bigdavex (155746) | more than 13 years ago | (#482332)

It seems pretty hopeless for the mass media when /. doesn't differentiate between hackers and crackers.

Re:finally (1)

cheekymonkey_68 (156096) | more than 13 years ago | (#482333)

but stealing tv is wrong. why should you not have to pay for the company to launch satellites, install systems, and organize programming?

If stealing TV is wrong explain why the last bastion of American values Homer Simpson thinks its ok

I subscribe (3)

JCMay (158033) | more than 13 years ago | (#482335)

In the almost two years we've had DirecTV, the bills have gone up almost ten dollars. I do admit that five of those dollars go to get the local (Orlando) channels.

My wife and I are pretty happy with the service (other than rain fade margins-- they don't exist!) and think that we made the right choice over going with TWC. One of her teacher colleagues has TWC digital cable, and the picture is awful compared to DirecTV. (Except in those summer monsoons when DirecTV doesn't work at all!)

I have never been comfortable with people getting these kinds of services without paying for them. That monthly bill not only pays for the programming, but also on infrastructure and maintenance. Hughes played a HUGE gamble by launching its DirecTV bird. Unlike cable, satellite systems must have their entire infrastructure in place before they can sign their first subscriber. Cable systems can roll out a piece at a time, and early adoptors help pay to expand into new areas.

The only thing I'd like Hughes to add is a non-Windows bidirectional link for DirecPC and a dual-subscriber discount like TWC has with RoadRunner.

Re:Physically destroyed? (3)

Oliver Wendell Jones (158103) | more than 13 years ago | (#482336)

Check here [] for exactly how the cards were 'destroyed' and for a possible way that they could be repaired... but why would you want to do that?

Hah (1)

Modeflip (161271) | more than 13 years ago | (#482343)

Direct Tv is too expensive anyway.

Re:Uh yeah. (1)

OhPlz (168413) | more than 13 years ago | (#482349)

Yea, this sounds a little fishy. First off, why would they have designed the receivers in such a way as to allow damage to the card? A clever cracker could then send out a signal to brain-wipe valid user's cards (if they could figure out how to get that signal out anyway).

Even if it were true, imagine the liability. You cannot damage private property even if that property is in violation of a precious user agreement or even the law. "Yea, this car next to me was speeding so I blew his ass off the road". I don't think so.

Re:Uh yeah. (1)

OhPlz (168413) | more than 13 years ago | (#482350)

Cute. Wouldn't it be even funnier if the user was liable for any damages?

I really hate those types of arangements. I own two DirectTV receivers and didn't even know that. With every bit of information like this I hear I realize DirecTV and similar services are no better than the cable companies I use them to get away from.

Now here's a thought: does Hughes offer free replacements for busted cards? I doubt it. So legally, I wonder if they can require to its users to purchase new cards after they purposely fried the first card. They can't prove the fried cards were cracked, there wasn't any two-way communication involved!

Maybe next they'll put a finger-print scanner on the remote :)

Re:Heh, I can't say that I feel bad.. (1)

3dr (169908) | more than 13 years ago | (#482352)

If you're interested in actually hacking these boxes as opposed to blatant theft of service (not much of a distinction, but, hey, we all gotta rationalize), ...

In this situation, I say more power to DirecTV! Hacking is one thing, but stealing is quite another, and DirecTV has beaten, at least temporarily, the crackers at their own game. This is hysterical.

People who perform blatant theft of service in the name of "freedom" obviously do not understand, nor can they handle, true freedom! Freedom without responsibility cannot exist.

Re:Uh yeah. (1)

Atticka (175794) | more than 13 years ago | (#482355)

well, a similare article was in my local newspaper, talked about the exact same thing, how it may take weeks to get cracked cards again. Since I'm in Canada I have no problem with obtaining DirecTV's signal, they dont offer service to Canadian residents and the Canadian equivalent sucks.

they probably sent the code bit by bit to throw the hacking comunity off and to annoy their patrons, sure they probably could have sent one update, but seeing as they managed to come up with such a clever scheme, dont you think they thought of that?

lastly, if your subscribing to DirecTV, you wouldnt have to worry about losing your signal, for a number of reasons. First being that your supposed to have your box hooked to a phone line, second you will have an account with DirecTV (eliminating the "but my card was legit!" arguments) and third, every customer hase a unique code, allowing DirecTV to discriminate who they kick off they're system.


Bermuda (1)

AlexBDA (187117) | more than 13 years ago | (#482362)

I live in Bermuda and we get DirectTV there by using larger dishes to pick up the signal. When it first came out, the local satalite store employed a hacker to program smart cards so that people not have to worry about getting a subscription based out of a US address. These smart cards would unlock everything including the pay per view. Once a month DirectTV would block the hackers codes and everyone would just get a new card. Eventually DirectTV got smart and found out who the hacker was and took him into their employ. They also narrowed the signal so we only get half the channels. The satalite store now has hired another hacker and we have to change our cards every week. Not near as much fun as it once was.

I'm afraid I found this v funny (3)

l-ascorbic (200822) | more than 13 years ago | (#482378)

This looks like poetic justice to me. All credit to DirecTV.

Games are for KIDS? (1)

MeNeXT (200840) | more than 13 years ago | (#482379)

This sounds like a lot more fun than palying and game.

Re:"Hackers"? (2)

Paladin128 (203968) | more than 13 years ago | (#482382)

While there are no "noble" goals for hacking a smart card to steal services, I see it as a true hacker's rights, privelege, and duty. Why? Because it's a challenge. Because it proves skill.

IANLAH (I Am No Longer a Hacker), mainly because I don't have time any more. I remember in my youger days the joy of taking apart a piece of electronics just and trying to figure out how it works. I love technology for techology's sake. Why is it wrong to hack for hacking's sake? DirecTV is broadcasting their programming to EVERYONE in America. Is it wrong if you simply figure out how to listen in?

"Evil beware: I'm armed to the teeth and packing a hampster!"

Re:For hackers its just a game (4)

Paladin128 (203968) | more than 13 years ago | (#482385)

  • Hackers will find a way around the new system. They always find a way, and they will have fun doing it.
Doubtful... if you read the article correctly, this last act effectively destroyed the smart cards.

What would be cool is if someone found a way to actually revers-engineer and manufacture smart cards that recieved the regular updates, and acted exactly like legit ones, except they didn't dial into DirecTV.

This is the way companies should combat hackers that are "stealing" or "bypassing access control methods"... not tracking them down and suing them, and getting laws put in place to ban things that are useful to the community at large. DirecTV was able to attack hackers without infringing on their paying customers!

"Evil beware: I'm armed to the teeth and packing a hampster!"

HuCards? (1)

deeznutsclan (211769) | more than 13 years ago | (#482392)

I have plenty of those. They have titles like "Bloody Wolf" and "Final Lap Twin", though. I haven't tried them in a DirecTV receiver.

"Freedom Fighters" Vs. "Cheap Bastards" (1)

tenzig_112 (213387) | more than 13 years ago | (#482393)

Hacking the Netpliance boxes was fun, but you had to actually spend money one one. But free TV? Well, everyone knows what that is.

I wonder why the media never gives hackers an even break? All we want is something for nothing. []

Re:I see it another way. (1)

AFCArchvile (221494) | more than 13 years ago | (#482403)

I think that the "GAME OVER" line referred to the thieves not being able to see the Super Bowl or the specials for that.

However, I do think that the story is funny, even more so than the battle between the robotic arms in the tape backup closet from "Hackers."

Beautiful... (1)

kenthorvath (225950) | more than 13 years ago | (#482408)

I want to make it clear that I am not one that favors big corporations control on consumers, but you HAVE to admit that this is the most beautiful attack on hackers in a while. I have no sympathy for those who steal the programming and compound the error by selling it. I always thought that there was nothing quite like a game of chess, but it would appear as I was wrong. There is nothing so nearly as beautiful as a game of DirecTV...

Re:WOW. (1)

cry_havoc (226251) | more than 13 years ago | (#482409)

in fact
a cat in a box is either alive, dead or bloody furious least according to Terry Pratchet

Now this is gaming (1)

morie (227571) | more than 13 years ago | (#482410)

If a "GAME OVER" has such effects, it makes gaming a lot more fun. SOrt of a strategy adventure, really. Being a good sport, I congratulate DirectTV on their win in this game, but I do think a lot of people will select "start a new game" ...

*Shrug* (2)

NonSequor (230139) | more than 13 years ago | (#482413)

I really don't see anything wrong with DirecTV trying to stop people from accessing channels which normally cost extra for free. This isn't friendly hacking (eg hacking into someone else's system and closing the security hole and telling them how you did it). By circumventing DirecTV's security measures one is depriving them of income that is rightfully their's. As for threatening websites with law suits, well, that's the only thing they can do. It may seem heavy handed to some but what else can they do to stop sites from posting information on how to get their premium channels for free?

"Homo sum: humani nil a me alienum puto"
(I am a man: nothing human is alien to me)

missed the point entirely (1)

gridsleep (230884) | more than 13 years ago | (#482415)

Hackers hack for the sake of hacking. It's not the teevee shows, it's the target. Hughes presented a big target, and good win. Now, they have presented a whole Borg cube to fight and hopefully win against. The hackers don't give a flying fsck about the shows. Hughes didn't win. They just threw more gas on the fire. Wait.

Bastards (1)

LtFiend (232003) | more than 13 years ago | (#482418)

I'm gonna miss the Drew Carey special this weekend to.

But I have to say. without 900 channels of TV I've spent alot more time in front of my computer.

Is that a good thing?

Maybe too early to rejoice (1)

ishrat (235467) | more than 13 years ago | (#482424)

This may be the case of sylvester imagining he had gulped down tweety only to realise it was hypnotism at work. (PS:I am watching the show now.)

This cat and mouse game will continue just as in Tom & Jerry and the Roadrunner, with a worse chance of wining. In the cartoons its a one to one fight but here we have a score or such against hundreds.

Well, how 'bout that. (2)

Conspiracy_Of_Doves (236787) | more than 13 years ago | (#482427)

It's great to see a big corperation fighting back against hackers by using technology instead of legislation. Hughes probably managed to get a few hackers on their side to help them out in this little infowar.

For hackers its just a game (3)

wackysootroom (243310) | more than 13 years ago | (#482436)

Hackers will find a way around the new system. They always find a way, and they will have fun doing it.

WTG! Nice to see a corporation use brains instead (1)

Shivetya (243324) | more than 13 years ago | (#482437)

This is awesome, its so good to see them use their technical muscle instead of their legal muscle.

So, the big-bad hackers were thwarted by the run of the mill salaried programmers!!!


More power to them I say.


sales_worldwide (244279) | more than 13 years ago | (#482440)

That's right - I paid $500 for my card from local drug dealer, and now they've broken it!

I'm going to sue!

They've been working on this for a while now... (1)

Kurt_Rambone (257219) | more than 13 years ago | (#482455)

There are some details here [] .

Apparently the technology uses a similar technique to the winCIH virus, chopping up the update code into smaller parts and inserting them into empty/unused areas on the smartcard's PROM.



soupa (257546) | more than 13 years ago | (#482457)

I must admit they have done a great job on the hu card. But like other have posted it's just a matter of time. Or how about Dish Network. I matter of time.

I'm not sure what's funnier... (2)

Brackney (257949) | more than 13 years ago | (#482458)

Some friends of mine (who used hacked cards to steal DirecTV) were telling my wife and I about this last night. They've long tried to get us "in on the act," but we both disagree with the immorality of stealing the signal. Needless to say, I was busting up with laughter as they told us about "black Sunday." (Fortunately, they were rather good humored about the situation.) But what's funnier still was they had just returned from Walmart w/ new receivers that they'd purchased for the express purpose of getting new cards to hack. How funny is that? While I'm sure the hacking community will find some new way to thwart DirecTV, I'm equally sure my friends will go through more cards before it's all over. So how many new receivers do you suppose have been sold this week just for this purpose? Kudos to DirecTV for a truly inspired anti-hack!

Re:Physically destroyed? (1)

tower2003 (258457) | more than 13 years ago | (#482459)

Yes, a program can destroy hardware. If you mess around with write functions it is pretty easy to destroy some media. Most writeable meadia can only be written to so many times and damage can be caused by too many successive writes in short order. There are many other ways to destroy media. I use several methods to safeguard certain data so it won't fall into the wrong hands in the event of physical seizure of the device.

Re:*Shrug* (1)

tower2003 (258457) | more than 13 years ago | (#482460)

Lawsuits and supression of information will NEVER give security. They should not waste time trying stop people from posting information. They should spend their money to ensure their setup is secure, or prosecuting the individuals who actually stole. When will people start placing blame where it belongs... on the theif..and not on publishers. Besides it is ussually cheaper to pay good programmers and security experts than lawyers. Even when I charged 6 times (2 x triple time..they woke me up on a holiday and weekend and I was hung over) my normal rate.

Re:*Shrug* (2)

Fat Casper (260409) | more than 13 years ago | (#482463)

There is nothing wrong with their trying to stop theft, and I salute their style. What I have not totally accepted, though, is that it constitutes theft to have the balls to recieve a signal that is being beamed at me. Police scanners and *gasp* radar detectors (which arguably have no legal purpose) are not only legal, but mainstream.

What I really resent, though, is that it is just fine for them (MPAA+RIAA, too) to have baseless lawsuits as a part of their business model. What can be illegal about posting factual information on the web? Yahoo has already buckled under to the French. Let's show a little more support for the first amendment.

and the motivation is... (1)

lpgacaddy (261720) | more than 13 years ago | (#482465)

A quote from Steve Young: "The principle is competing against yourself. It is about self improvement, about being better than you were the day before." Humans have this uncanny drive to become better at whatever we do, whatever the challenge.

Emulators (1)

tommyServ0 (266153) | more than 13 years ago | (#482469)

I side with DirecTV on this one, too. But, not everyone is in the dark. . .

A guy at work was using one of those so-called hacked chips. However, he had a backup: an emulator. So at 8:30 when the TV went out, he started setting up the backup. The emulator connects to the inside of the DirecTV unit through a serial cable to your computer. The computer gets the updates from DirecTV and stores them in memory and then sends the appropriate signals to the DirecTV unit. When Hughes sends out the updates, the computer accepts them, but it never effects the physical hardware. It even stores the updates on a floppy disk automatically. So no fried chips for the person with the emulator.

Like I said, I'm with Hughes on this. But they didn't defeat everyone.


Re:Whats a nubian? (1)

Zero Wing Captain (304019) | more than 13 years ago | (#482485)

*bang* *bang* damn that was funney

Physically destroyed? (1)

pet-owningISslavery (307276) | more than 13 years ago | (#482493)

How could the cards be remotely phyiscally destroyed? I can't quite think of how this might be possible. Any ideas?

Dead link (1)

DRAKE M. (308705) | more than 13 years ago | (#482497)

The link's been 404'd. So much for the straight from the horse's mouth stuff. Still sounds pretty cool though.

Re:Physically destroyed? (2)

clocktowertx (309179) | more than 13 years ago | (#482498)

The satalite reciever is more or less a reader/writer to the card. Writing can be initiated by the data stream from the satalite. The dynamic code on the card now has the ability to double check it's own hardcoded serial number against the software number that is created when you hack/clone a card. If they don't match up, then card tells the reciever to write certain bytes called "write-once bytes". These bytes are made in the "off" position, but once thay have been turned on, they cannot be turned off. When the reciever writes these byte, which reside in the boot sector of the card, the card is corrupt and pretty much dead in the water.
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