DirecTV Drops Bomb Before the Big Game

For viewers of Super Bowl XXXV on Jan. 28, the game was essentially over at halftime, as the Baltimore Ravens so completely dominated the New York Giants.

For some illegal users of DirecTV Inc.'s direct-broadcast satellite service, however, the broadcast was over a week before it began.

On Sunday, Jan. 21, DirecTV embedded code into its satellite datastream that rendered useless the rigged set-top box access cards that pirates use to gain access to DirecTV services.

The tactic-which experts said was particularly effective-was the latest salvo in the continuing war between DirecTV and DBS pirates, who engage in an ongoing game of one-upmanship.

DirecTV periodically launches such transmissions, with code embedded in the video data-stream. Director of communications Bob Marsocci called the latest electronic countermeasure "by far our most successful effort."

Marsocci declined to specify how DirecTV performed its disabling transmission.

But a British Columbia-based Web site dubbed the Pirate's Den said the Jan. 21 electronic countermeasure (ECM) corrupted the electrically erasable programmable read-only memory (EEPROM) portion of the so-called "test" access cards that control the booting up function.

The measure affected 75 to 80 percent of hacked cards, the site reported.

NDS Americas Inc., which makes DirecTV access cards, worked with the DBS provider's engineers on what some called a "data bomb."

Pirates itching to resume capture of DirecTV's signal might not have to wait long for a remedy. According to a person who lost hacked access to DirecTV on Jan. 21, a "French-Canadian" programmer is working on a way to get around the latest strike.

The hacker, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, speculated the tactic would involve linking a smart-card reader to the serial port of a personal computer.

In theory, the emulation software-which mimics the bin number of an authorized subscriber-will run from a floppy disk instead of the smart card, sparing the card any damage caused by a new DirecTV ECM.

The scheme is being finalized and tested and is "very soon to be sent back out" into the pirate community.

DirecTV "will never disable [pirate workarounds] completely," the source contended.