How do satellite TV providers prevent theft of service?

Discussion in 'General Electronics Chat' started by strantor, Jul 24, 2012.

  1. strantor

    Thread Starter AAC Fanatic!

    Oct 3, 2010
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    Just out of curiosity, I wonder how they do it. To my knowledge, the dish does not transmit anything, so I do not see how they can verify which dishes are legit and which ones aren't.
     
  2. #12

    Expert

    Nov 30, 2010
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    The thing I know about it is the TV top boxes that decode the information. Honest people have to pay for an unlocking code.
     
  3. strantor

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    so is the unlocking code changed frequently? I would assume it would need to be changed frequently, and a new unlock code sent to the boxes every time. But then I'm back to "how they can verify which dishes (boxes) are legit and which ones aren't"?

    It seems like the box would need to have a unique hardware address that it would transmit back to home base to verify that it's account is in good standing before being eligible that to receive the new code. ... but then the code would need to be broadcast as well, introducing yet another opportunity for theft... puzzling.
     
  4. BillB3857

    Senior Member

    Feb 28, 2009
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    I have DirecTV and they have a record of the serial number of the box coupled with the electronic ID of the access card. They periodically send codes to these receivers that enables the decoding process. I also have a receiver/access card in my RV. If I don't go anywhere in the RV and connect it to a dish for a month or so, I have to call them to get it re-authorized. No big deal other than just not being sure whether I will need to do it or not. The authorizing of additional receivers on a given account is called Mirroring. Each receiver that is mirrored has the same access as the primary.
     
  5. strantor

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    This complicates things even more in my mind; I had not thought of the separate access to individual channels. How do they keep track of that?

    You say that if you don't use the one in your RV for a month or so, you have to call and reactivate it. I assume that if you were to use it continually, you would not need to call and reactivate it. So this seems to indicate (to me, anyways) that the access codes are broadcast, perhaps monthly, and if your receiver is not energized, they will miss is, and when you call, the provider will transmit it again. So are the channels that you pay for stored in the card? If you decide to add a channel, can you just call and add it, or do they have to send you a new card?
     
  6. BillB3857

    Senior Member

    Feb 28, 2009
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    The "permissions for your account" are transmitted periodically to each receiver and like you say, if a given receiver isn't connected to an antenna source, it won't get the new codes. If I want to add a channel or buy a pay-per-view movie, I just call them and they adjust my accountand send codes immediately. A lot of these things can be done on-line through the internet or, in the case of Pay-per-view things, if my receiver were tied to a phone line, I could do it with the remote for the receiver. Some of the newer receivers will also allow tie to the internet. My brother-in-law has that setup.

    EDIT
     
  7. strantor

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    In my mind, this seems to necessitate the dish actually broadcasting back to the satellite to verify identity. So I must be wrong about it being just a receiver. It must be a transceiver. would you agree?
     
  8. tracecom

    AAC Fanatic!

    Apr 16, 2010
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    No, there is no transmission from the subscriber to DirecTV. All permissions are sent from DirecTV to the subscriber, based on DirecTV's records of what the subscriber is paying for.
     
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  9. BillB3857

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    Xactly! That's the way it works.:D
     
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  10. DerStrom8

    Well-Known Member

    Feb 20, 2011
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    According to HowStuffWorks.com:

    You can find the entire article here.

    You also might find this Wikipedia Article useful.
     
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  11. strantor

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    Ok, I was just reading a different site and confirmed that the dish can't transmit.

    So now I'm thinking that, with no way for the individual dishes/boxes to validate their identity to the satellite, the satellite must be making a blanket broadcast of every channel and trusting the individual boxes to only show you what you are paying to see. Plus, to fit with the scenario that you can just call and add channels, they must be broadcasting the decryption codes something like "if your address is XXXXXXXXXXXX then you have permission to show channels 200-300, 550-600, 2, 4, 12, and 36".

    But that message containing the decryption codes couldn't be encrypted or else... well it seems rather circular that it would be. At some point you would have to bring the box into the satellite office or at least get another card.
     
  12. strantor

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    the howstuffworks page is the one I was just reading ;).
    it touches on the topic but fails to give any real details:
    does not explain how your decryption algorithm and security keys get into your box but not into my box.

    your wiki article led me to this page which gives only a tantalizingly vague hint at the answer:
    hidden data streams?
     
  13. BillB3857

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    My understanding is that the combination of box serial number and access card ID provide a unique address for each receiver. For example, I can't take the access cards from two receivers and simply swap them. The pair is unique, but my account lists four receiver/access card pairs and each gets the same authorization codes.

    When we first got the sat system, the installer set it all up, made a phone call to provide the serial/card numbers and VIOLA! We had all the channels we had requested on all the receivers that had been installed. Later, I bought another receiver from eBay that came with a card. A phone call to the sat provider, an added monthly charge to my account and it had the same access as the other receivers.
     
  14. KJ6EAD

    Senior Member

    Apr 30, 2011
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    The only successful fraud strategy I've heard of is sharing an acount by creating a clone of the receiver MAC code and the authorization card. Even these would be discoverable because a security ping from the satellite would result in duplicate coincidentally timed responses.

    Dish uses a cellular system to upload data from the receiver to the company for routine program requests and security. They give customers a discount for connecting the unit to a hard-wired telephone line, presumably because it saves on cell service fees.

    This is speculation but it wouldn't surprise me if for installations in areas with no cell coverage, they install a receiver with a built-in satellite uplink to maintain security, at some additional cost of course.
     
    Last edited: Jul 25, 2012
  15. osx-addict

    Member

    Feb 9, 2012
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    We used to have DTV but ditched it months ago to save $$.. Our receivers were never connected to the phone because we had VOIP and it didn't play well with our receivers -- it never caused us any grief with DTV though..

    On the other hand, if you search around you'll find stories from 5+ years ago about clones being made of access cards with all channels turned on and stuff like that -- done by hackers. These would run for a while until DTV figured out what was going on and would send something remotely that would destroy these cards making them worthless.. I'm not sure if that's what really happened but that was what I heard.

    We live in DTV country where the majority (from my understanding) of the embedded development work is done for the receivers -- here in the LA area. DTV requires (or did in the past anyway) that you have a security clearance to work in that part of the company from what I understand because hacking is such a big issue.. They want to ensure you have a background check done similar to what the aerospace industry does for a secret/top-secret clearance.. They don't want their employees distrubuting the encryption info to the hacking groups for obvious reasons..

    That's about all I know.. I don't know if hackers are still doing that stuff or not.. I've not heard anything for a number of years now..
     
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