Combating “Satellite Pay-TV Free-To-Air service theft” as a Cybercrime

Satellite pay-TV free-to-air (FTA) service theft causes staggering losses globally. In the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking countries of South America alone, the geographic focus of this paper, governments are estimated to lose over $240 million annually in uncollected taxes and fees. FTA service theft also substantially harms the entire pay-TV industry, both satellite and cable, by removing viewers from the legitimate market.
Industry wide losses to operators and programmers are estimated to be over $1.7 billion annually. In fact, all of society suffers, including through likely exposure to transnational organized crime and weakened cybersecurity.
FTA service theft is a form of piracy. It is a well-organized cross border industry that misappropriates the control words, or keys, that unlock satellite pay-TV programming and distributes them over telecommunications links,
allowing millions of viewers to access private broadcasts through the use of rogue satellite receivers, euphemistically called free-to-air devices. These pleasantly named receivers are not primarily designed to permit legitimate
viewing of free-to-air, or unencrypted, broadcasts, as their name would suggest. Rather, their primary purpose is to receive and process stolen keys from telecommunications links and, thereby, enable interception of private broadcasting, without compensation to legal providers.

These devices have become synonymous with this form of service theft which, because of its reliance on telecommunications links, is also known as Internet key sharing or satellite key sharing. FTA service theft is bold. Rogue FTA device manufacturers and vendors openly advertise the service-theft capabilities of their receivers on offer. On their websites, FTA service-theft enterprises flaunt their access to the programming of pay-TV operators, claim the superiority of their services over those of rivals, post payment plans and payment methods, and offer
customer support tips. As in legitimate businesses, global social media sites are leveraged to stay in contact with customers.
The fight against FTA service theft can take several approaches. For example, Uruguay bans rogue satellite receivers and, within its intellectual property (IP) law, criminalizes acts that, among other things, circumvent a rights holder’s technical protection. Other possibilities are to attack it like the theft of electricity or as IP infringement, apart from any consideration of the circumvention of technical protection.
This paper argues that there is an additional strategy: combatting FTA service theft as a non-IP cybercrime. The term non-IP cybercrime is shorthand for a cybercrime that may involve IP theft but is not dependent upon proof of an infringement. In fact, infringement is irrelevant to criminal prosecution…

FTA service theft is unequivocally a non-IP cybercrime. Specifically, in this form of theft, perpetrators:

  • Exploit unauthorized access to broadcaster systems and, by interfering with the normal data processing of the systems,circumvent system security;
  • Through that interference, gain control of the decryption key stream, so as to distribute it by servers via telecommunications links to their customers’ rogue satellite receivers; and
  • By doing so, enable their customers’ receivers to intercept the private communications of pay-TV broadcasters for purposes of viewing their programming through unauthorized access to broadcaster systems

Mr. Cardillo has worked as a researcher and writer in the private and public sectors, including in Latin America. He holds a Master of Arts degree in Law and Diplomacy from The Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy at Tufts University. Read the full article here.

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