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Vinita Bhatia finds out that broadcasters want to improve their content security practices to stay a step ahead of hackers and pirates. After all, it is better to be proactive, than reactive

Content is king in the media industry. However, in recent times, chinks are beginning to show in the tech armour of knights guarding this king.

The main security threats to content have traditionally been pirate set top boxes (STB) that allowed unauthorised users to view pay TV broadcast signals without paying for the content. In most cases, the pirate acquires a single authorised STB and uses that device to permit viewing on the pirate STBs either by cloning the authorised STB or copying keys from the authorised STB to the pirate STBs – thereby depriving media companies of their licensing fees and constituting unfair competition to licensed service providers.

Steve Epstein, Cisco’s distinguished consulting engineer stated that TV is currently offered on several unprotected devices like tablets, games consoles and smart phones. The issue of Digital Rights Management (DRM) is hence critical as it prevents an unauthorized user from accessing content from a second screen device, as these mobile devices are much easier to hack into, than traditional STBs. “These challenges to software security are much more difficult for broadcasters to solve.
“Another threat introduced by OTT is password sharing and theft. This includes both authorised users sharing their OTT passwords with unauthorised users and hackers stealing OTT passwords. It is similar to a threat that many service providers have been dealing with for years; authorised users sharing discounted multi-room STBs with unauthorised users,” he added.
Another big risk is when the content gets leaked in the supply chain prior to its original broadcast. This original broadcast often represents the single largest revenue opportunity to the broadcaster, so its leak can cause irreparable financial harm, explained Ian Hamilton, CTO of Signiant. “Using secure tools throughout the content creation supply chain is crucial, including secure file transfer tools that protect the content as it is moved and provide chain of custody information for forensic analysis in the event that content does get leaked. Once content is broadcast for the first time, it will be pirated and content security becomes more a matter of monitoring illegal distribution and shutting that illegal activity down,” he added.

Cybercrime has now reached the shores of the broadcasting industry, and TV broadcasters with large number of IP STBs and gateways are especially vulnerable to these attacks. By hacking the STB, for instance, cyber criminals can obtain sensitive information including the user’s credentials, viewing history and billing details. If the STB is used as a gateway to other connected devices, a lot more information could be obtained.

“Even a ransom threat to an operator, threatening a malware attack that disables the STB’s operation or shuts down the gateways would have far-reaching consequences. The service outage alone could cost operators millions and the effect on the brand could be devastating, resulting in a loss of trust,” explained Sanjiv Kainth, country manager-India, Irdeto.
He cited an example of a security lapse in April 2015 when French broadcaster TV5 Monde was hacked, causing them to lose control over broadcast of their channels, their website and social media sites for about eight hours. While the TV station was able to regain control over its broadcasting feed, its IT services team took approximately six months to fully resume and the costs incurred was between around €5 million, and around €9.9 million was spent over a period of three years. All of the broadcaster’s servers and employees’ workstations had to be replaced as the entire infrastructure was compromised by the hack,” he said.

Epstein pointed out that the last two years have seen some high profile attacks, causing broadcasters to lose huge amounts in potential revenue. A well-publicised attack occurred in 2014, when hackers accessed Sony content at studio level and stole it, even before the content was distributed or broadcast to movie theatres. “When people pass the control word to others or clone smartcards, this means that thousands of unauthorised users can access content without paying for it, which leads to losses of millions of dollars for service providers,” he noted.

A recent industry report estimated that credential sharing for OTT video services cost the video industry over $500 million in direct subscription revenues in 2015, and will register a 4.87% CAGR increase by 2019 (Parks Associates’ Industry Report, ‘The Cost of Piracy 2015’). However, losses come not just from lack of revenue return, but also from increased bandwidth payments, which service providers end up making when illegal users stream content.

Premium live sports is the number one driver of subscriber attraction and retention for pay TV operators, and demand for online access through fixed and mobile devices has forced operators to make live content available across multiple platforms. The medley of faster consumer broadband, powerful search and social media, however, has boosted the popularity of illegal live streaming sites, making it easier for consumers to find and stream premium sports content from unauthorized platforms. Hence, it is a no-brainer that pay TV broadcasters and pay streaming service providers stand to suffer the most as live content is illicitly redistributed by pirates.

Chrys Poulain, NexGuard’s sales director for APAC, France, Middle East and Africa noted that it is therefore crucial that pay TV providers deploy protective solutions like forensic watermarking that enable them to tackle the illegal redistribution of their content. With how increasingly closely sports leagues are working directly with their licensees around the globe, coupled with more ways consumers can watch live sports content, these leagues need effective systems to find pirate sites hosting their illegally retained content in real-time and shut them down.

Steve Christian, senior VP-marketing at Verimatrix added that live sports are uniquely susceptible to threats of redistribution because their value decays very rapidly as the event takes place, making retrospective action against pirates of limited value. “It is not sufficient just to detect and prosecute pirates because business damage has already been done. Therefore, the only recourse is to snuff out illicit streams at the source, almost as quickly as they begin to be transmitted over the internet,” he emphatically asserted.

When digital TVs were initially introduced, broadcasters protected subscriber entitlements and decryption keys in a smart card provided along with the STB. Back then, operators required a robust security solution that did not depend on a return channel, which was well-suited, at the time, for smart card-based Certificate Authority (CA) systems.

Christian explained that eventually hackers compromised all major CA systems, and it is now common among legacy CA vendors to recommend replacement of the deployed smart cards every few years. “Fortunately, Indian cable operators can escape traditional CA system single-network limitations without compromising security or adding complications to the consumer’s experience. Modern STBs are perfectly capable of accommodating sophisticated client security using a combination of software and hardware features embedded in their CPUs without relying on external smart cards,” he explained.

Leonid Berkovich, VP-marketing, products and solutions at Viaccess-Orca added that over the years, the standard content protection model was based on the subscriber fee per month for STBs. With the arrival of multiscreen premium content services, this has changed. Operators now allow households to view content on a variety of different devices, such as TVs, PCs, tablets and smartphones. These types of offerings give increased flexibility to end users while enabling operators to be more competitive.

“Regarding the risk, end users can opt for a mobile-only device subscription, which would lower the operator revenue. Where earlier operators used to subscribe to CAPEX-based models, today it is a mix of CAPEX and OPEX,” he added.

When it comes to protecting content against threats of redistribution, watermarking is achieving universal approval and support as a defence practice. This is a technology for putting permanent codes into the signal that can only be detected by the broadcaster. Poulain noted that forensic watermarking for HDR content is another innovation on the rise. “With improved detail preservation due to increased contrast and sharper colour, HDR provides a revolutionary improvement to video quality, particularly for premium content, and there is an increasing commitment from broadcasters to embrace this growing advance,” he stated.

Epstein also informed about web crawling detection, where the broadcaster can locate illegal websites, find content and prove that that content was stolen from a certain owner. He added that data science is another critical innovation. This enables the broadcaster to access logs on subscriber behaviour and detect whether there is a high probability that an individual subscriber has been pirating content or sharing credentials.

Viaccess-Orca’s Adaptive Sentinel is a combined solution for card-based and cardless CAS, which uses the same backend and software in the STB. This dual system allows operators to run a singular system from a single vendor rather than forcing them to choose one technology over another. The card responds to the most demanding security concerns of content owners while the cardless option allows for flexible and dynamic deployment.

The issue of content security is on top of every broadcaster’s agenda as the ever-evolving networked world continues to pose new technology challenges. The model of the walled garden security has been turned upside down with the emergence of Internet of Things (IoT) and as online redistribution of premium content becomes a big piracy threat. Constantly looking at ways to improve their security practices to stay one step ahead of hackers and pirates, they would rather be proactive, than reactive – a healthy sign that they are taking content security seriously.

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