Satellite Piracy in Canada is spelled FTA


Bronze Member
Username: Djsmith

Post Number: 48
Registered: Jul-06
In May of 2005, Bell ExpressVu, Canada's largest direct-to-home (DTH) satellite provider announced that effective July 1st 2005 the company would be introducing comprehensive anti-piracy measures to thwart satellite pirates.

One year later, Digital Home looks back at the history of satellite piracy in Canada and examines how successful ExpressVu's anti-piracy measures have been since the announcement.


The sad truth is that since the introduction of direct-to-home (DTH) satellite services in North America, their have been hackers who have attempted and succeeded in stealing satellite signals.

The satellite hacking business has been a cat an mouse game since its inception, where hackers crack the codes to so they can watch "free" television and satellite broadcasters respond with various electronic counter measures (ECM's) to thwart them.

The DTH satellite television business first began in the early 1980's with C-band satellites that required home owners to install large 10 or 12 foot dishes in order to receive television signals and by 1986 piracy had already become a problem.

Harry W. Thibedeau in his article on DTH History
says that by 1990 almost 75% of all VideoCipher II units (the most popular satellite receiver of its time) were illegally receiving services.

By 1994, the large satellite dishes were on borrowed time as a new breed of satellite service began which employed high-powered Ku-Band satellites. The primary benefit for consumers of the new Ku-band service was they only required an 18" dish to receive signals. The benefit for broadcasters was the system was supposed to cheaper to run and supposedly more secure.

Twelve years later, there are four major DTH satellite providers in North America all using Ku-Band satellites. They are: DirecTv which launched in 1994, DISH network (1996), ExpressVu and Star Choice (both Canadian services launched in 1997).

It took pirates four or five years to crack the C-band systems but only three for ku-band. By 1997, satellite pirates had cracked the DirecTV system while the DISH and ExpressVu systems were both comprised in approximately 2001. Interestingly, although rumours exist that the Star Choice system has been cracked, no known hack has ever been widely sold.

From 1997, DirectTV and Echostar (which makes both ExpressVu and Dish Network receivers) played cat and mouse game with satellite pirates. Typically the companies would shut the pirates down for a short while and soon the pirates would find new ways to steal signals.

By 2002, however, the thieves had the upper hand. The situation was so bad that in 2002, a report entitled "Unauthorized Satellite Use In Southwestern Ontario", concluded that between 560,000 and 715,000 homes in Canada used unauthorized satellite services.

An unauthorized satellite service was the industries euphemism for anyone who subscribed to or pirated DirecTV satellite. These numbers were probably grossly inflated by an industry that was looking for political protection; however there is no doubt the numbers were significant. At this time, pirates were stealing DirecTV signals almost exclusively and had not yet turned their sites to Dish or ExpressVu.

By 2003, however, hackers were heavily selling compromised DISH and ExpressVu smartcards so that now three out the four major systems were compromised and hacks readily available.

Many pirates were now buying multiple systems so they could switch from one system to another after an electronic counter measure. With two systems, hackers were pretty much guaranteed that one system or another would be operational at one time.

Hackers also liked to buy compromised ExpressVu systems because ExpressVu offered Canadian stations (especially French language stations) and most importantly plenty of p*rnography channels that were not available on DirecTV or DISH.

At the height of satellite piracy in late 2003, the Coalition against Satellite Piracy estimated that a million Canadian households were stealing signals from DirecTV, Dish and ExpressVu!

Finally in April 2004, the largest source of satellite piracy was stopped. Modified DirecTV access cards were no longer available because DirecTV had performed a successful card swap in late 2003 and early 2004.

In the card swap, DirecTV sent out new and improved smartcards to all of its subscribers and asked them to replace their old cards with the new ones. Once all of their legitmate customers receivers had updated their satellite receivers with new SmartCards (the card is responsible for decrypting the satellite signal), DirecTV was able to switch to a new method of streaming television signals which effectively defeated the pirates.

After seven years, DirecTV had successfully defeated the satellite pirates.

With the DirecTV systems now secure, Directv pirates simply abandoned their systems and bought ExpressVu and Dish systems. The result was a significant increase in the number of homes pirating these two systems.

Next: ExpressVu Card Swap

In August 2004, after having failed miserably in numerous attempts to shut down people pirating their systems, ExpressVu finally decided to follow the lead of DirecTV and DISH and issue new cards for their satellite receivers.

The card swap would be an expensive measure, but if done correctly, would effectively eliminate piracy.

Between August of 2004 and July of 2005, ExpressVu reportedly distributed over one million new cards to owners of ExpressVu receivers and hired many new customer service representatives in order to assist consumers through the card swap.

The overall cost of the swap was in the millions.

By July 1st, 2005, the company had swapped all of its customers SmartCards and began to stream television signals to customers using a new form of encryption called Nagra2.

With Dish Network having completed its card swap earlier in the year, it meant that by the end of the first week of July 2005, satellite piracy was effectively eliminated in North America.

At the time the ExpressVu said it was the most comprehensive initiative to-date to combat the industry-wide issue of signal theft.

September 2005 Nagra2 Cracked

In early September 2005, just two months after the card swap, the internet was abuzz with rumours out of Spain saying the Nagra 2 encryption system employed by ExpressVu and DISH had been compromised.

On September 13th 2005, encryption specialist Nagra Kudelski from the company that developed the encryption systems admitted that its smart cards had once again been the victim of hackers.

Leaving some details aside, the system was not "fully hacked" in September, however, by Mid November, the Nagra2 system was hacked and Smartcards that defeated the encryption were being sold throughout North America.

FTA Receivers makes Card Swap Useless

In addition to compromised smartcards, another type of hack had arisen. In the past, the only way to pirate satellite signals was to reprogram the receivers smartcard or use some type of device that would fool the receiver's smartcard into thinking that the user had open access to all channels.

Beginning late in 2005, the hackers had programmed a new way to steal programming. The hackers had reprogrammed off the shelf Free to Air (FTA) satellite receivers (available for about $200) so they could emulate an ExpressVu receiver that could receive every channel broadcast by either ExpressVu.

The FTA hack meant that hackers could steal signals without even having to buy an ExpressVu satellite receiver!

Prior to this hack, FTA receivers were generally sold in small quantities, typically to recent North American immigrants who used them to receive unencrypted FTA programming from overseas.

Free to Air signals have always been freely available to anyone that wanted to buy the necessary equipment, however, few people ever bothered because the available programming was of limited appeal. Using FTA equipment to watch an unencrypted signal is NOT illegal therefore FTA receivers have always been available in this country.

Not surprisingly after the FTA hack hit the market the number of retailers selling FTA receivers and the number of receivers being sold skyrocketed.

Next: 50,000 New Canadian Pirates a month

To pirate ExpressVu signals using an FTA receiver is a simple process.

Buyers simply purchase a legal FTA receiver for around $200 and then download a "firmware patch" from the internet and "upgrade" their receiver.

With their modified receiver, the owner then points their FTA satellite dish at the ExpressVu or DISH network satellite and within minutes the pirates are watching every channel available on ExpressVu or DISH network.

The FTA receivers are sold by a number of smaller foreign companies such as Pansat and Co*lsat. Anecdotal reports say that these companies have sold over 4 million receivers worldwide and about one-third of those are estimated to be receiving pirated North American signals.

We were startled by the numbers, however, a check online seemed to confirm that the numbers are quite reasonable. Digital Home typed "FTA receiver" into the Google search engine and we found hundreds, perhaps thousands, of North American "dealers" selling these units. A further check of the classified section in our local newspaper found multiple ads for FTA systems.

Digital Home called several of the "dealers" in June that were advertising in the local classifieds and were told that they would "patch" and deliver receivers for under $200. The dealers just laughed when we asked if it was illegal to patch the receivers.

The situation seems to be the same across Canada. One forum member told us that he personally knew several retailers in Calgary that were each selling 50 to 80 modified FTA receivers per week. This member estimates that Calgary alone has 30 to 40 stores selling FTA receivers!

Although we were unable to get any concrete figures of this illegal activity, anecdotal evidence suggests the number of FTA hackers is very large. One forum we visited that caters to FTA hackers typically had over 1,000 members on its forum at any one time and it is only one of many boards devoted to satellite hacking.

One hacker, who is reputedly an employee of a large FTA receiver manufacturer posted recently that sales of FTA receivers in Canada are now over 50,000 units per month!

Once again, we have no way of validating this information but an informal poll of our members found out that most members know individuals who are using modified FTA receivers to steal signals.

In the last several months, Digital Home has also seen the rise in pirating activity as new members sign up and begin by asking how to hack using FTA receivers. (Digital Home has a strict anti-piracy policy and bans all such members)

July 2006: ExpressVu and Dish Strike Back

As we were about to publish this article, we were informed that in the last ten days, ExpressVu and Dish Network have undertaken a series of electronic countermeasures that have at least temporarily shut down the bulk of FTA receivers.

According to our source, FTA hacks for both ExpressVu and Dish have been inoperable for almost a week now.

Summary and looking forward

The work of DirecTV in 2004 in properly securing their system combined with the apparently hacker proof Star Choice system shows that DTH satellite companies do have the ability to implement and keep their systems secure.

The belief that any system will eventually be hacked is simply an excuse for sloppy work.

In May of 2005, with considerable fanfare, Bell ExpressVu announced that effective July 1st 2005 the company would be introducing comprehensive anti-piracy measures to thwart satellite pirates.

In just a few months, however, satellite pirates successfully cracked the system that took over 18 months for ExpressVu to put in place. Since November of last year, the number of satellite pirates in Canada has once again been growing exponentially and the selling of FTA receivers has become ubiquitous in this country.

Rather than a secure system, like DirecTV and Star Choice that locks out pirates permanently, ExpressVu and Dish Network seem to be back playing the cat and mouse game between hackers and distributors that has been going on since the beginning of DTH satellite broadcasting.

Despite Bell's public pronouncements that it would eliminate satellite piracy in Canada, and its recent electronic countermeasures, it seems clear to us that its anti-piracy efforts in the last year can only be seen as a complete failure.

Silver Member
Username: Mussawel


Post Number: 217
Registered: Dec-05
Doreen; when you C&P from another site; please say so at the top of the thread...

Anyways; all this crap don't mean we are GUARANTEED a fix!!!

New member
Username: Bjalt

Atlanta, GA USA

Post Number: 7
Registered: Apr-06
Note in the article that when Nagra2 came out in July the crack didn't come out until September. Charlie has hired the best minds in the business to make it as hard as possible to crack the latest ECM. The fix may come out today, this week, two months from now or never. Sometimes the cat gets the mouse. Sometimes the mouse escapes. the luck of the draw decides. Those of you that have been living with hourly doses of free XXX might need to get ready for monthy doses of $$$ coming out of your checking accounts unless you can kick the habit. Maybe not. Maybe the mouse will get away one more time.
« Previous Thread Next Thread »

Main Forums

Today's Posts

Forum Help

Follow Us