Join 3,516 readers in helping fund MetaFilter (Hide)


Is there a descrambler for digital cable?
November 19, 2005 2:32 PM   Subscribe

Um, just out of curiosity, yeah, curiosity, is there an effective descrambler for digital cable? When is was in college in the late 80's, I bought a cable descrambler from a company called Pacific Coast Cable...worked like a champ! We had all the movie channels and PPV too! Is there anything like this available to use with say a Time Warner Digital Connection? Just out of curiosity.....
posted by keep it tight to Technology (12 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
 
You're not talking about stealing cable are you?

I do believe that digital cable has closed a lot of the holes that analog cable had in terms of unscrambling the device. For one thing, the cable boxes today phone home to find out if it is should server up the channel. And the box's unique identifier [mac address] has to be in the cable company's database.

The last bastion of easily being able to do what you're describing is on satellite. But DirecTV can and does nuke smart cards that aren't paying for the service.

Having said all of that, I'm sure some enterprising people may have cracked the code.
posted by birdherder at 2:40 PM on November 19, 2005


From what I've heard, it's impossible to descramble digital cable at this particular point in time. You can get analog descramblers though.
posted by matkline at 2:40 PM on November 19, 2005


Just pay for the cable, sheesh.
posted by unixrat at 2:51 PM on November 19, 2005


I don't know, is there a magic decoder ring for PGP?

Digital cable is digital, so the signal masters can do whatever they like with it. Analog cable isn't really 'scrambled' so much as 'fucked with'. All they do is weaken the signal with a physical dongle that blocks a particular frequency. To unscramble analog cable all you have to do is amplify a particular frequency. It's really easy to do.

But digital cable is a whole other thing. It's pretty much physically impossible to break public key crypto or other methods the cable company might use to hide their signal. Some hacker might figure out a way around it, but that's not that important.

Why not? Well, each cable company can use whatever box, and whatever crypto method they might want to use, that lack of homogeneity means that one hack won't work with every cable box.

--

That said, I know someone who's gotten free premium TV for almost a decade. How? Satalite television. There are only two satellite providers, direct TV and primestar. For most of the time my friend used Direct TV, but recently they stopped using 'standard' smart cards to decode their video signal. Primestar is still hackable, I think (although I'm not sure). Google for 'test cards'. And you'll find a lot of people who will sell you crap to help you steal cable. (This friend also makes money by selling pirated DVDs on Ebay. Hardly the most ethical person in the world).

--

Honestly, though, the basic answer is 'no'. Digital cable can't be "described" the same way analog cable can be. It's theoretically possible to create an un-hackable (or very, very difficult to hack) digital cable system. That might not have been done yet, (or maybe it has) but there's nothing as simple as a frequency booster that'll get you free paid TV.

Ultimately, you should just stop watching television, and start posting on metafilter. Because, as we all know, watching TV is for losers, and not watching TV is totally Hot.
posted by Paris Hilton at 2:53 PM on November 19, 2005


I'm of the personal impression that a combination of a decent TV-out PC and Bit Torrent is well enough to match any experience you'd otherwise have with stolen cable, minus PPV fights and other sporting events.

I had Star Wars: Episode 3 two days before its theatrical release. And I downloaded it at E3 on a connection sponsored by the ESA/Anti-Piracy groups present. Then, I played it in front of the LucasArts trailer in the main hall on my laptop. Bottom line? Why not torrent?
posted by disillusioned at 4:59 PM on November 19, 2005


I had Star Wars: Episode 3 two days before its theatrical release. And I downloaded it at E3 on a connection sponsored by the ESA/Anti-Piracy groups present. Then, I played it in front of the LucasArts trailer in the main hall on my laptop. Bottom line? Why not torrent?

Keep in mind that bit torrent is not anonymous. Downloading and sharing over bit torrent isn't any different then hosting a file on your web server, other then the bandwidth saving.
posted by Paris Hilton at 5:09 PM on November 19, 2005


What Paris Hilton said, only:

Once you download a torrent, unpack it, then delete all but one file... restart torrent to seed, but set download rate to 1b/s

It isn't illegal to have most of the .rars for a file on your system, it's illegal to have the movie... RIAA and others can't say that you have the movie if they see on bittorrent that you only have 95% of it
posted by hatsix at 7:37 PM on November 19, 2005


Paris Hilton, your info has to be at least about a decade out of date... Primestar? Wooo-boy... :^D

I'd say cable and satellite, as far as the encryption goes, are relatively similar in a basic sense. Top layer encryption uses strong security to hide a simple key that can be used to decrypt the actual video frames (which use a "weaker" security system). Usually the video is decrypted with this new key inside the same chip that does the MPEG decoding.

The key for the MPEG video changes a lot. You can get an idea of how often it changes by falsely triggering the smartcard slot on your receiver and removing the smart card. You'll get a few seconds of video until the key changes again. To stop people who don't know how to solder from having fun sometimes the smartcard is soldered into the receiver as a regular IC. Have fun looking for it.

Sure, you might be able to reverse the key for the encryption the MPEG stream uses in a few months. But that would give you a few seconds of video. Yay...

So, of course, you want to break the high level encryption! But that uses crazy encryption that would take a mere mortal millennia to reverse the key from.

So, of course, how do they hack it? They figure out a way to steal the key for the higher level encryption. The actual method of encryption is usually based on public information so all that's left is to run it through the standard decryption routines and voila! you're done.

Getting that key is a story in and of itself.

What I've said applies to standard satellite signals. Old wacky stuff like DirecTV is more weird and depends on using unknown / hidden algorithm "black boxes" (ie: You put 8 in the black box and for no apparent reason 28372 pops out) to encrypt the information at the high level. At the lower level it's the same.

Your cable box is probably the same as the satellite receivers, except nobody has either figured out the high level encryption or the keys to it from what I've seen. Oh, and your cable box, unlike a satellite receiver not plugged into the phone line, is liable to phone home and even if it doesn't, the cable co can come around with an impedance meter and figure out you're stealing.

And stealing cable really *IS* stealing. If that cable is running through your neighbourhood you voted for it to be there. It costs money to upkeep it. You have the choice of it not being there. Unlike satellite where, against your personal choice, signals are forced to you on public airwaves that are supposed to be *free*.

So don't steal cable, eh? :^D
posted by shepd at 7:50 PM on November 19, 2005


It isn't illegal to have most of the .rars for a file on your system, it's illegal to have the movie... RIAA and others can't say that you have the movie if they see on bittorrent that you only have 95% of it

The problem with that eventually nobody will be able to get that last 5%. I hate when my downloads stall at 95%. And I'm no lawyer, but I wouldn't be suprised if they could still prosecute you for distributing the movie. You can download extensions for Azereus to block RIAA IP address.
posted by deafweatherman at 7:54 PM on November 19, 2005


http://www.newsfactor.com/perl/story/11603.html
posted by RMALCOLM at 8:01 PM on November 19, 2005


Read this for some excellent background on hacking DirecTV.

In a nutshell, DirecTV uploaded tiny pieces of data to everyone's box over a period of months, then just before the superbowl, uploaded the final bit of the jigsaw puzzle that was a program that deactivated illegal boxen. Even if I do hate the bastards, it was a supremely good hack.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 7:35 AM on November 20, 2005


Currently, digital cable systems and DirectTV are basically unhackable.

There are a number of people who are stealing content from Dish Network, using standard Free-to-Air satellite receivers with hacked up firmware. I believe that Dish has recently changed their encryption scheme, so the free ride might be over soon.

Al7bar.tk is a site that has some fairly detailed discussion on this topic.
posted by toxic at 10:14 AM on November 20, 2005


« Older When companies or organization...   |  After having my wisdom teeth r... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.