TORONTO - A new, card-free, theft-enabling satellite set top box which allows users free access to all Dish Network and Bell ExpressVu programming has hit the black market within the past 10 weeks or so - and this one is apparently unaffected by satellite company electronic counter measures (ECMs).
The box, available for sale on ebay and underground web retailers, is called Blackbird. The sites are billing the box as a legal, free-to-air receiver that just happens to allow access to all Dish Network programming. And, since ExpressVu's technology is identical, the box lets users steal from the Canadian DTH company as well.
Blackbird has caused such a scare in the States that when speaking to delegates at a Cablelabs conference last week, Comcast president Brian Roberts mentioned the box by name and urged Dish Network to take immediate, drastic action, according to those in attendance.
The box comes with no conditional access card and, say those who have seen it, can not be disabled by satellite company ECMs. It does not work with DirecTV or Star Choice.
"No more JTAGs, AVRs, Atmegas, ROM X Cards, ISO Programmers, and TSOP locks," says one web site, telling thieves they no longer have to worry about buying hacked cards, readers, loaders or anything else.
The Blackbird comes with a four-way connector, meaning that up to four dishes could be tied into the box. With seven Dish Network and ExpressVu satellites to choose from, depending on which of the birds the dishes are pointed at, such a thief could get in the neighborhood of 1,200 channels on one television through this box.
"You can connect up to 4 different LNBs to a 4-way switch (included) and one output to the receiver. Blackbird will understand each individual LNB signal, and download all the channels for that satellite. For instance, if one LNB were pointing as Dish Network, you would set up LNB 1 to download all 300 DishNet stations (PPV, sports, everything). This would populate channels 1-300 on the system," says one web site.
"If LNB 2 were pointing at another satellite company, you would then be able to set up LNB 2 to download channels 301-600. This can continue for up to 4 different satellite signals. Potentially, with enough dishes, you could flip from channels 1-1200, without missing any stations!! Although you cannot get DirecTV, you can use your existing DirecTV dish on your house, and the LNB, as long as you properly re-point the dish to another satellite, such as Dish Network."
The site, of course, also claims that all of this is, ahem, perfectly legal.
It's selling in the US$370 range.
Bell ExpressVu president Tim McGee told www.cablecastermagazine.com on Friday that his company became aware of Blackbird in December and is working on how it can combat it.
He downplayed its potential effect on the company. "It's just another pirated device that can be used to steal," he said. "We're well ahead of the curve in terms of our knowledge of it. It's a niche product"
McGee didn't say for sure whether or not the company's ECMs work to disable the box but several technical contacts in the cable industry with knowledge of Blackbird or who have seen it work, say current ECMs, which target hacked plastic cards inside set top receivers do not affect Blackbird.
"The best way at this point to fight it is to choke off any avenue of distribution and sale of this," added McGee. "That's the main thrust at this stage."
"It's not affected by ECMs," confirmed one cable executive who has seen the Blackbird work.
Industry Canada and Telesat recently conducted a test of the box in Ottawa and found that it appears pretty bullet-proof and is a serious threat to satellite signal security. Blackbird is a name which is beginning to reverberate throughout the TV distribution industry which is understandably spooked by the product.
It is another reason behind the redoubling of efforts to get Bill C-2 passed, which will dramatically toughen measures against satellite signal thieves.
Cable sources told www.cablecastermagazine.com that the box, when coming over the border, may operate as a free-to-air receiver, making it a "legal" at most points in the distribution chain. It is obviously altered once in the country, making it able to receive all digital ExpressVu and EchoStar signals.
Those sources also say the technology originated in Israel - which right now is a hotbed of emerging encryption technologies. ExpressVu says the hardware appears to be made in Taiwan.