The History of Satellite Monitoring and Satellite Hacking - Part 2
The TV Satellite Revolution
V. 1.0 - 21.02.2003
V. 1.1 - 05.10.2004
V. 1.2 - 10.06.2008
V. 1.3 - 11.02.2009
Copyright (C) 02/2003 by Howard Fuhs
In the mid 70's things changed. The first TVRO (Television Receive-Only) satellites were launched.
In the 60’s the first satellites were placed in space to relay tv signals from continent to continent and soon the first satellites were operational to relay satellite signals between broadcasting stations in a country or to connect a reporter team in the field with their broadcasting station. The problem of this early technology from the Satellite Monitoring view was that it needed large antennas or dishes for receiving the satellite signals.
This was the advent of the first tv satellite monitors which were radio amateurs and technicians or engineers from telecommunication companies which were providing these satellite services to their broadcasting customers. These people were only interested in receiving satellite tv signals out of curiousity and they had to work with large satellite dishes (4m or larger) and lot of equipment which was disposed or outphased from the satellite service companies.
Especially in Europe the whole tv satellite reception thing got also a political background. It was planned by broadcasting companies, e.g. Radio Tele Luxembourg (RTL) just to name one, to provide a tv programm via satellite direct to the end user and also providing several individual programms for several european countries. The problem was that it was in most countries illegal for private persons to „operate a satellite receiving station”. Beside this laws it was not wished by governments to allow private broadcasters to enter the scene and being a competitor to the governmental run national broadcasters on the market. Even the most silly arguments were used by governmental agencies to prevent that tv satellite reception becomes legal. On of this arguments was that someone who has the technical ability to receive a satellite signal might also have the technical ability to send a signal to the satellite and the distribution of receiving technology to the masses would led to uncalculating risks of possible sabotage of satellite systems by missusing the receiving technology for transmitting purposes.
During this time governments did lot of things to prevent that the technical ability to receive tv satellites fell into the hand of the average mortal man on the street. The satellite monitors on the other hand enjoyed the increasing of tv programms and tv transmissions run over satellites beginning in the mid 70’s. And with the dawn of legal reception sets at the horizont the number of tv satellite monitors increased steadily. Back then it was interesting to see how the „population” was reacting against government rulings which prohibited satellite reception sets. One dealer sold in the early 80’s more than 500 sets (priced around 8000.- DM) within one year eventhough everybody involved was fully aware of the fact that it was a violation of law. One can really say it became en vogue to operate an illegal satellite dish for tv satellites and the amount of illegal tv satellite monitors climbed rapidly.
This political process ended e.g. in Germany in the mid 80’s when laws not only allowed private broadcasters but also legalized the use of satellite receiving equipment for signal reception of tv satellites.
Things changed again when it became legal to own and operate satellite dishes for tv reception. Only a few people stuck to really monitoring the tv satellites in the hope to find new signals, transponders, programms or relays. We will come back to these people later.
In the meantime another area of satellite monitoring has opend up. Once again it was a weather satellite system but now it was quite harder to monitor. The system over Europe was Meteosat which was providing from ist geosynchronous orbit weather pictures in high quality. The technical challenge in the early 80’s was that this satellite was transmitting on 1,6 GHz. As no affordable reception equipment was available especially radio amateurs started to build their own receiving equipment consisting of a YAGI antenna, an antenna amplifier optimized for the 1,6 GHz area and a frequency downconverter which converted the signal down to 145 MHz (2 m HAM band) that an off the shelf 2 m HAM receiver could be used to receive the weather satellite signals. Once again the radio amateurs were into monitoring commercial satellite signals.
During the early 80’s a small group of satellite monitoring ethusiasts established itself. They were generally looking for unknown satellite signals and were for the first time able to listen to phone calls made over Inmarsat and other analog satellite telephone systems. They found several military satellites which were using analog modulation. The major problem was the information sharing as the Internet was not available to the public in a way we are used to it today.
Back in the tv scene not only free available tv programmes were aired but also encrypted signals could be found, carrying pay tv channels. So it was obvious that a cracker scene soon established which was devoted to crack pay tv signals. One of the first channels attacked was Teleclub and one of the first systems to do so was built using a Commodore C64 to decrypt the signal on the fly and feeding it into the tv set. From now on, the cracker scene for pay tv channels was almost always successfull around the globe when it came to sneak around commercially offered signal encryption to tv broadcasters.
From the technical point of view questionable economic decisions from the pay tv broadcasters backed the pay tv cracker simply by choosing the most easy to crack encoding system available (which might have been also the most cheapest available) or by introducing hardware decoder systems which could easily modified to decode more programs than officially available. A good example for such a system is the german D-Box for the pay tv broadcaster Premiere. In the attempt to push a system into the market that should become the market standard as a Settop-Box (and might led to a monopoly) simply because it is the first in masses available product led to a system design done in a hurry. The flaws of the system are now used by crackers to circumvent the signal encryption and other security relevant features. Even the original operating system of the boxes can be substituted with a far more elegant and powerfull operating system written by hackers.
The major problem of most of the pay tv broadcasters today is that they invested into an infrastructure also consisting of hardware shipped to their customers and therefore cannot be easily and cheaply replaced without placing the financial burden to the customer who will complain in masses or to the broadcast company which cannot cover the costs of replacing the hardware of more than three million subscribers.
As previciously mentioned, in the early 80’s a small group of people established itself who were constantly looking for new tv satellite signals. This group of hobbyists were the first who watched uncensored live transmissions from shows recorded for later to be aired. They also discovered military picture transmissions via satellite not knowing what they were receiving.
But let us leave now the field of tv satellite monitoring and pay tv hacking and face towards one of the most interesting groups in that area.
I invite your suggestions for revising this document. I plan to review and revise this document as the need arises.
Copyright (C) 02/2003 by Howard Fuhs
All Rights Reserved!