Murdoch linked to pay TV smartcard hacking
HE FRESH scandal engulfing Rupert Murdoch turns on something small and slim. This is not about tabloid-style phone hacking, but the smartcards pay television customers use to operate set-top boxes. Sounds mundane but, it turns out, the pay TV world is much murkier than one would suspect.
By 1999, Australia had a big problem with pay TV smartcard piracy. An underground market of 50,000 dodgy cards – sold over the internet, from car boots and in flea markets – was flourishing, and hackers found a lucrative trade in breaking the smartcard encryption codes so customers could get free pay TV. For the television companies and the then Murdoch-owned NDS, a global maker of smartcards, this was devastating for business.
Yesterday’s revelations in The Australian Financial Review lifted the veil on how NDS protected its own technology in Australia, while attacking the technology of its rivals – actions it insists were not illegal. A cache of 14,400 emails reveal how ex-police and intelligence officers within a secret NDS unit called Operational Security engaged hackers and encouraged piracy against competitors in an aggressive multimillion-dollar battle for the Australian market.