DBS Hackers Busted

A group of alleged satellite TV hackers might have to get used to the video offerings of the federal prison system now that federal authorities in California, in one of the biggest such busts to date, have charged 17 in a scam to steal millions of dollars worth of programming from DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network.

One of the nailed hackers has pleaded guilty to manufacturing bogus decryption devices and admitted to causing more than $14 million in losses to the satcasters. Another nine defendants have agreed to plead guilty and seven more face charges.

"Operation Decrypt," as the feds called their investigation, "shed light on the normally hidden world of computer hackers who use online chat rooms to exchange data and techniques to circumvent the sophisticated security procedures developed by DirecTV and Dish Network," federal prosecutors said in a press release.

The broken and allegedly broken laws include the Digital Millennium Copyright Act and carry prison sentences of up to five years.

One of the defendants, a 19-year-old from North Carolina, admitted selling hacking software to Canadians for $50,000. Another is charged with selling monthly subscriptions to the software that would enable viewers to circumvent DirecTV's "smart card" security system, which the company spent $25 million to develop.

"By striking at the heart of those engaged in satellite signal theft--individuals who write the software code and develop and distribute devices used to illegally decrypt satellite TV signals--federal investigators and prosecutors have severely disrupted the vital supply side of the satellite TV piracy chain," a DirecTV spokesman said.

The Cyber Crimes Squad of the Los Angeles office of the FBI is handling the investigation.