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Dish Says Hacker Hired to Break Into Its Network

Satellite TV drama unfolds in lawsuit over piracy

It could be a scene straight from a satellite TV pay-per-view movie, but it’s actually a real-life court drama currently underway in California: A hacker hired by a News Corp. unit testified yesterday that he did not use the pirating software he developed for the firm to hack Dish Network’s network, according to a Reuters report.

But Dish Network says that the hacker, Christopher Tarnovsky, was hired by News Corp.'s NDS Group to hack into its network, get its security code, and build and distribute smart cards that provide premium channels to satellite receivers. Attorneys for Dish said the pirated smart cards cost Dish $900 million in lost revenue plus repair costs.

In his testimony, Tarnovsky said he was hired to write pirating software that would better secure DirecTV’s network. In a bizarre twist, he also said for his work he initially received a $20,000 cash payment tucked in electronic devices mailed from Canada.

NDS -- which supplies security technology to a worldwide satellite network that includes DirecTV -- maintains it was only doing reverse-engineering and wasn’t involved in any hacking, and Tarnovsky says he never got paid to reprogram EchoStar cards. He admitted that he did, however, build a device called “the stinger” that can communicate with any smart card.

EchoStar Communications -- which recently spun off into Dish and EchoStar Corp. -- filed the initial lawsuit against NDS.

— Kelly Jackson Higgins, Senior Editor, Dark Reading

  • Dish Network Corp.
  • EchoStar Satellite LLC
  • News Corp.
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