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back to article Set-top box modders sent to prison

Two men have been sentenced for a total of 15 months for advising people how to bypass security settings on their set-top boxes. Carl Morgan Davison of Llanfechell in Amlwch and Mark Taylor from Leeds got ten and five months respectively. The two were moderators of a site called modshack.co.uk. Davison used the aliases "Hairy …

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Farenheit 451

Burn all the books! Burn them! Burn them!

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Anonymous Coward

This is insane

If I buy a fridge and by my own extreme cleverness turn it into a time machine, how is that illegal? The fridge is MY property. I CAN DO WHAT I LIKE with it.

This is another example of a world gone mad with patent laws which nobody actually understands.

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Can't...

really be bothered to comment on this. They must have tried REALLY hard to cover their trail!

No doubt there'll be plenty more sites out there offering this sort of 'advice' I'm sure.

Ho Hum.

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insane? - yes and no

If you bought a fridge, turned it into a teleportation device and used it to reach into Sainsbury's and nick bottles of beer it *would* be illegal (it'd also be brilliant). So no, you can't "DO WHAT YOU LIKE" with it - you can't commit crimes with it.

OTOH, I'm pretty much with you in questioning why those distributing information, rather than carrying out the crime, should be doing time. Does anyonw know if they were actually selling fake CAMs or something?

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What's the difference?

Between these guys and the person who modded his EEEPC?

http://www.reghardware.co.uk/2008/01/22/massive_eee_pc_mod/

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Anonymous Coward

insane?

It is illegal to use a set-top box to steal content in the same way that it is illegal to use a baseball bat to steal cars. Turning your fridge into a time machine is fine, just don't go using it to commit crimes, to be on the safe side, you should probably only use it to move forwards. Affecting things in the past could have all sorts of consequences (like if you modify time so I got fired last year, have you stolen my sallary from me).

Time travel is cool, don't steal content, stay in school.

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Anonymous Coward

unfortunate brainless criminalisation

I bet that some people will see this as a good thing because it is obvious that this praticular support given was for what is commonly recognized as unacceptable.

Unfortunately this criminalisation might very well also mean that people who give users advice on how to modify their dvd players to become multi-regional so they can watch their legally bought films abroad could also be in trouble. And this will include playing legally bought blue-ray movies, online music etc. It is good to know that our regulators are taking proper care of corporate interests - we would not like the unwashed customer interests get in the way for some appropiately assured income source do we?

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Stop

@Greg

I would assume you dont actually own the boxes, you are leasing them until such time as you cancel your contract.

Many o years ago I had Telewest after me for 2x cable boxes back or £800 or a chat with a Judge... needless to say they got their boxes back!

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Anonymous Coward

@Greg Fleming

>If I buy a fridge and by my own extreme cleverness turn it into a time machine, how is that illegal?

Um... That's not what they did though is it...

If I turned my fridge into something that churned out exact working replicas of your credit card, you wouldn't be too chuffed would you.

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Flame

Re: Greg Fleming

I think you've got confused somewhere.

No one is stopping you from modding equipment you've purchased (as a point of note most set top boxes are subsidised by a subscription and if you read your contract you don't own it until after 12 months), but these guys were advising people on how to defraud VM and BSkyB and "obtain services by deception".

Your analogy, besides being entirely illogical, doesn't work.

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Joke

10 months for 'just' £27k?

Yes, calm down, I *know* that the £27k refers to the donations they received, not the unspecified loss that Virgin suffered, however this seems to be the "true worth" of Virgin's crap. If I were them I'd want to appeal the sentence.

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@Greg

Firstly you BOUGHT the fridge so you can do what you like with it. With VM or Sky, you /rent/ the box and its not yours to rewire.

Secondly they weren't prosecuted for playing with electronics, but for teaching people how to crack into a system in order to steal stuff they hadn't paid for.

Lastly they were done for patent infringement - reverse-engineering the proprietary algorithms I should think - because I doubt any of their customers came forward to provide state's evidence. One assumes that they didn't personally have any hacked boxes onsite.

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I feel safer now

Thank god for that, now im not worried about someone reducing the revenues of a TV company that may then pass the lost profits on to me in the form of an increaced service charge whilst continuing to provide a quality programming service.

Now lets just hope I dont get mugged when I pop to the shops to get a TV times.

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Flame

re: This is insane

IIRC the set top box is still owned by the cable company so this isn't a case of people modding their own equipment. And the only purpose of the mods seems to gain something that you could have if you paid for it - so I don't see what's to complain about (well unless you don't like paying - but of course I am sure you liked to be paid)

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@Greg Fleming

Set-Top boxes usually remain the property of whoever the service provider is.

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Unhappy

@ greg flemming

But greg, use that old fridge to grow weed and you are breaking the law.

The streams are encrypted so only payning customers can get th. If noone paid for them, they'd stop existing.

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Re:This is insane

Whilst I'm pro freedom to tinker I have to disagree with you here.

The thing is they didn't mod the box to be a time machine. They modded it to receive channels they hadn't paid for. It's like you making your fridge automatically fill itself from the supermarket without paying*. What they where doing was certainly illegal.

By your reasoning it would OK for me to stab someone so long as I bought the bit of metal and then sharpened it myself! "The metal is MY property. I CAN DO WHAT I LIKE with it."

*OK that's not a perfect analogy, because the supermarket would be loosing physical assets.

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@ Greg

I'm not sure about sky, but with VirginMedia you don't actually own the STB therefore it it not your property to tamper with. Fundameentally, when you sign up, you have effectively agreed to accept responsibility for a STB that you borrow (or rent or whatever) from them to make use of their service.

This would be different to say hacking an Xbox - you buy it, you should be allowed to do whatever you like with it.

These guys got caught. Thats the risk you take.

P.S. If you get the time machine idea working, give me a shout. 2 days ago I saw a real fit chick sunbathing and wouldn't mind another look.

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Ash

@Glenn Evans

Ok, so your beer bottle analogy... What if Sainsbury's were delivering bottles of Premium beer to everybody's house in a certain area, but you could only get cheap Own Brand beer, as they didn't fit through your Sainsbury's-provided letter box because you bought the basic Square version, not the Premium-priced Round letter box.

As they're already being delivered, would it be illegal to modify your LEGALLY BOUGHT letter box to accept the Premium beer bottles?

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Re: This is insane

"If I buy a fridge and by my own extreme cleverness turn it into a time machine, how is that illegal? The fridge is MY property. I CAN DO WHAT I LIKE with it."

No you can't, nor have you ever been able to. You can do with it what you like SO LONG AS the law doesn't explicitly state that you can't (OK, or there is precedent to that effect).

You cannot for example take your fridge and throw it out of a tall building. Nor can you strap it onto the front of a Range Rover for improved penetration in a ram raid. Well, you can - but you'll be apt to find yourself up in front of the beak.

I agree that Patent Law has some madness involved, but this isn't where it is. In this particular case, had they somehow managed to cleanly reverse-engineer a set-top box out of stuff they'd bought at Maplin or the like; they'd probably have still got done on conspiracy to defraud - this was just the easiest one to prove.

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Alert

Re: This is insane

Using that time travelling fridge to steal from other people shouldn't be illegal?

You can argue pretty well that individuals who took their advice should be the ones punished and not those who gave it. That's what is insane about this case. However you cannot say that modifying cable/satellite boxes to obtain services for free is not theft and therefore illegal.

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Coat

Good for the goose!

Two guys teach people how to Mod VM's and Sky's equipment making £27,000 in the process.

I can't wait to see what Kent Ertugel is going to get for teaching BT how to illegally intercept over a hundred thousand of their customers......

Oh really? What the Home office and Police are refusing to investigate? Shit

Mines the one with "Trusting fool" written on the back.

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Who is responsible anyway...

The interesting issue here is - if someone provides you with the information to assist you to do something "illegally" (view or steal content that should be paid for) who is responsbile (or guilty)? The one who provides the information or the one who uses it (or both?) Is it that the information (instructions in this case) is private and has been used without permission - meaning in this case both published/posted and used...

But if the information is mostly public domain (algorithms and technology) and it is just how they are used together that is private... hmm..

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Stop

box owner

BSkyB sure as hell don't own mine ... or, at least, they never asked for it back when the service was cancelled. Nevertheless, they've not done anything to make it unusable for "free" Sky either, which I'm assuming they could do if they were so inclined. AC, just in case they're still after me after all this time ...

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Coat

is it worth the effort?

Wow, I can think of much more worthwhile things to go to prison for, rather than going to prison for a load of repeated films and documentaries that are just collections of the same clips in a different order like "police camera stop police action best worst chases stop police action camera".

my coats the one with the handcuffs in the pocket

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Sky is a buy.

Actually, with Sky you buy the box (subject to a 12 month lock-in) just as you buy a phone with a contract.

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not rented

The set top boxes are usually imported from Germany and are not the property of either Virgin or BskyB, they are unofficial boxes.

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Anonymous Coward

I wonder what the position would have been...

had they copyrighted their instructions and blocked all known government, TV station, police and major sponsor domains and IP numbers.

Still, punishment way too severe, yes they probably did something wrong, but in the grand scheme of things not too much harm done, and really better security should be used.

And it is always a sad day when knowledge itself becomes a crime.

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Anonymous Coward

>"true worth" of Virgin's crap.

FFS The "true worth" of something isn't the amount of money people will donate to get help to get it for less than it's being offered.

If I offered you a beer, and said I'd like a donation in return, if you took the beer and didn't give me anything it doesn't make the beer worthless does it?

The intangible nature of services clearly poses a significant mental problem for some people.

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About this time travelling fridge.....

Whilst I am in awe of the sheer genius of said cooler, I'm a little dissapointed the best thing you could think to apply it to was stealing beers from Sainsbury's. I can assure you a time machine is not required.

Seriously though, didn't some terrorists get off recently for owning terrorist literature (I know I've spelt that wrong, sshh) , as being in possesion was not enough, intent or action had to be proved?

Maybe we should just switch to the American model of corporate legal justice where guilt is assumed until the innocent run out or money and are unable to defend themselves.

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Boffin

RE: insane? - yes and no

I like that idea. Want a hand? You bring the Flux capacitor, I'll bring the bottle opener.

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Where does it stop?

The idea that sharing information is illegal gives me the creeps. The problem lies primarily with where the boundaries lie. Suppose I teach some people how to make a website (it's been known to happen), and they go off and make a website that disseminates information on how to crack set top boxes or how to make a bomb.

Surely I have facilitated the actual crime (hacking/bombing) as much as the website owners?

What about those who publish OS exploits? Should they be held liable for any damage caused by hackers, desptie the fact they are providing a public service?

It's a slippery slope ...

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Pirate

@Chad H.

Quote - If noone paid for them, they'd stop existing.

Nope, if no one paid for them they'd stop charging as much!

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Anonymous Coward

@AC 12:26

>> Firstly you BOUGHT the fridge so you can do what you like with it. With VM or Sky,

>> you /rent/ the box and its not yours to rewire.

Perhaps with VM, I wouldn't know - but I own my Sky boxes (when I signed up, I paid full price for one and the other was discounted on condition that I sign a 12 contract).

>> Lastly they were done for patent infringement - reverse-engineering the

>> proprietary algorithms I should think - because I doubt any of their customers

>> came forward to provide state's evidence. One assumes that they didn't

>> personally have any hacked boxes onsite.

I don't understand, if it is patented, why would they need to reverse engineer it?

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Tom

Using

A fridge to go forward in time to punch your boss in the face and then use it to go back in time to when it didnt happen, is that still a crime? Now due to uniformal universe matter reactions you cant be in 2 places at the same time. Whilst the crime did happen it never happened in your time stream therefore it never actually happened, but you have the knowledge of your fist meeting bosses nose in one glorious action.

Maybe they should have first got their box to steal tv from the future, problem solved.

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Stop

Ownership of SKY boxes

SKY boxes are owned by the end user the moment they receive them. SKY never rent their boxes, and even though there is a 12 month minimum contract to subsidise it, the box is yours from day 1 - just like with mobile phones.

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Way OTT

1. As others have pointed out, it's a scary day when knowledge becomes a crime.

2. 5/10 months actual prison, not suspended, for a rather technical first-time non-violent offence? That's even scarier.

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Anonymous Coward

Decoder Cards

There are several reasons why this is a problem:

The broadcast encryption algorithm and the decoder cards that hold the decryption software for either Cable or Sky are the property of the manufacturer of the cards, they are never owned by any third party, in order to get free channels you have to obtain either a stolen or rented card and re-program it with modified software, this is obviously illegal, because you are either handling stolen merchandise or modifying property which is not yours. It is the manufacturer of the cards that will try to close down sites like this as they are trying to recover their property and lessen the impact of thefts on it's business.

With CableTV, the set top boxes used with the hacked decoder cards are usually stolen from the cable companies, also the distribution of the cards and the boxes to the end consumer is usually linked, e.g. Joe public probably wouldn't buy a box from his local dodgy cable TV engineer without a hacked decoder card in it, as the box itself is useless without one. The decoder card may also have been half inched with the set top box in the same theft.

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Flame

sigh

i love how people jump in without reading the other 100 of coments saying they didnt own the set top box!

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Black Helicopters

@'insane?' AC

"It is illegal to use a set-top box to steal content in the same way that it is illegal to use a baseball bat to steal cars"

The difference being that publishing details online of how to make a baseball bat will not land you in prison.

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Stop

Copyright not patents

The modders were convicted under s.296 of the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988, which relates to devices designed to prevent copyright infringement and has nothing whatsoever to do with patents (except the title of the act itself).

It is irrelevant whether they had to did anything clever in order to do so, or whether the copy protection means itself is patented. It is the fact that their actions could enable someone to overcome that copy protection which is key.

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Re: Corestore

It would be a scary day. Thank god it hasn't happened yet. They weren't accused of knowing something, they were accused of spreading their knowledge.

Which is still quite scary. How long before a martial arts instructor is arrested for "teaching people how to kill" under anti-terror legislation?

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Anonymous Coward

Catch 22

The boxes up to 2005 were modded ones belonging to NTL/Virgin Media that had to be flashed and/or the cards modified.Everytime the codes were rolling people would need to alter their setup to match the new numbers. Also talkback was cut so the boxes would be invisible.

After 2005 onwards, the boxes were purchased off the internet, nothing to do with the cable companies, these were setup to roll themselves and keep up with changes, and decrypt any channel they can see. So ppv, movies, even movies on demand being sent to other customers on the network would be decoded.

Every 6-12 months hey need a serial port firmware upgrade, although plugging one into another box would clone itself speeding up the process.

Modshack were probably modding NTL/Virgin property at that time, also publishing the new codes when they roll so customers were kept up to date. Nowadays it's plug and play and forget.

Sky is odd because apart from a few minor hacks that were far more complex people would just buy a Greek card and wach football for cheap, not mod the thing. A ll kinds of complex cards requiring real time computer control to decrypt it, more of a hobby than a way to steal Sky.

Eventually with broadband proper, people set up card sharing schemes, instead of hacking the system, one legitimate card with a very expensive monthly sub covering everything would be cloned in real time over t'internet to other people so they cloned the entire service. (which has also just been made into a box off the internet service same as cable)

The bo service people are scared of sky so going after older systems on sattelites in range to the UK.

I don't steal TV or Internet but still know how it's done through reading about it.

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Flame

STB company losses aren't the issue here.

In my opinion the real issue here is that these people were convicted for PROVIDING the information needed to modify your box, they were NOT conviced of modding boxes, mere making the information available.

Surly this is a freedom of speech issue? If wrote an article detailing the most efficient way to kill a man, then I couldn't be held accountable if somebody used that information to kill somebody. Even though when writing it, I knew it could only be interpreted one way, I haven't committed a crime. So If anything shouldn't this be an incitement conviction (incitement to defraud)?

Now if these chaps were modding people's boxes, I could understand the legal action, but if merely making the pertinent information available is a crime, then where do you draw the line? What if I publish the details of an algorithm that I've been studying for educational purposes? Now if somebody happens to use that algorithm to cause trouble, am I liable?

This, like many other cases I've heard about recently, just confirms my belief that the law is now so generic, and there's so much of it, it can be used to prove anything provided the price is right.

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Go

@ash Of beer bottles and ferrai's

Your missing the point IF you BROUGHT your letter box and PAID for the Premium Beer then yes you can modify the letterbox

but if your RENTING the Letterbox then first you don't own it so modication is illegal. second if you don't pay for the premium Beer that STEALING which is illegal.

they rent the STB and then modify it to provide what there don't pay for this is illegal. end of story

criminal damage if you like. (except they would argue no demage was done as the box still performed it's orginanal function which is with they didn't use that to charge them)

but that arguement would work the same as if you lent me a ferrai and and stripped it's 4 litre v6 out and gave it back with a 1.6 ford engine. (the function of driving and going from a to b would still be there but the natural of the function has changed ) and i'm sure you'd want me up in count on criminal damage charges.

right that said i'm of home in my 4 litre fiesta before me boss finds out i nicked his engine.

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Anonymous Coward

Seems clear cut to me

They provided information about how to defraud the Virgin and Sky systems, alright does seem a little harsh for simply providing the info, seems like VM and Sky wanted to make an example of someone, this seemed like a good target. Although iIf you take the info and modify a settop box WITHOUT plugging it back into the system, fine not a problem, however if you mod the box, then get free movies/sport/etc that is illegal. I hate VM and Sky as much as the next one, but barring the "simply supplying info" argument, this does seem pretty clear cut to me.

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Coat

@ bobbles31

To liken this to other nefarious human doings, Jean Rostand once said:

"Kill one man, and you are a murderer.

Kill millions of men, and you are a conqueror.

Kill them all, and you are a god."

Eddie Izzard once said that we as humans just couldn't seem to cope with idea of someone murdering that number of people, especially if they are "their own" (he was talking about Polpot at the time), and so we cope with it like this:

"A hundred thousand you say? That's quite a lot. Yes, hmmmm, well, errrr, well done!"

I imagine (personal opinion, not fact) that a similar scenario might be playing out in halls of power and certain teleco's and 3rd party information suppliers.

Mine's the one with the soldering iron in the left pocket!

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Anonymous Coward

OK ...

I seee ... but then surely they shouldn't be supplying hardware that can be so easily “modded” (as you young people put it) then getting all huffy and legal because the hardware they make you pay for monthly or whatever can be so trivially cracked?

In their rush to market and cash in they are actually making available the temptation and the means to break the rules.

That's their problem. It is surely like leaving your front door unlocked while you go away on holiday for a fortnight. Insurance companies would call it “contributory negligence” and wouldn't pay out your insurance.

Similarly why complain if clever people can mod you box and gain access to services they want you to pay for.

If I were putting out something I seriously wanted and expected people to pay for I'd be making very very sure beforehand their was no way to circumvent that.

It can be done, so don't go saying there's no such thing as a secure computing device.

And no — mercifully I don't own one of these contraptions.

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Anonymous Coward

Shabby

>If you bought a fridge, turned it into a teleportation device and used it to reach into Sainsbury's and nick bottles of beer it *would* be illegal (it'd also be brilliant). So no, you can't "DO WHAT YOU LIKE" with it - you can't commit crimes with it.

If someone wants to bypass the decryption on a set top box and steal television services, then that individual is guilty of the crime of theft and they are the ones that should be punished for it.

These two guys provided the means for individuals to break the law but the individuals themselves are responsible for their actions.

Supposing, no one actually followed the instructions given to them, and no one actually stole any television service, and Virgin Media didn't lose out, then there's no actual harm is there so what's the point of prosecuting the two guys? Ok, chances are some individuals did follow their instructions and stole tv, but the point is, you have absolutely no idea who, how many and how much revenue has been lost to Virgin Media as a result. ( "we want to sue for lost income...but we have no idea how much money, we have no idea how many people stole tv and it might have been zero").

So rather than being prosecuted under telecommunications legislation for theft of a television service ( which clearly wouldn't be upheld), they've been prosecuted under a loose and wooly Copyright and Patent's act, which presumably is a recent introduction to law?

Very shabby, very very shabby.

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Anonymous Coward

@ Richard

"You cannot for example take your fridge and throw it out of a tall building."

But I CAN! If it is MY tall building! So long as no one gets hurt ... and HOW do YOU know that THIS is the VERY PRINCIPLE necessary to make the fridge initialise as a time machine? Have you been SPYING on me?

But since I believe in the non-paradoxical, multiverse sort of time travel, no one really does get hurt with that either so I am still in the clear!

Especially as it doesn't involve Virgin set-top box thingie.

BTW, Is that the same as a Tennessee Flat Top Box?

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