DirecTV Access Cards
DirecTV’s receivers require the inclusion of an access card. This access card comes in the form of a smart card (a card with a chip embedded in it) that contains vital information to decoding the satellite feed. The network cards are what allows the receiver to perform its job, and all receivers require the use of one. Some DirecTV receivers have the access card built into them, but they can still be removed or replaced in the event that DirecTV issues new access cards. All receivers, including the HD and DVR models, require some form of an access card.
The satellite service that is offered by DirecTV is a rather complex service that is more the sum of its parts than anything else. The broadcasting station and satellites themselves are useless without the satellite dishes on the ground, and the satellite dish is useless without a receiver to pipe the signal to. However, despite the fact that all of this equipment is in place and functioning, it is all useless without a valid access card.
Millions of dollars worth of technology and innovation are literally dependent on a $1.99 piece of plastic and a microchip.
What is a DirecTV Access Card?
DirecTV, being the number one satellite provider in America, has been plagued with piracy ever since the service launched all those years ago. The encryption keys and access codes contained on the card were quickly hacked and widely distributed, creating an entire underground industry of those who hacked the new security updates and those who fed off of the hackers. It could almost be described as incestuous, as the amount of hand holding and bottom feeding by the dependent members of the community is nothing short of comical.
What’s interesting is that the entire movement – the piracy, hacking, and otherwise acquisition of free television – is based on around the fact that the anti-piracy security that DirecTV was using (the access cards) was compromised in a matter of days. For hardware pirates, the easy manipulation of the access card was equivalent to a dream come true- it made all of DirecTV’s programs, packages, and content available without any monthly subscription fee. Users that were able maintain a hacked access card could access pay-per-view without any initial fee as well.
As you can imagine, this caused DirecTV serious amounts of financial loss. The access card – the tool that legitimate subscribers use to access their content – could not be replaced with a different technology either, as millions of receivers all across the country were operating on them.
The Solution to the Piracy Problem
DirecTV handled the situation in a very clever way. Rather than replace the access cards with a new form of encryption and risk days or weeks of possible downtime during the transition, they simply commissioned the creation of an access card that was similar to the current cards (in that they could be substituted without any modifications to the receiver). These new access cards, appropriately called “smart cards” were much more difficult to hack as they used advanced algorithms, hardware encryption, and various other forms of anti-hacking measures.
Though there is speculation that these new cards have been hacked, the general consensus is that DirecTV piracy is pretty much dead. The amount of time and effort that it takes for someone to pirate a DirecTV signal is hardly worth the $50 a month they may save, and the attitude of the pirating community seems to reflect that. In fact, DirecTV’s subscription rates soared after they cracked down on piracy. It has been several years since they made the change over, and it appears as if it worked as intended- piracy rates are the lowest they’ve ever been.
DirecTV and DISH Network both experienced a fair amount of piracy from Canadian households, as there are no specific laws in Canada that prohibit a citizen from taking advantage of an incoming satellite signal. As well, neither DirecTV or DISH Network operate any kind of retail or corporate presence there.
While domestic pirates had to deal with possible legal complications, such as a cease and desist later or a possible piracy lawsuit, Canadian pirates don’t seem to have to worry about any of that. In fact, many Canadian households have managed to illegally acquire DirecTV’s new access card, though their effectiveness is significantly reduced by the fact that DirecTV continually updates its encryption keys.
The general consensus is that all forms of piracy, both domestic and international, have declined significantly since the introduction of the new access card in 2004.
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