From the Eye of a Legal Storm, Murdoch's Satellite-TV Hacker Tells All

From the Eye of a Legal Storm, Murdoch's Satellite-TV Hacker Tells All
From the Eye of a Legal Storm, Murdoch's Satellite-TV Hacker Tells All 

By Kim Zetter

SAN DIEGO -- Christopher Tarnovsky feels vindicated. The software 
engineer and former satellite-TV pirate has been on the hot seat for 
five years, accused of helping his former employer, a Rupert Murdoch 
company, sabotage a rival to gain the top spot in the global pay-TV 

But two weeks ago a jury in the civil lawsuit against that employer, NDS 
Group, largely cleared the company -- and by extension Tarnovsky -- of 
piracy, finding NDS guilty of only a single incident of stealing 
satellite signals, for which Dish was awarded $1,500 in damages.

"I knew this was going to come," Tarnovsky says. "They didn't have any 
proof or evidence."

The trial was years in the making, yet raised more questions than it 
answered. It came down to testimony between admitted pirates on both 
sides who accused each other of lying. Now that it's over Tarnovsky, who 
was fired by NDS last year, is eager to tell his side of the story.

Dressed in loose jeans, flip-flops and a T-shirt, Tarnovsky, 37, spoke 
with by phone and in an air-conditioned lab in Southern 
California where he's been running a consultancy since losing his job. 
Surrounded by boxes of smart cards and thousands of dollars worth of 
microscopes and computers used for researching chips, he talked 
excitedly at lightning speed about his strange journey, which began in a 
top-secret Pentagon communications center, and ended with him working 
both sides of a heated electronic war over pay TV.

His story sheds new light on the murky, morally ambiguous world of 
international satellite pirates and those who do battle with them.

The stakes are high: Earnings in the satellite-TV industry reach the 
billions. In the first quarter of this year alone, U.S. market leader 
DirecTV announced revenue of $4.6 billion from more than 17 million U.S. 
subscribers. Dish Network earned $2.8 billion from nearly 14 million 
subscribers. Although satellite piracy has greatly diminished from its 
peak seven to 10 years ago when the events detailed in the civil lawsuit 
took place, the two companies lost millions in potential revenue, and 
spent millions more to replace insecure smart cards used in their 
systems and track down dealers selling pirated smart cards.


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