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 Wired.com 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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