Lock it in: As more and more content is being consumed over multiple devices and networks, are broadcasters and pay-TV operators adequately protecting their content against cyberattacks and illegal distribution? - Photo credit: istock, getty images

Digital age calls for multi-pronged approach to con tent security

Digital media assets are the lifeblood of broadcasters and pay-TV operators, particularly as multi-screen, multi-device viewing becomes more pervasive. How can operators prevent these key assets from being compromised by cyberattacks and digital piracy? Shawn Liew finds some answers.

The most recent cyberattack on HBO perhaps serves as a sombering reminder to the broadcast and media industry: the threat possessed by digital intrusions and attacks is very real, and possesses the unwelcomed potential of escalating into truly crippling proportions.

As premium video content continues to register high demand, digital piracy is on the rise, says Leonid Berkovich, VP marketing, products and solutions, Viacess-Orca. “From high-profile sports events to the latest episodes of popular sci-fi or fantasy epics, content is being illegally accessed by a troubling number of viewers,” he tells APB. “In some cases, more than four times as many people watch illegally through direct downloads and pirate streaming than watch legally live or via catch-up TV.”

In the most recent HBO incident, for instance, the network has confirmed that 1.5TB of data were stolen, including a Games of Thrones script, which was subsequently leaked online.

And with more content being consumed over a myriad of connected devices, this exposes a number of new threat surfaces for video operators that can lead to business or regulatory risk, Steve Oetegenn, president of Verimatrix, points out. “Thus, video service operators need proper insight into the health of every application and transaction in order to keep up with the pace of change and deliver outstanding customer service,” he adds.

To help operators with this endeavour, Verimatrix recently announced the acquisition of the MiriMON technology and development team from Genius Digital, a provider of audience analytics for TV. With this client data collection technology now featured within Verimatrix’s Verspective Operator Analytics solution suite, a secure source of return path data from individual client devices can be enabled.

This, Oetegenn explains, provides a detailed view of live and on-demand consumption, as well as subscriber/device interactions, for both linear and adaptive bitrate services. When combined with the Verspective server-side data collection — video-on-demand (VoD) servers, content delivery networks (CDNs), as well as security and content management solutions — operators gain access to a deep layer of viewer insights that help reduce subscriber churn and create new revenue streams.

This is important, Oetegenn suggests, because protecting and preserving the security of the personal data of subscribers is increasingly viewed as the bare minimum expected of video service providers.

To win the fight against digital piracy, pay-TV operators providing premium content need to address three key technical requirements, Viacess-Orca’s Berkovich proposes. Begin by selecting “robust” conditional access system (CAS) and digital rights management (DRM) solutions. Pay-TV operators, he notes, have moved on from the time when content is protected by the selection and deployment of four or five card-based solutions in the market.

Berkovich continues: “Today, in a more complex media ecosystem with a greater number and variety of technical requirements, the scope of the CAS options now available includes not only smart card-based systems, but also cardless solutions that allow operators to take a more flexible approach in addressing market demand.

“In addition to providing live content, pay-TV operators today typically offer a wide range of services, including VoD, catch-up TV and start-over TV.”

Thus, on top of implementing CAS for live content, operators must also ensure their DRM systems are capable of addressing multiple delivery mechanisms, Viacess-Orca recommends.

However, deploying services based on the most reliable and complete content protection solutions does not free operators completely from the threats of fraud and piracy, Berkovich cautions. Particularly, the illegal distribution of premium content over the Internet presents a much more complex challenge. “Sports and Holly­wood series are two types of content that pirates cherish most, and the audiences of illegal streams number in the dozens of millions,” he says. “Both content producers and service providers suffer significantly from the loss of legal viewers and the corresponding loss of subscriber fees and advertising revenues — strong, efficient security and anti-piracy services are essential.”

Also as important, future-proof your content protection, in order to keep up with the new security requirements arising from the expansion of TV viewing into 4K/Ultra HD (UHD) and high dynamic range (HDR). Lamenting that service providers are often reluctant to adopt new approaches to content protection, Berkovich says: “The rapid evolution of content creation and delivery makes it critical that they be ready for change and are willing to choose the most flexible technologies for preserving the integrity of their service offerings.”

One operator looking to buffer its IPTV ecosystem is ZTE Corporation, who has adopted Conax’s Connected Access IPTV security client. Fang Hui, VP, ZTE Corporation, highlights: “As we aim to tap the broad opportunities forecasted in the coming year for the IPTV market, ZTE sees strong synergies in partnering with Conax to provide their leading security technology for our global IPTV offering.”

Connected Access is a security client catering for multiple uses, including IPTV and over-the-top (OTT), for connected set-top boxes (STBs). Through a security client, operators can securely deliver video content over both IPTV multicast and OTT adaptive streaming, irrespective of the streaming protocol used. This, according to Tor Helge Kristiansen, EVP, principal architect, Conax, “significantly simplifies” the key management processes and ensures consistency in the business rules and enforcement of content restrictions across any distribution platform. “For ZTE, this means they can focus on building the best services with the best user experience and be rest assured that the Connected Access solution will handle the security in the best possible way,” he adds.

Kristiansen also observes how tougher security challenges are not only becoming more visible, but also growing at an “alarming rate”. Of these, traditional pay-TV piracy, in which pirates sell illegal access to operators’ TV services, remains a major threat. “Selecting a good CAS/DRM solution and STB chipset equipped with a sound security design is the best countermeasure towards these types of attacks,” he offers, while identifying the growing trend of illegal restreaming of content over the Internet.

Manifested as individual movies provided through bit torrent sites, or as live streaming of complete TV services, these types of attacks can be difficult to prevent. Kristiansen elaborates: “In these instances, the security of the HDMI port is known to be broken, making it easy for pirates to get hold of the content in a format suitable for restreaming.

“To fight these types of attacks, the best countermeasure is forensic watermarking solutions combined with advanced anti-piracy services. This enables operators and content owners to locate and shut down the sources of illegal redistribution.”
Perhaps, there is one threat that is most disturbing, Kristiansen cautions — hackers who are increasingly launching sophisticated cyberattacks targeting large ransom payments to restore stolen or locked-down information.

A homogenous population of hybrid STBs, he adds, can be considered an ideal target for such attacks as they are effectively advanced computers that may be less protected than a home PC. “The security challenges to be overcome by a modern STB include catering for attacks aimed at getting access to the content itself, as well as the ability to use the STBs to launch ransom attacks or even DDoS (distributed denial of service) attacks on critical infrastructure or businesses.”

To mitigate this threat and prevent attacks, operators need to protect their platforms and their subscribers by ensuring that they introduce only STBs that have been designed and evaluated to the highest security standards, Kristiansen concludes.
Where security is concerned, there is perhaps one golden rule — there will always be some new or previously unappreciated points of weakness that might be the source of a new exploit, Verimatrix’s Oetegenn expresses. “That’s why pay-TV revenue protection specialists like Verimatrix are already deploying machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI) to protect customers’ video services and are extending these to the Internet of Things (IoT), both for proactive monitoring and post-attack response,” he explains.

Going further, Verimatrix has identified a number of core elements relating to IoT security lifecycle management:

• Device integrity, which implies that measures have been taken to detect and prevent attempts to hijack devices. This would be achieved firstly by ensuring the integrity of the bootstrap process by which devices obtain information to allow them to be authenticated for operation within an IoT domain, and secondly by ensuring integrity of the devices’ updating processes to prevent subsequent attacks.

• Authentication and secure communication, which serve to ensure that only devices explicitly identifiable are allowed to join a given IoT network, and that communications are protected from interception or alteration during transit.
n Proactive threat monitoring, which serves to maintain the security of data collected by a connected device over its lifecycle. As monitoring becomes more sophis­ticated, it will be more likely to pick up attacks early or even sniff them out before they occur.

And as OTT proliferation shows no sign of abating, the sheer visibility of OTT networks presents a much more viable target for attacks. These threats, says Ontegenn, are also moving beyond just content theft. “Devices are now much more susceptible to hacking, and pirates can even turn them into platforms for launching cyberattacks,” he details. “This became evident by a recent DDoS attack that exploited DVRs, among many types of personal IoT devices, including baby monitors and home surveillance cameras.”

“It has become evident that security measures should no longer be confined to using encryption to prevent unauthorised access of distributed content — there is now an urgent need for security at the headend, and protecting the device as a whole.”

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