[mythtv-users] Be vewy, vewy quiet! We'a huntin' pirates! hehehehehehe!

Sam Varshavchik mrsam at courier-mta.com
Thu Jun 21 23:06:29 UTC 2007

I heard that there supposed to be a forum on zap2it, but, I dunno, it looks 
to be broken to me. After succesfully logging in, if I click on "Form Home", 
I just get thrown back to the login screen. Oh, well.

I believe that it is possible to implement technical measures to prevent 
wholesale piracy of program guide data, yet allow legitimate usage by 
MythTV, with some minimal impact.

It does require some overhead on the part of their servers, but, BUT, in 
exchange they'll get their hands on some additional demographical data. 
Specifically: who is subscribed to which programs, who is searching program 
guide for which keywords, and who is watching live TV (but not which 
channel), and when, approximately. I have no idea if this extra 
demographical data is sufficiently valueable to them to offset the extra 
load and development costs.

On MythTV's side there's also a bit of penalty to suffer. You have to be 
connected to the Internet when viewing live TV, and keyword/title searches 
require pings to the mothership -- but you need Internet access to grab 
program guide anyway, so that should not be a problem, aside from a brief 
delay waiting for the ping to come back with the necessary keys.

No, it's not what it seems at first glance. I think there's a clever way to 
get this done with minimal per-event overhead (the sum total of everyone's 
overhead is the unknown factor to worry about). The same approach can also 
be used by a MythTV community-based program guide initiative, to prevent 
piracy if some kind of arrangements are worked out to obtain program guide 
data from a commercial sources and resell it to MythTV subscribers, at-cost.

If I was able to log on to their forums, I'd post the details of my proposal 
there, but, over here I'll just give the capsule summary of my idea, and 
I'll extrapolate further, if there's interest.

Here's how I see things.

You need to be able to discriminate between wholesale theft of the entire 
program guide, versus normal usage by MythTV. If this is going to be a 
technical solution, you need to have a technical distinction, to exploit. 
Specifically, a technical distinction between a legitimate subscriber, and 
the pirate.

Here's what I think is the technical distinction. With wholesale theft, you 
need to grab the details of every program, on every channel. You need to 
"use" everything from the program guide.

On the other hand, look at an individual MythTV subscriber? What does he/she 

As far as I can tell, you and me only "use" program details about stuff we 
record. You and me also need to do simple keyword searches, and perhaps get 
quick snapshots of abbreviated program titles for short blocks of time, to 
display the channel grid.

That's the difference. We do not need to really know the details of all 
programs on every channel, 24x7. Just the stuff that we watch. That's the 
technical difference between us, legitimate subscribers, and whoever's 
stealing and reselling whole program data. That's the key difference that 
the technical solution can explot.  Here's how.

Encrypt program guide details with a symmetric key. A unique key for each 
subscriber, time, and channel. Require a ping to the mothership, to grab the 
key for the program whose full details you want to open. Anyone who tries to 
grab the details of every program in the guide is going to stand out like a 
sore thumb.

On the server side, you do //not// need any kind of a database dip to give 
back the right key. There are some tricks you can use to pull this off. The 
symmetric cipher key is a known secret, to both MythTV and the mothership. 
What the server returns the initial vector, to feed into the symmetric 
cipher decryptor function. And the initial vector is a hash of the 
subscriber ID, the time, the channel, and a secret salt known only to the 

If anyone's familiar with how syn-cookies anti-DDOS defense in the Linux 
kernel works, this is the same general idea.

You don't need to validate the subscriber ID. Just take the request, run all 
variables through MD5/SHA1/SHA256/whatever, send back the results. Done. 
MythTV now knows everything needed decrypt just this individual program's 

You still need to do searches. How do you search the program guide, if 
everything's encrypted? I think there's a way to do it. Also, the same 
solution also works for grabbing a small time slice's worth of abbreviated 
program titles, to throw up on the screen.

But, I've had a long day at the office, and I need to grab some dinner. 
Anyone listening? No need to spill more pages of electrons, if they'll all 
going to waste. My final thought, for now, is that I'm not fooling myself. 
Even if everyone agrees and begins working on this now, the necessary bits 
are unlikely to get done by the deadline. But, I think that the overall 
problem is doable, at least in theory.

What I'd love to know is whether or not TMS did consider a similar solution, 
but rejected it due to the overhead/development costs, or if they simply had 
no resources with background in cryptography/information security, that 
could design such a scheme. It would be a real shame if they chose to throw 
in the towel just because they just couldn't figure out how to safeguard the 
data, even though, I believe, it is technically feasible. It's one thing to 
reject it based on the cost/benefit analysis. It's another thing to give up 
just because you didn't have the technical know-how.

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