Hardware Infrastructure Global Viewpoint – May 2023

NAB – Broadcast Security

Protecting high value media assets has always been at the forefront of broadcasters’ minds. But as more broadcasters adopt IP with incredible speed and enthusiasm, IT security should be their very first thoughts.

For me, the overwhelming take-home from NAB was security. Cloud, IP, and hybrid were all dominant players, especially as vendors are processing video and audio asynchronously in datacenters, but IT security was prominent and is certainly a concern for us all.

When broadcast engineers think of security then generally, we think in terms of protecting high value media assets. We need to stop criminals from hacking networks and downloading the media to duplicate pirate copies of block buster movies. However, the recent move to mobile devices allowing viewers to watch their programs wherever they want, is proving to be another source of frustration for broadcasters.

Although broadcasters have a proven track record of protecting media assets, the whole concept of pay-as-you-go billing is relatively new. Apart from annual subscription services that rely on monthly bank transfers to provide greater choice for the viewer, the whole concept of pay-per-view payments from mobile devices is a relatively recent addition. And this is the area where cybercriminals are currently focusing their attention.

Users can download apps into their mobile devices relatively freely. There are some vendors who screen the apps prior to download but otherwise a viewer can often install an app without too much technical knowledge. Also, the operating systems for the viewers mobile device may not be updated as often as it should be, especially when the device has been “rooted”, leaving gaping holes in their security with well documented vulnerabilities. And this is where the challenges start.

A broadcaster may have designed and provided their own viewing app with highly secure billing facilities and be using the latest DRM to protect their content, but it’s not their apps that can be the source of the security issue. If a mobile device is accessing a broadcasters billing server, then it’s entirely possible that a compromised and completely unrelated app installed on the mobile device could be intercepting the data exchange. Furthermore, this kind of app will be accessing the data on the device prior to encryption before it is sent over the internet. Such an app would then stream the data to the cybercriminal’s servers. Consequently, the user could be quite innocently sharing their user credentials without realizing it.

One obvious solution is to bar all mobile devices that have been rooted, that is, bar any user that has been able to override the devices security from accessing the broadcasters pay-per-view media streams. However, not all countries have advanced cell infrastructures and users rely on old and outdated devices to access their media. If an international broadcaster was to disable access to rooted devices, then they could find themselves blocking significant revenue streams.

Also, it’s not just a case of making sure the mobile device accessing the broadcasters’ billing server has the latest operating system patches installed. Imagine if a mobile device vendor suddenly did an OS update half-an-hour before the Super Bowl, or some other major high value subscription media event, suddenly, millions of users could be barred from accessing the service because they didn’t have the latest OS version resulting in massive losses of revenue and possible intervention from the national regulator.

As with all things engineering, there is a compromise. Security vendors are now able to monitor access from mobile devices and determine whether these types of hacks have taken place. They won’t necessarily intervene but will flag security anomalies to the broadcaster who will then be able to decide on the best way to deal with the potential threat.

Security is now much more than protecting media assets, we also need to think about pay-as-you-go billing from a multitude of devices that vary greatly, as well as all the network issues that have been raised. But for security strategies to be effective, the broadcaster must build security into their platform at the very beginning of their IP infrastructure design, even before they’ve specified their GM PTP clock.