The Future of Encryption in the Media and Broadcasting Industry

By Stephen Fridakis, Vice President, Media & Tech Ops, HBO

Stephen Fridakis, Vice President, Media & Tech Ops, HBO

Broadcasters are using encryption to transmit programming to subscribers in a way that only those authorized can decrypt and view it. There are several applications for this kind of technology including secure distribution of copyrighted media (such as movies or music) and multicasting of such media over the internet or over cable television.

For many years, satellite providers have been transmitting one-way encrypted messages to subscribers. Each subscriber’s satellite or cable TV box includes a smartcard containing a key specific to the subscriber. Part of the media transmission includes the encrypted media with each key in circulation. As a result, the decoder identifies the part of the transmission that contains the encrypted key that matches the one in the card and uses it to decrypt the stream. When someone cancels their subscription, their key is not included in the stream anymore and cannot be used. Hijacking content is countered with access controls, digital rights management and forensic watermarking. To avoid set-top-box manipulation, manufacturers use technology to ring-fence the TV box’s chipset and safeguard sensitive data. Additionally, they use forensic watermarking to avoid screen capture. The broadcasting business utilizes encryption and other methods to safeguard content. Broadcasts are either encrypted when they are packaged for distribution, or more likely, using an external encryption component which performs just-in-time encryption. Upon client authentication, their key is validated and the content catalog to which they are entitled becomes accessible and can be decrypted on their device.

Streaming video over HTTPS is becoming quite popular for broadcasters that utilize several CDNs and want to add dynamic advertising to the broadcasted stream, HTTPS encrypts the content transmitted from the CDN and ensures that the advertisements embedded are not subject to tampering.

"Blockchain has the potential to increase profits for content creators and media companies and provide real-time consumption-based pricing"

Today’s 4G networks are already being surpassed by 5G, drastically improving bandwidth, capacity and reliability of mobile broadband. Mobile speeds of upward of 10 Gbps are a capability of 5G, a huge increase that will render next-generation wireless competitive with even the fastest fiber-optic wired networks. This new capacity will allow consumers to watch high definition video on their mobile devices and access virtual reality and augmented applications. In addition to these conventional improvements, 5G will incorporate internet of things and smart devices. The key concern will continue to remain cybercrime and the safety of our data. Cybercrime is ranked alongside terrorism as among the most serious threats.

Quantum communications is one technology that could solve this problem. Unlike conventional key based encryption, quantum key distribution encodes the encryption key on light particles. Anyone attempting to hijack this type of key will change its state, effectively leaving a hacker fingerprint, alerting the sender and the receiver that their information security had been breached.

The media supply chain necessitates limiting what is shared with vendors and suppliers and ensure that they safeguard the data, using it only for its intended purpose. While limitations are stated in contracts, organizations should also perform reputational and technical risk assessments confirming that these vendors can meet their obligations.

In addition to all the above, we recently saw the evolution of blockchain technology, something that can make content available and secure from pirates while disrupting the media supply chain and media licensing. Although blockchain has been associated with bitcoin and other digital currencies, over the last few months, we have seen several startups and a few productions use blockchain as part of media broadcasting.

Blockchain supports a decentralized distribution with transactions encrypted rendering cheating by changing or faking the transactions impossible. Agreed business rules, logic, and contract terms can also be programmed to automate transactions. These are known as ‘smart contracts’. This approach will soon become a transparent blockchain-based ledger that contains references to film and music assets and is used to control their rights. Smart contracts can then automate royalty payments based for accessing a movie, or a song including streaming.

Media content is becoming more personalized. The complexity of content development and distribution cannot be trusted in the hands of third-parties, where they are susceptible to attacks and misuse. In the near future, content providers will combine a blockchain to be used for access control. With a decentralized platform, business decisions and legal decisions about collecting, storing and sharing sensitive data will be simpler. Commercial or regulatory constraints can be programmed into the blockchain itself for automatic enforcement. In other situations, since it is (computationally) tamper-proof,the ledger can act as legal evidence for accessing (or storing) data.

All of these technologies rely on encryption in a different method than it has been used so far. Our industry is a contracts-based business that places a premium on the protection of intellectual property. Blockchain has the potential to increase profits for content creators and media companies and provide real-time consumption-based pricing.

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