In this regional exclusive, UAE Government officials reveal how they won a major battle in the war against piracy, blocking access to rogue websites offering local users access to copyrighted broadcast content.
The Arabian Anti-piracy Alliance (AAA) and the UAE Ministry of Economy (MoE) are celebrating a victory against pay TV pirates after initiating what they claim to be a world first in counter piracy initiatives.
The project began during the Euro 2008 Championships in the summer and involved one specific method of pay TV piracy that uses the internet to re-transmit components of the security over the internet.
So called ‘sharing-piracy' re-broadcasts the security ‘keys', a series of control words refreshed constantly during broadcast, enabling non-subscribers to access pay TV signals.
The MoE claims that the growth in internet usage throughout the UAE has led to an increase in this form of piracy.
The latest AAA/MoE anti-piracy initiative was enforced in the second week of June 2008, coinciding with the Euro 2008 football championships. The investigation immediately led to the identification and disruption of 10 internet sites.
This action marks the first of its kind in the UAE and the world against copyright violations, with more unique strategies also in the pipeline.
"We received communications that illegal operators were broadcasting unsubscribed Euro 2008 matches and other programs over the internet and promptly coordinated with enforcement authorities to conduct a raid," says an MoE source.
"We were able to identify 10 foreign internet links and immediately ordered the disruption of local internet connections to these addresses. We are currently investigating similar cases and are arranging the proper protocols to ensure that the identification and disruption procedures are both swift and effective."
The AAA's IT team purchased a range of decoder boxes widely available in the Middle East and connected to the pirated signals and the internet at the same time.
Pirate decoders that are receiving security keys via the internet to circumvent security measures hold the name of the server or the IP address of the server that is distributing those keys. It is then possible to search for this particular server name or IP address.
Using a network protocol analyser, in this case Wireshark, traffic going to and from the decoder can be monitored and the IP addresses that are re-transmitting the keys identified. In this particular instance, the AAA scrutinised this data for fifteen days before identifying the most prolific sources of the keys.
For users in the UAE, the predominant sources were four Korean-based IP addresses with other, lesser offenders found in Egypt, Tunisia, Cyprus and Saudi Arabia.
Following the technical phase of the action, the next stage involved the UAE's Telecommunications Regulatory Authority (TRA).
Once the MoE had approved the blocking of these IP addresses, the TRA was requested to oversee these blocks by passing the details onto the country's two internet service providers, du and Etisalat.
"Cases of pay TV piracy have been increasing in the UAE, with dishonest operators showing more confidence that they can elude the law and the efforts of authorities concerned to prevent this crime," says HE Mohammed Ahmed Bin Abdulaziz Alshihhi, Undersecretary of the MoE.
"The recent raids show the effectiveness of government-coordinated operations in tracking down and sanctioning internet-based piracy. The MoE will continue its efforts to combat intellectual property rights (IPR) violators and sustain our commitment to applying international standards and laws to protect the economy, investments and consumers."
The AAA has hired a special full-time IT team to track down IP addresses that offer access to copyrighted content and television transmissions. The addresses are reported to the Ministry, which in turn coordinates with the TRA on the final sanction against violators just as they did during the Euro 2008 disruption.
This and other AAA initiatives have proven to be effective in the UAE and are being replicated by the Alliance in other Arab countries such as the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Kuwait, Bahrain, Qatar and other GCC countries, in close coordination with the concerned local authorities.
"Although private entities such as the AAA have been gaining ground in the regional fight against piracy, the most successful initiatives have been those involving close governmental cooperation," says Ola Khudair, deputy CEO, AAA.
"We hope that other Middle Eastern countries will follow the UAE's example and implement their own unique and effective methods to stamp out piracy. We are confident that the sustained efforts of the private and public sectors will significantly contribute to controlling and eventually eradicating various forms of piracy. For our part, we commend the MoE for its ongoing efforts to protect IPR and support the region's strong stand against piracy."
The implementation of an anti-piracy initiative with high-level government support will be a comfort to businesses across several sectors that are commercially impacted by piracy. Pay TV operators are likely to be particularly pleased with the signal that reams of legislation and recommendations are now being enforced.
The AAA says it will continue to monitor this activity and will block further IP addresses as and when they are identified as legitimate targets.
"We have noticed that the pirates have now given up on one particular receiver they were using, LinkSat. It's completely dead now," says Khudair. "We just have to wait and see what technology they come up with next. It's an ongoing process."
In another move to fight piracy, the Ministry had recently issued orders to all national ports of entry and federal customs to confiscate illegally imported decoder boxes. The government agency has also directed successful targeted raids against vendors of such illegal equipment. The latest move against a software source widens the reach of the region's anti-piracy work substantially.
A sustained and extensive effort across the Middle East will be required to continue to take the battle to the pirates. The latest weapon in the AAA armoury can only be good news for the region's besieged broadcasters.