Broadcast signal intrusion

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Broadcast signal intrusion is a term given to the act of hijacking broadcast signals of radio, television stations, cable television broadcast feeds or satellite signals. Hijacking incidents have involved local TV and radio stations as well as cable and national networks.

Although television, cable and satellite broadcast signal intrusions tend to receive more media coverage, radio station intrusions are more frequent, as many simply rebroadcast a signal received from another radio station. All that is required is an FM transmitter that can overpower the same frequency as the station being rebroadcast. Other methods that have been used in North America to intrude on legal broadcasts include breaking into the transmitter area and splicing audio directly into the feed.[1]

As a cable television operator connects itself in the signal path between individual stations and the system's subscribers, broadcasters have fallen victim to signal tampering on cable systems on multiple occasions.

Punishments for violations[edit]

Laws on signal hijacking differ by country.

United States[edit]

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the original penalties of signal hijacking were $100,000 in fines and/or one year in prison until late 1987 or early 1988, when Congress passed a bill that would penalize violators with fines peaking to $250,000 and/or a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted.[citation needed] Those who engage in such acts are often referred to as "video pirates" or "video hackers". Hijacking a signal of any kind is a felony in the United States.[citation needed]

Confirmed events[edit]

"Vrillon" on Southern Television[edit]

In November 1977, a hoax audio message, purporting to come from outer space, was broadcast during an ITN news bulletin on Southern Television in the UK. The intrusion did not affect the video signal but replaced the programme audio with warnings as to the destiny of the human race and a disaster to affect "your world and the beings on other worlds around you." The IBA confirmed that it was the first time such a hoax transmission had been made.[2]

Captain Midnight on HBO[edit]

MacDougall's message as seen by HBO viewers.

At 12:32 am Eastern Time on April 27, 1986, HBO (Home Box Office) had its satellite signal feed from its operations center on Long Island in Hauppauge, New York interrupted by a man calling himself "Captain Midnight". The interruption occurred during a presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The intrusion lasted between 4 and 5 minutes and was seen by viewers along the East Coast. The man, who during the interruption also threatened to hijack the signals of Showtime and The Movie Channel, was later caught and identified as John R. MacDougall of Ocala, Florida. He was prosecuted shortly thereafter. Authorities were tipped off by a man from Wisconsin in a phone booth at a rest area off Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Florida. The man filing the report said that he overheard MacDougall bragging about it.

MacDougall's guilt was confirmed by an FCC investigation that showed he was alone at Central Florida Teleport at the time of the incident and a recording of the jamming video showed that the text was created by a character generator at that location. He was charged with transmitting without a radio license in violation of 47 U.S.C. § 301. MacDougall pled guilty and was fined $5,000 and served a year probation. Ambiguity about whether the 47 USC 301 charge was applicable since the transmitter had a license resulted in the passage of 18 U.S.C. § 1367 which made satellite jamming a felony.

MacDougall was able to perform the intrusion while working a second job as a master control operator at a satellite teleport in Florida, where he worked to make ends meet due to declining income from his satellite TV equipment business. He stated that he did it because he was frustrated with HBO's service rates, and that it was hurting his business selling satellite dishes (hence his second job at the teleport). The message, placed over SMPTE color bars, broadcast by MacDougall read:


GOODEVENING HBO
FROM CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT
$12.95/MONTH  ?
NO WAY !
[SHOWTIME/MOVIE CHANNEL BEWARE!]

Religious takeover[edit]

In September 1987, Playboy TV (then known as the Playboy Channel), based on the popular adult magazine, had its signal hijacked by a man later identified as Thomas Haynie[3] who was employed by the Christian Broadcasting Network. Similar to the Captain Midnight incident, Haynie replaced the regular broadcast with a colorbar test pattern over which he placed text messages demanding that viewers repent and find Jesus. He was indicted for a violation of 18 USC 1367 (satellite jamming). In a week-long trial in Norfolk, VA, evidence was produced by the prosecutor that showed that both the character generator and the transmitter at CBN matched the tape recording of the jamming. Haynie was convicted, sentenced to probation, and was suspended from his duties under the new provisions.[4]

Max Headroom incident[edit]

Screen shot of the Max Headroom hijacker

On November 22, 1987, an unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask intercepted the signals of two television stations in Chicago. Independent station WGN-TV (now a CW affiliate), owned by Tribune Company, was hijacked first. Its signal was hijacked during the sports report on its 9:00 pm newscast for about 25 seconds. Then came PBS station WTTW, where the man was seen and heard uttering garbled remarks before dropping his trousers, and was then spanked with a flyswatter before the screen went black. The interception occurred at about 11:00 pm during an episode of Doctor Who entitled "Horror of Fang Rock" and lasted almost 90 seconds. To this day, none of the individuals responsible for the intrusion have been identified. This incident got the attention of the CBS Evening News the next day and was talked about nationwide. The HBO incident was also mentioned in the same news report, presented by Frank Currier.

"Telewizja Solidarność" (TV Solidarity)[edit]

In September 1985, four astronomers at Poland's University of Toruń, Zygmunt Turlo, Leszek Zaleski, Piotr Lukaszewski and Jan Hanasz, used a home computer, a synchronizing circuit, and a transmitter to superimpose messages in support of the labor movement Solidarność (Solidarity) over state-run television broadcasts in Torun, including an episode of 07 zgłoś się. The messages read "Enough price increases, lies, and repressions. Solidarity Torun" and "It is our duty to boycott the election" (referring to the rigged Sejm elections of 1985) with the Solidarity logo.[5] The four men were eventually discovered and were charged with "possession of an unlicensed radio transmitter and publication of materials that could cause public unrest". At their sentencing, the judge noted their prize winning work in the Polish scientific community and gave each of them probation and a fine of the equivalent of US$100 each (or 3,000,000 old zlotys, now just 300 PLN).[6]

The era of Soviet pirate broadcasting[edit]

Broadcast signal intrusion was a common practice in the USSR during the 1970s and 1980s due to the absence of and high demand for any non-government broadcasting.[7]

In the mid-1970s so many pirates were operating around the city of Arkhangelsk, especially at night, that local people were urged to telephone reports of violators to a special number.[7]

Hijackers using call signs such as "cucumber", "Radio Millimeter", "Green Goat", "Fortune", and others, would overpower the signal on relay stations for wired radio networks in order to transmit their own programming, or transmit into wired radio networks during gaps in normal programming.[7] Even though the incidents appear to have been fairly common according to reports from the BBC,[7] most were not publicly acknowledged for policy reasons. Reports in newspapers typically referred to the hijackers as "radio hooligans broadcasting drivel, rudeness, vulgarity, uncensored expressions, and trashy music."[7] State news organizations also attempted smear campaigns against such pirate broadcasters, claiming that they had interfered with a state frequency used by Aeroflot, "preventing a doctor in an air ambulance from transmitting information about a patient."[7]

2006 Lebanon War[edit]

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel overloaded the satellite transmission of Hezbollah's Al Manar TV to broadcast anti-Hezbollah propaganda. One spot showed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with crosshairs superimposed on his image followed by three gunshots and a voice saying "Your day is coming" and shots of the Israeli Air Force destroying targets in Lebanon.[8]

2010 & 2012 & 2014 Gaza Wars[edit]

Throughout the recent Israeli/Palestinian Conflict, HAMAS overloaded the Israeli satellite transmission of Channel 10 and other Israeli channels to broadcast messages to Israeli military and Israeli people.

Other incidents[edit]

Television signal intrusions[edit]

On January 3, 2007 in Australia, during a broadcast of an episode of the Canadian television series Mayday on the Seven Network, an audio loop unexpectedly started playing, clearly saying in an American accent, “Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord.” This same voice message continued to repeat itself over and over during the show for a total of six minutes. A spokesman for Seven later denied that the transmission was a prank or a security breach and claimed that the repeated line was actually part of the original broadcast and said, “Jesus Christ one of the Nazarenes,” although there is hardly any similarity between the two phrases. Subsequent investigation by independent researchers revealed that the invading transmission was actually from a video taped news broadcast of a civilian truck being ambushed in Iraq. It remains unknown whether or not this was an intentional act of television piracy or a genuine glitch of some sort.[9][10]

On June 17, 2007, an intrusion incident occurred on Czech Television's Sunday morning programme Panorama, which shows panoramic shots of Prague and various locations across the country, especially mountain resorts. One of the cameras, located in Černý Důl in Krkonoše, had been tampered with on-site and its video stream was replaced with the hackers' own, which contained CGI of a small nuclear explosion in the local landscape, ending in white noise.[11] The broadcast looked authentic enough; the only clue for the viewers was the Web address of the artist group Ztohoven, which had already performed several reality hacking incidents before. Czech Television considered legal action against the group, and tourism workers in the area expressed outrage (since the programme serves to promote tourism in the areas shown).[12]

On July 13, 2007, a grainy photo of a man and woman interrupted Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA's digital or HD signal. The picture was not transmitted over the analog signal, however. The incident was deemed a genuine signal intrusion by various websites but has since been confirmed to be the result of an older HDTV encoder malfunctioning in the early morning hours and going undetected. Station management stated that the image was from an advertisement for The Oprah Winfrey Show.[13]

On February 11, 2013, Great Falls, Montana CBS affiliate KRTV had their Emergency Alert System system hijacked with an audible message warning viewers that "dead bodies are rising from their graves".[14][15] Later the same night in Marquette, Michigan, the same type of hijacking and reference to a "zombie invasion" was made over the EAS systems of ABC affiliate WBUP and PBS member station WNMU during primetime programming.[16][17] Shortly afterwards, PBS affiliate KENW of Portales, New Mexico was struck with a similar hacking incident, repeating similar information regarding zombies;[18] however, this led to the arrest of the hacker of the four television stations.[19]

Cable network feed intrusions[edit]

On May 1, 2007, a Comcast headend replaced the Disney Channel's program Handy Manny with hard-core pornography for viewers in Lincroft, New Jersey. Comcast's response to the ensuing complaints claimed "We are continuing to investigate the root cause of the incident."[citation needed] The incident remains unresolved.

On February 1, 2009, another Comcast headend, in Tucson, Arizona, replaced NBC affiliate KVOA's signal with graphic footage from the pornographic video Wild Cherries 5 in portions of Arizona for ten seconds[not in citation given (See discussion.)], interrupting Super Bowl XLIII between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter. Comcast claimed "Our initial investigation suggests this was an isolated malicious act. We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine who was behind this." KVOA also announced that it will be investigating the incident.[20][21] On February 4, 2011, former Cox Cable employee Frank Tanori Gonzalez was arrested by the FBI in relation to the case.[22]

On April 20, 2012, three minutes of a gay pornographic film was broadcast during a morning news show on CHCH TV in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada for Shaw cable viewers. The night before a cable was cut; while it was being fixed on the morning of the incident, the adult programming was spliced into CHCH's feed.[23][24]

Satellite feed intrusions[edit]

On September 18, 2012, the Disney Channel once again was interrupted on the Dish Network, replacing 6 minutes of Lilo & Stitch with a portion of a hardcore pornographic movie. The incident was reported to Dish Network.[25]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Kipp, Vicki W. "Tower Industry Part 11 - Tower Harassment". Retrieved 2007-04-25. 
  2. ^ "Source of hoax space broadcast stays a mystery". The Times. 28 November 1977. pp. 2, col. E. 
  3. ^ Jennings, David (2000). Skinflicks: The Inside Story of the X-Rated Video Industry. ISBN 1-58721-184-X. 
  4. ^ Bellows, Alan (January 9, 2007). "Remember, Remember the 22nd of November". Damn Interesting. Retrieved 2007-04-25. 
  5. ^ "(polish)". W.icm.edu.pl. 2006-05-18. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  6. ^ "(english)". W.icm.edu.pl. 1985-09-14. Retrieved 2009-07-15. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f "'Lords' and 'Knights' defy Soviet authority, 'pollute' the airwaves - CSMonitor.com". The Christian Science Monitor. January 18, 1984. Retrieved 8 January 2014. 
  8. ^ ""Psychological Operations during the Israel-Lebanon War 2006" by Herbert Friedman". Retrieved 2008-08-17. 
  9. ^ Mystery video audio dynamite
  10. ^ Was Channel 7 hacked by Jesus?
  11. ^ Youtube: Czech nuclear bomb prank hoax
  12. ^ Wohlmuth, Radek. "Umělci napadli vysílání ČT 2. Podívejte se jak" (in Czech). Retrieved 2007-06-17. 
  13. ^ Swann, Phillip. "Washington DC TV Station 'Hijacked' By Mystery Photo (archive.org)". Archived from the original on 2007-07-16. Retrieved 2007-07-13. 
  14. ^ "Montana TV Station’s Emergency Alert System Hacked, Warns of Zombie Apocalypse". Retrieved 2012-02-11. 
  15. ^ Howerton, Jason (11 February 2013). "Local Station Breaks Into Programming With Emergency Zombie Apocalypse Alert". Mediaite. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  16. ^ "Emergency Broadcast System hacked". WLUC-TV. 11 February 2013. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  17. ^ Thompson, Cynthia (11 February 2013). "ABC 10 victim of hackers". WBUP. Retrieved 12 February 2013. 
  18. ^ http://www.mediabistro.com/tvspy/eas-zombie-alert-hits-more-stations-finger-pointing-over-how-it-happened-begins_b80550
  19. ^ http://abc10up.com/update-eas-hacker-found/
  20. ^ Super Bowl Cut Off By Porn Scene, Sky News, February 3, 2009
  21. ^ Unknown, Unknown (2009-02-02). "Super Bowl porn hits US viewers". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-02-02. 
  22. ^ Man arrested in connection with airing of porn clip during 2009 Super Bowl
  23. ^ Oops! A morning news broadcast to remember
  24. ^ Hamilton, Ont., news station broadcasts gay porn
  25. ^ Children accidentally see porn footage during ‘Lilo and Stitch’ broadcast

External links[edit]