Rupert Goodwins' Diary

Monday 20/01/03When the ITV Digital liquidators told the million or so owners of set-top boxes that they had to send forty quid to keep them, the million or so owners expressed derision. In the end, Carlton-Granada's decision to give the ITV Digital liquidators the money for the set-top boxes was about the only thing they could do.

Monday 20/01/03
When the ITV Digital liquidators told the million or so owners of set-top boxes that they had to send forty quid to keep them, the million or so owners expressed derision. In the end, Carlton-Granada's decision to give the ITV Digital liquidators the money for the set-top boxes was about the only thing they could do. Otherwise they'd have been left with just two things -- the bill to collect all those valueless boxes, and a list of a million or so people who'd just become Sky subscribers. So they've salvaged that situation, even if they did make the worst of it by broadcasting a caption saying "Congratulations! The box is now yours!" that managed to annoy anyone who'd previously bought the box outright anyway, and particularly upset those who were taping whatever it was on that channel at the time. But there are more tales to tell of digital telly. The story didn't get very wide coverage, but the Chinese religious sect Falun Gong managed to hijack Chinese state television on several occasions last year, including coverage of the World Cup and broadcasts of the fifth anniversary of the Hong Kong handover. They did this by taking over the state-run Sinosat communications satellite, something that remains curiously easy to do with quite modest equipment. Although it didn't get much coverage outside the region, the events did cause some beads of sweat to break out on some very important brows across the world. With the huge increase in satellite, cable and terrestrial channels, the distribution networks have got concomitantly more complicated. In the good old days, the transmission chain was very well defined and had numerous safeguards to prevent someone feeding in unauthorised material at any point. Now it's much messier. Trouble is, the set-top boxes can all have their software updated over the air -- and they all assume that if something's being broadcast at them, it's kosher. No security. By and large, that's a safe assumption, but it soon became clear after the Sinosat incident that if someone did pull the same stunt over here and got it into their minds to broadcast sabotaged software, then there'd be nothing to stop them. All the boxes in the country could be vandalised at a stroke -- "WE OWN YOUR TV HA HA HA!!!" would be far from the worst thing they could do. There are software updates in the works to sort out this problem, so it probably won't happen. But it's slightly disturbing to realise that it could.