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News Corp allegedly hacked UK pay-TV competitor out of business

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Lee Gibling, founder of defunct hacking site THOIC, says that News Corp. company NDS paid him to hack and distribute codes for ITV, a rival of News Corp.'s Sky TV.

Satellite Dish
Satellite Dish

Rupert Murdoch's News Corp. empire may have been hacking more than just phones. Lee Gibling, former owner of hacking site The House of Ill Compute or THOIC, told BBC Panorama that he was paid by News Corp. company NDS to distribute pirated codes in order to bankrupt a rival to Sky TV. In the late 1990s, pay TV service ITV Digital — initially "On Digital" — was launched as a competitor to Murdoch's Sky TV service. However, codes for ITV's smart cards (which were used to authenticate users) quickly showed up on THOIC, allowing for widespread counterfeiting and helping to drive the fledgling company out of business. Now, Gibling says that ITV was no accidental target. Instead, NDS "delivered the actual software to be able to do this, with prior instructions that it should go to the widest possible community."

When ITV Digital shut down in 2002, some speculated that it had been deliberately targeted for piracy, a suspicion that was bolstered when The Guardian found emails that suggested NDS had paid for much of THOIC's upkeep. At the time, NDS admitted that it had helped fund THOIC, but said its involvement had been limited to buying information about potential security threats; head of security Ray Adams denied having any of the hacked codes. Now, Panorama says it has found emails in which "a hacked code was passed to Len Withall and Ray Adams from a technology expert inside the company," making this story less likely.

It's possible, of course, that Gibling's story or the emails the BBC has received are not accurate, but NDS has settled several past complaints about shady business practices, including one by Canal+, which manufactured ITV's smart cards. Canal+ alleged that NDS had counterfeited its smart cards in order to encourage piracy of its pay TV services. However, the suit was dropped when News Corp. acquired a company from Vivendi, the parent of Canal+. Tom Watson, a member of Parliament, has called for Ofcom to expand a current investigation of News Corp. to include Gibling's claims. "Clearly allegations of TV hacking are far more serious than phone hacking," he said. "It seems inconceivable that they would not want to look at these new allegations."