Smarter Than A Card

Why smart cards cannot prevent unauthorized access to 4K and UHD content.


Set-top boxes (STBs) were initially secured by Conditional Access System (CAS) smart cards. However, this approach is no longer effective. Smart cards cannot prevent unauthorized access to premium 4K and UHD content, as they are not designed to protect the interface between the card and box, or the STB SoC itself. This is one of the reasons why cardless CAS set-top boxes, equipped with a hardware-based root-of-trust, are increasing in popularity amongst major operators such as Dish TV India. A hardware root-of-trust, provided by platforms such as Rambus’ CryptoMedia, offers operators robust security protection with an integrated security core that acts to effectively decrease potential attack vectors. Moreover, eliminating the smart card significantly reduces cost, for both short-term BOM and long-term liability in the form of frequent card swaps.

It should be noted that not all hardware security cores are created equal. One important consideration is that any hardware security core should be compatible with multiple leading CAS and DRM systems. This ensures operators are not locked into a single vendor for the entire lifetime of a set-top box. Moreover, the ability to function alongside numerous CAS and DRM systems can potentially enable new ways of securely distributing pay content, offering tangible benefits to both DTH operators and OTT distributors. For example, operators can provide their subscribers OTT content alongside broadcast content on the same set-top box, using the same robust hardware security, while maintaining cryptographic isolation between the different systems.

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