Feds enlist hacker to foil piracy rings

Friday, 10 January 2003, 12:44 PM EST

Federal prosecutors will tell a U.S. District Court in Tampa today of a plea deal with a man they call one of the most skillful pirates of DirecTV and EchoStar signals. The deal includes his agreement to help them crack several international computer-chip-hacking groups.

Steven Woida has yet to be formally sentenced on his guilty plea to charges of conspiracy to steal satellite services, and the government will ask at a bond hearing that he be kept jailed for now.

It will be the first time officials will spell out in court details of a five-year effort to break up the networks of sophisticated code breakers who have targeted the U.S. satellite industry.

By selling codes for smart cards — the devices that instruct set-top decoders to unscramble satellite TV signals — hackers have enabled as many as 3 million people to illegally watch DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network for free. That amounts to an estimated $4 billion a year in lost revenue for the industry. DirecTV has 11 million paying subscribers. EchoStar has 8 million.

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