We are now in the post-smartcard era, Verimatrix claims

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    Verimatrix claims we are now in the post-smartcard era, characterized by Pay TV operators introducing cardless CA at the first opportunity, like when transitioning customers from analogue to digital or from SD to HD or replacing set-top boxes in customer homes for any other reason. Speaking at IBC, Steve Oetegenn, Chief Sales and Marketing Officer at Verimatrix, says new STBs, with secure zones inside their SoCs (System on Chips), provide a hardware anchor for a cardless CA system, removing the need for external security hardware in the form of a smartcard. The argument is that smartcards are now redundant.

    The post-smartcard era will see a mixture of legacy smartcard systems alongside a growing number of cardless CA systems, according to Oetegenn. In some instances a Pay TV operator will use both approaches in their network, using DVB Simulcrypt to operate their existing smartcard solution alongside a new (Verimatrix) cardless CA. He cites Com Hem in Sweden and UCN Networks, the Indian cable operator, as examples of where Verimatrix now provides its cardless CA alongside an existing smartcard system from another company. “UCN are going through an analogue to digital transition and all the new set-top boxes and services are rolling out with Verimatrix CA,” he reveals.

    According to Oetegenn, 2012-13 was the year when we reached the tipping point at which platform operators started looking towards cardless CA as the future. “Currently, 90% of our new business or business opportunities are for cardless solutions. The figure was more like 40% a year ago. This was the year when it really switched.”

    This is not just a reflection on where Verimatrix is doing business, although it is picking up customers thanks to the analogue-to-digital transition in India and Latin America, for example. “There are regional differences but this is an attitude shift we have seen everywhere,” Oetegenn confirms.

    There are several factors that have led to this change in attitude, he says. First, the nature of the security threat is changing. Given the ease with which content can be stolen from the Internet, hackers are less inclined to commit the time and effort needed to hack smartcards, but there is a vulnerability they do target and that is the communications path between the smartcard and the STB, where they try to access the Control Words, the keys that unlock the content.

    In new STBs this vulnerability is removed because the CA functions are performed deep inside the STB using more secure processors. “STB platforms have become a lot smarter,” says Oetegenn. “With cardless, you still have security based on hardware but with the secure processors you eliminate that point of vulnerability between the smartcard and the central processing and memory.”

    The other factor that led to the ‘tipping point’ in attitudes was the growing importance of multiscreen TV. “You cannot put a smartcard in an Apple iPad,” Oetegenn notes. As Verimatrix has pointed out before, the introduction of multiscreen TV is another point at which platform operators question their future roadmap. The company provides the means to unify rights management across various DRMs and its own cardless and also smartcard-based CA.

    Verimatrix does have its own smartcard CA solution, prompting Oetegenn to emphasize: “We are not talking about the post-smartcard era because we cannot offer smartcards; we can and we are shipping them. We can provide a Verimatrix solution where smartcards co-exist with a cardless set-top box.”

    We should expect this kind of hybrid deployment to become more commonplace. Oetegenn concludes: “Hybrids will be with us as long as it takes to get the older STBs out of the market where there are legacy solutions. But in markets where we are working on analogue-digital transitions we are seeing companies leapfrog smartcards and go direct to cardless solutions.”


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