cable companies frying illegal boxes?

first of all, this isn’t a ‘how can I get free cable?’ thread, so save all your sanctimonious preaching.
personally, I’ve got dish — this is some story I heard from a friend of mine, and I’m curious.

there are all these ‘stealth’ boxes, or basically home brewed cable boxes out there to rip off free cable, right?
I heard that cable companies are now sending some kind of “surge” that fries these boxes.

is this true, and how exactly does this work, because it sounds like a crock to me.
could they target this, or would it have to be some ‘wide beam’ thing, and if so, why wouldn’t it harm the legal boxes?

No, they do not do this, as it would not only hurt legal boxes, but VCR’s, TV’s and computers hooked into the cable lines, as well as cable modems connected. On of the large parts of the push to digital cable is to stop the cheater boxes. The digital boxes have two way communications with the cable company, and can report if they’ve been hacked. The cable company can then shut down the box.

the odd thing is, my friend seems to think this story started from something off npr.
I guess that’s how all these stories go, but I was just wondering if anybody had heard a story that might be mistaken for this by some goof.

I thought digital cable was also victimized by these boxes.
the story I heard was that you need to get a serial #, and some guy will build you a box.
cable companies can detect these on an individual level?
is it something they have to actively search for?

Cable companies do “zap” cable boxes, but not with a power surge.

AFAIK there are two ways to steal cable services (non-digital). I don’t know how common each one is.

The first way employs a simple electronic device pressed against the cable box. It causes the “switches” to open and allows all programming to come through. The “bullet” sent by the cable company about once a month resets all boxes to their registered state. In my area, the people who perform this “service” charge $10 a pop with a 10-day guaranty.

The second way is to have the chip replaced with an altered chip. This allows all programming to come through. The cable company supposedly has a “bullet” for these boxes also, which renders the chip inoperable and otherwise renders the box useless. This opened the legal question of destruction of property. I don’t know if it has been challenged in a court of law.

how do they know to send these ‘bullets’ that attack illegal chips?

my impression was that cable was a free flowing stream, and you paid them to come out and put certain filters on your faucet.
how can they tell who has illegal chips, and how can they direct these smart bombs to their targets?

I can pretty much guarentee there’s nothing physical about this if it exists.
AFAIK, most decoder systems have the ability to be updated remotely. To get rid of the leechers, you want to send an update that acts differently on your hardware than hacked hardware, and use the difference to your advantage. For example, using random chunks of ROM for values, meaning (until someone hacks your new scheme and you have to change it again), users have to be using your actual code.

There’s a story that sounds like yours in this old slashdot article.

This is an “urban legend” that dates back to the old telephone trouble shooting “breakdown sets” used to find faults in lead/paper cables. Breakdown sets put out 630 volts DC and welded any fault or wet spots solid so they could be easily located using a tone generator and coil. Their use was discontinued with the advent of PIC (Plastic Insulated Conductors) and Digital systems but the “war stories” are still around.
They were never used and wouldn’t work on cablevision system’s but these trivial details never seem to bother the “experts”.

Cillasi’s second example is my experience working for pirates. I’ve not seen the first. Also common is using a different brand or make with compatible re-syncing. Cable companies now use different scrambling for different channels defeating the use of another box method.

A signal is sent such as serial number requests. Non valid reponses are noted. Tempest finds the exact location. One of my boss’s customers actually opened the door to the “Cable Police” with the TV on in the background.
P.S. I am no longer in the business for ethical and “investment risks” reasons.

superfreakicus, as far as I know in my state, it’s not illegal to buy your own cable tv decoder box because the cable company can’t force you to pay rent for their box. So, I don’t know what you mean by illegal box.

I mean a box that allows you to watch cable channels w/o paying the cable company for them.

acid kid,
these serial requests — are they blanket, or do they send a specific request to a specific user?
must be periodically blanket, right?
once a culprit is located w/the blanket request, is there some code they can send to disable the box, or do they just have to visit the house?

this is all a lot more complicated than I thought, so I find it pretty interesting.
especially that whole thing w/satellite, mentioned in the slashdot link above.

thanks for all the info, so far.

What the request is I don’t know. It could be a simple AT modem type of command. I didn’t work for but against the cable company.
Look at it this way. How does pay per view work? You select a movie on your remote. Signal goes to cable company. Signal comes from cable to your box saying permit this movie. Now if I was the cable company I’d periodically poll all machines. And if an odd signal came back I’d investigate. With a large distributions system you couldn’t isolate a single machine but you could narrow down the general geographical location.

In my experience the box is usually an older model or different brand that will not respond or responds incorrectly to the signal. So no, they have to hunt. Standard instructions to customers was do not allow the “Cable Police” to inspect their system inside your house. If you are paying for basic cable and decoding premium channels then there isn’t much they can do without direct evidence.

All of this is changing with the use of digital signals. Descrambling boxes are built for inserting sync into channel 4. Converted or other brand cables boxes work for channels 0-99. I don’t know the state of digital piracy for channels 100 and up.