by Onpress “whir” Whirren for Comet Magazine
It’s that time of year again, time for the Starcast Song Contest. Since 2785, the Federation Broadcasting Coalition has hosted a friendly song contest, where each planet in the Federation sends an original song and performer to compete live on the Starcast GIN network. And when the performances are over, Federal citizens may vote for their favorites until a winner is decided.
Of course, that’s an ideal situation.
With the growing popularity of the SSC, more and more people, landers and spacers alike, try to view the broadcast. This isn’t an issue if you have a registered GIN receiver, licensed from the FBC. If you happen to be registered with the Empire, this is more difficult. Tuning to the GIN address of Starcast from an Imperial receiver will display the following message:
YOUR RECEIVER IS NOT LICENSED FOR THIS CONTENT. STARCAST IS A SERVICE OF THE FEDERATION BROADCASTING COALITION. FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE VISIT THE FOLLOWING GIN ADDRESS.
Not exactly singing and dancing, huh? But it is certainly a song and dance familiar to spacers. And it’s not even much better for Imperial citizens. They have their own version of Starcast, called Rogko, roll the R, operated out of the Imperial City on Blassna. On that channel, much like Starcast, they have their own programming, focused on cultural events pertinent to large groups of Imperial citizens. But, instead of festivals, religious ceremonies and song contests, they often get a steady stream of state propaganda. Back to my point, tune your receiver to Rogko from a Federation receiver and you’ll get this message:
THIS CONTENT IS NOT AVAILABLE FOR THIS RECEIVER. ROGKO IS A SERVICE OF THE IMPERIAL BROADCASTING AUTHORITY.
WE SHALL REMAIN.
Much more direct, huh? And a lot less helpful. So, much like the current tensions between those factions, there’s a telecommunication breakdown. But, there’s a group of enthusiasts who are trying to bridge this gap. The users of OpenGIN, a community site centered on hacking GIN receivers, allow savvy users to view almost any video or audio broadcast available on the GIN. I spoke with administrator Libraudite about their site’s goals.
What are the goals of OpenGIN?
OpenGIN offers various means to get through the barriers set up by faction broadcasting agencies. Whether this is in the form of a simple software exploit, to a chip embedded in the guts of the receiver unit, it lets people see and hear what they want to see and hear. There’s also a big focus on data privacy.
What’s your hacking background?
After graduating from my local academy, I studied computer science on my own. I was also getting into electronic music, so I wanted to watch the live festival streams, but they were often locked behind a factional filter. So, I found a way to spoof my location and the system never knew the wiser. I found that there were a lot of people like me, so I set up a basic forum for us to discuss receiver hacking, and it grew from there. It turned from a hobby of mine into my full-time job.
What’s the composition of your user-base like?
Most users live in the Neutrality, where there’s a big market for those who don’t want to pay license fees for their receivers. Unscrambling chips, custom firmwares, and stuff like that are all hot items in places like Teslovia’s marketplaces. You can go up to any street shop and buy a chip with a spoofed subscription to Battleball Unlimited and go watch the matches on your ship or apartment with a couple of minutes of setup. For those who don’t live in the Neutrality, they’re also very happy to ship the special chips through packet mail. Overall, everybody helps everybody out.
How do you make a living from your forum?
I run ads on every page generated by my server. I also offer premium accounts and special account features. Plus, I also have a Supporto account, which pays me a couple of hundred extra credits per month directly from the userbase. I don’t live a very extravagant life, so it works for me.
How have the broadcasting corporations reacted to hacking efforts?
The most benign and predictable response is a firmware update, or a back-end lockout that prevents legacy devices or older receivers from accessing modern streams. This can come at any time, though our users have predicted the update schedules. People also suspect that their software developers browse OpenGIN to get wind of the newest exploits, which is why their developers wait until the last minute to release them. On the other hand, some disgruntled developers have been rumored to post there, leaking diagrams and prototype firmwares.
What’s the biggest hacking find that your site has reported?
A couple of years ago, there was an exploit found in the FedStar-NEO, a popular receiver found in most new Federation-sourced spaceships. Since the range on the thing is so huge, you could watch broadcasts almost three systems away. OpenGIN got so much traffic that it was up and down for the next three days. People made mirrors of the exploit software and the information was reposted on a bunch of similar sites, so it ended up evening out after a while. I got a ton of ad revenue from all of the page views and clicks, I’ll tell you. It paid for another couple of months of hosting.
What are some of the risks of operating OpenGIN?
I get a lot of angry mail and threats from people claiming to be government representatives. Luckily, they don’t know where I am, so there’s no real gravity to any hostility I receive. It’s all just noise that I try to filter out. Still, I try to be cautious. The moment I get a cease and desist, I’ll dedicate my time to fight it.
Do you get more threats from any particular operating bodies?
Federation representatives are a lot more aggro than Imperial ones. Imperial representatives think that any spread of the Empire’s message is good, so it’s less often that they make a huge effort to prevent people from watching. Though, I wonder if that’s just astroturfing by Imperial plants on my forum. Whatever the case, I’m making good ad revenue.
Can you be more specific about the ‘data privacy’ part you mentioned earlier?
Both the FBC and the IBA want to know who is watching their streams, from where, for how long, and for what purpose. Users who don’t feel comfortable about their data being collected find ways to stop it. There’s been some recent efforts from the conglomerates themselves to be more open about the data they collect, too. I think this kind of transparency is very important for an open society. Though, as a user, I try to stay on the skeptical side. It’s kind of how I am.
What do you think about the future of region lock-outs?
I hope that these companies and the factional media agencies realize that they’re losing money on these arbitrary lockouts. Invoking the spirit of the Neutrality, profit trumps a hard-line political agenda. The market will find ways to correct itself, no matter how it pivots or turns. Though, if they relax their stance, I won’t have a website to run anymore. So, I’ll see what happens.
Thanks again for the interview.
Comet Magazine is copyright Comet Publishing, a Neutrality-owned freemag.