Broadcast signal intrusion: Wikis


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Broadcast signal intrusion is a term given to the act of hijacking broadcast signals of radio and television stations. Hijacking incidents have involved local TV and radio stations as well as cable and national networks.


Method of intrusion

For analog stations it is relatively easy to break into the transmission network. All that is needed is to determine the frequency used in the studio-to-transmitter link, then generate a higher-powered signal at the same frequency from a position near the broadcast transmitter site, essentially jamming the original signal. The input stage of a cheap video sender can produce the right kind of signal. A low-power microwave signal generator or a home-made equivalent from easily available components provides the signal (which is pointed at the receiving dish antenna). Most larger stations encrypt their signal, in which case one would just jam the signal, as is the case with digital. Most TV and radio stations are extremely vulnerable, but lack of knowledge has kept this from being a problem.

Punishments for violations

Laws on signal hijacking differ by country.

United States

According to the Federal Communications Commission, the original penalties of signal hijacking were $100,000 in fines and/or one year in prison until late 1987 or early 1988, when Congress passed a bill that would penalize violators with fines peaking to $250,000 and/or a maximum of 10 years in prison if convicted. Those who engage in such acts are often referred to as "video pirates" or "video hackers". Hijacking a signal of any kind is a felony in the United States.

Confirmed events

Captain Midnight on HBO

MacDougall's message as seen by HBO viewers.

At 12:32 am Eastern Time on April 26, 1986, HBO (or Home Box Office) had its signal hijacked from its satellite tower in Long Island by a man calling himself "Captain Midnight". The interruption occurred during a presentation of The Falcon and the Snowman. The intrusion lasted between 4 and 5 minutes and was seen by viewers along the East Coast. The man, who during the interruption also threatened to hijack the signals of Showtime and The Movie Channel, was later caught and identified as John R. MacDougall of Ocala, Florida. He was prosecuted shortly thereafter. Authorities were tipped off by a man from Wisconsin in a phone booth at a rest area off Interstate 75 in Gainesville, Florida. The man filing the report said that he overheard MacDougall bragging about it. MacDougall was fined $5,000 and served a year probation. MacDougall stated that he did it because he was frustrated with HBO's service rates. He also said that it was hurting his business selling satellite dishes. The message, placed over SMPTE color bars, broadcast by MacDougall read:

$12.95/MONTH  ?

Religious takeover

In September 1987, Playboy TV (then known as the Playboy Channel), based on the popular adult magazine, had its signal hijacked by a man later identified as Thomas Haynie who was employed by the Christian Broadcasting Network. He was convicted and was suspended from his duties under the new provisions.[1]

Max Headroom incident

Screen shot of the Max Headroom incident

On November 22, 1987, an unidentified man wearing a Max Headroom mask intercepted the signals of two television stations in Chicago. Independent station WGN-TV (now a CW affiliate), owned by Tribune Company, was hijacked first. Its signal was hijacked during the sports report on its 9:00 pm newscast for about 25 seconds. Then came PBS station WTTW, where the man was seen and heard uttering garbled remarks before dropping his trousers, and was then spanked with a flyswatter before the screen went black. The interception occurred at about 11:00 pm during an episode of Doctor Who entitled Horror of Fang Rock and lasted almost 90 seconds. To this day, none of the individuals responsible for the intrusion have been identified. This incident got the attention of the CBS Evening News the next day and was talked about nationwide. The HBO incident was also mentioned in the same news report, presented by Frank Currier.

"Telewizja Solidarność" (TV Solidarity)

In September 1985, four astronomers at Poland's University of Torun, Zygmunt Turlo, Leszek Zaleski, Piotr Lukaszewski and Jan Hanasz, used a home computer, a synchronizing circuit, and a transmitter to superimpose messages in support of the labor movement Solidarność (Solidarity) over state-run television broadcasts in Torun. The messages read ""Enough price increases, lies, and repressions. Solidarity Torun" and "It is our duty to boycott the election" with the Solidarity logo.[2] The four men were eventually discovered and were charged with "possession of an unlicensed radio transmitter and publication of materials that could cause public unrest". At their sentencing, the judge noted their prize winning work in the Polish scientific community and gave each of them probation and a fine of the equivalent of US$100 each (or 3,000,000 old zlotys, now just 300 PLN). The average month salary was equal to $20USD.[3]

The era of Soviet pirate broadcasting

According to numerous claims, memoirs and witness reports,[4][5][6] broadcast signal intrusion was a common practice in the USSR during the 1970s and 1980s, due to the absence of and high demand for any non-government broadcasting. Hijackers would overpower the signal on relay stations for wired radio networks in order to transmit their own programming, or transmit into wired radio networks during gaps in normal programming. Even though the incidents appear to have been fairly common, few of them were publicly reported for policy reasons.

2006 Lebanon War

During the 2006 Lebanon War, Israel overrode the satellite transmission of Hezbollah's Al Manar TV to broadcast anti-Hezbollah propaganda. One spot showed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah with crosshairs superimposed on him followed by three gunshots and a voice saying "Your day is coming" and shots of the Israeli Air Force destroying targets in Lebanon.[7]

Other incidents

In November 1977, a hoax audio message, purporting to come from outer space, was broadcast during an ITN news bulletin on Southern Television in the UK. The intrusion did not affect the video signal but replaced the programme audio with warnings as to the destiny of the human race and a disaster to affect "your world and the beings on other worlds around you." The IBA confirmed that it was the first time such a hoax transmission had been made.[8]

In 2002, Falun Gong practitioners claimed to have broken into CCTV, the major television broadcaster in Mainland China, and other local stations in China to broadcast Falun Gong propaganda.[9]

On January 3, 2007 in Australia, during a broadcast of an episode of the Canadian television series Mayday on the Seven Network, an audio loop unexpectedly started playing, clearly saying in an American accent, “Jesus Christ, help us all, Lord”. This same voice message continued to repeat itself over and over during the show for a total of six minutes. A spokesman for Seven later denied that the transmission was a prank or a security breach and claimed that the repeated line was actually part of the original broadcast and said, “Jesus Christ one of the Nazarenes”, although there is hardly any similarity between the two phrases. Subsequent investigation by independent researchers revealed that the invading transmission was actually from a video taped news broadcast of a civilian truck being ambushed in Iraq. It remains unknown whether or not this was an intentional act of television piracy or a genuine glitch of some sort.

On June 17, 2007, an intrusion incident occurred on Czech Television's Sunday morning programme Panorama, which shows panoramic shots of Prague and various locations across the country, especially mountain resorts. One of the cameras, located in Černý Důl in Krkonoše, had been tampered with on-site and its video stream was replaced with the hackers' own, which contained CGI of a small nuclear explosion in the local landscape, ending in white noise. The broadcast looked authentic enough; the only clue for the viewers was the Web address of the artist group Ztohoven, which had already performed several reality hacking incidents before. Czech Television is currently considering legal action against the group, and tourism workers in the area have expressed their outrage (since the programme serves to promote tourism in the areas shown).[10]

On July 13, 2007, a grainy photo of a man and woman interrupted Washington, D.C. ABC affiliate WJLA's digital or HD signal. The picture was not transmitted over the analog signal, however. The incident was deemed a genuine signal intrusion by various websites but has since been confirmed to be the result of an older HDTV encoder malfunctioning in the early morning hours and going undetected. Station management stated that the image was from an advertisement for The Oprah Winfrey Show.[11]


It is a more frequent event to intrude on various radio stations, as many simply rebroadcast a signal received from another radio station. All that is required is an FM transmitter that can overpower the same frequency as the station being rebroadcast. Other methods that have been used in North America to intrude on legal broadcasts include breaking into the transmitter area and splicing audio directly into the feed.[12]

Cable television

As a cable television operator connects itself in the signal path between individual stations and the system's subscribers, broadcasters have fallen victim to signal tampering on cable systems on multiple occasions:

On May 1, 2007, Comcast replaced the Disney Channel's program Handy Manny with hard-core pornography for viewers in Lincroft, New Jersey. Comcast's response to the ensuing complaints claimed "We are continuing to investigate the root cause of the incident."[13]

On February 1, 2009, Comcast in Tucson, Arizona replaced NBC affiliate KVOA's signal with graphic footage from a pornographic film in portions of Arizona for ten seconds, interrupting the Super Bowl XLIII competition between the Arizona Cardinals and the Pittsburgh Steelers during the fourth quarter. Comcast claimed "Our initial investigation suggests this was an isolated malicious act. We are conducting a thorough investigation to determine who was behind this." KVOA also announced that it will be investigating the incident.[14][15]

The incidents remain unresolved.

In fiction

Broadcast signal intrusion is used as a plot device in many genres of fiction. Common fictional usages of the act include the depictions of technologically advanced space aliens or countercultural figures hijacking broadcast media in order to easily spread their messages to the general population, notably in the 2005 film V for Vendetta, where it served as a major plot device. The opening sequence to the science-fiction series The Outer Limits claimed to be another example, with its famous line, "Do not attempt to adjust your television set...We are controlling the transmission." In parody (such as "Weird Al" Yankovic's 1989 film "UHF"), broadcast interception may be used to comic effect as a tool to discredit on-air broadcast personalities by interrupting them with rebuttal or simply as a means to broadcast nonsense in place of mainstream programming.

See also


  1. ^ Bellows, Alan (January 9, 2007). "Remember, Remember the 22nd of November". Damn Interesting. Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  2. ^ "(polish)". 2006-05-18. Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  3. ^ "(english)". Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  4. ^ "Главная страница сайта" (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  5. ^ "Проводное радио за границей. Использование радиоточки для личной связи. Пеленгация." (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  6. ^ "РУКОВОДСТВО ПО ПИРАТСКОМУ РАДИОВЕЩАНИЮ" (in Russian). Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  7. ^ ""Psychological Operations during the Israel-Lebanon War 2006" by Herbert Friedman". Retrieved 2008-08-17.  
  8. ^ "Source of hoax space broadcast stays a mystery", The Times, 28 November 1977, p. 2, col. E.
  9. ^ "Falun Dafa". Retrieved 2009-07-15.  
  10. ^ Wohlmuth, Radek. "Umělci napadli vysílání ČT 2. Podívejte se jak" (in Czech). Retrieved 2007-06-17.  
  11. ^ Swann, Phillip. "Washington DC TV Station 'Hijacked' By Mystery Photo (". Retrieved 2007-07-13.  
  12. ^ Kipp, Vicki W.. "Tower Industry Part 11 - Tower Harassment". Retrieved 2007-04-25.  
  13. ^ Disney Channel Horror: Customers Get Porn Instead, CBS News, May 1, 2007
  14. ^ Super Bowl Cut Off By Porn Scene, Sky News, February 3, 2009
  15. ^ Unknown, Unknown (2009-02-02). "Super Bowl porn hits US viewers". BBC News. Retrieved 2009-02-02.  

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