NDS Group is going to have to tighten its belt. After a mere day's deliberation, a US jury has cleared the company of deliberately cracking the competition's smart cards and circulating the cracks online. It has been found guilty of cracking just the one card, and is thus liable for a hefty $49.69, plus a grand in damages.
NDS makes security systems for pay-TV, Conditional Access (CA), systems based around smart cards. The CA business is fiercely competitive, with only a few players chasing a small number of customers.
All CA companies spend time looking at the competition's systems, which involves trying to break them. Old CA systems relied on a single secret, so if that secret were lifted from a competitor's card and shared on the internet then competitor's customers would lose money, and the competitor would lose business.
UK-based NDS had been accused of paying hackers to break the security on the DISH Network pay-TV system, and continuing to pay those hackers even when their history of illegal hacking had become known.
The hackers admitted examining the CA system used by DISH and being paid by NDS to do so, but the jury cleared the company of sharing that information.
This decision has enabled both sides to claim victory, with DISH Networks pointing out that "the jury concluded that NDS violated the Federal Communications Act and the California Penal Code", while NDS defends itself by claiming "the jury... overwhelmingly exonerated NDS Group".
But DISH Networks was the company asking for millions in damages, and had to admit it was "disappointed in the jury's damages award".
Meanwhile, NDS accused the media of being obsessed with the possible involvement of their majority shareholder News Corporation, to which we can only plead guilty as charged. ®