NEW YORK -- Federal prosecutors will tell a U.S. District Court in Tampa today of
a plea deal with a man they call one of the most skillful pirates of DirecTV and
EchoStar signals. The deal includes his agreement to help them crack several
international computer-chip-hacking groups.
Steven Woida has yet to be formally sentenced on his guilty plea to charges of conspiracy to steal satellite services, and the government will ask at a bond hearing that he be kept jailed for now.
It will be the first time officials will spell out in court details of a five-year effort to break up the networks of sophisticated code breakers who have targeted the U.S. satellite industry.
By selling codes for smart cards the devices that instruct set-top decoders to unscramble satellite TV signals hackers have enabled as many as 3 million people to illegally watch DirecTV and EchoStar's Dish Network for free. That amounts to an estimated $4 billion a year in lost revenue for the industry. DirecTV has 11 million paying subscribers. EchoStar has 8 million.
Prosecutors will describe their actions today in the case involving Woida, who was arrested Oct. 11 as he was making progress toward cracking the code for DirecTV's latest smart card, known as the P-4, they say. He is believed to be one of just a few dozen people with the computer know-how and contacts to pull this off.
Had he succeeded, it would have had "disastrous financial consequences" for DirecTV, according to the criminal complaint against Woida filed by the Customs Service in Tampa. The company's anti-piracy efforts heavily depend on the new card's security.
Woida, who has also used the name Steven Frazier, has been jailed since his arrest despite the plea deal. He will ask the judge to free him on bond. U.S. attorneys will argue that he's a flight risk, saying he was arrested in Dallas as he was about to board a flight to Cabo San Lucas, Mexico. Court records say he booked the flight immediately after Customs agents found computer chips and other hacking gear in his luggage on his return from a trip to Canada where, they say, he met with another hacker working on DirecTV's card.
Had they succeeded, they could have sold the code to a maker of hacking equipment or sold hacked cards directly to pirates via the Internet.
Now, officials expect Woida to provide help to foil attacks from Tunisia, Canada, Hong Kong and elsewhere on the USA's computer-based businesses.
He already has a reputation among world hackers. According to Customs' search warrant affidavit, Woida told them that after the Sept. 11 terror attacks "he received e-mails from unknown individuals in Afghanistan requesting that he perform hacking services for them." He told Customs he didn't respond to the requests.
Federal prosecutors declined to comment beyond the court documents. Woida's lawyer didn't return a call.