UAE: Cyberattack disrupts TV services, rattles some residents with graphic content from Gaza

The issue of hackers streaming a message for viewers remained unresolved at time of publication on Monday


Mazhar Farooqui

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Published: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 8:40 AM

Last updated: Mon 11 Dec 2023, 8:48 PM

Many UAE residents experienced an unexpected interruption to their television programmes on Sunday night as a cyber attack targeted set-top boxes, replacing regular content with information about Israeli atrocities in Palestine.

Subscribers to the affected service reported a sudden switch on European live channels, displaying a message stating, "We have no choice but to hack to deliver this message to you." Subsequently, screens shifted to an AI news anchor presenting a bulletin on the plight of Palestinian children and women in Israeli prisons, accompanied by visuals of them in distress.

AA*, a Dubai resident utilising the popular HK1RBOXX streaming device shared his experience, stating, "I was watching BBC News around 10.30 pm when the programme was abruptly disrupted, and instead, harrowing visuals from Palestine appeared on my screen. I watched transfixed as my screen froze, and a message from the hacker popped up in all caps against a green background. This was immediately followed by a news bulletin presented by an AI anchor. It was surreal and scary."

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JF*, a European woman using the streaming device, described a strange whirring noise preceding a hacking message on her TV screen during a quiz show. "Before I could grasp what was happening, I found myself watching a bespectacled AI anchor discussing the atrocities, accompanied by a ticker displaying the number of Palestinians killed and wounded so far. The videos were quite graphic, and I had children around. I didn't want them exposed to it, but we were caught unprepared. Every channel we switched to displayed the same content."

The hacking issue remained unresolved until time of publication on Monday.

In response to desperate messages from concerned subscribers, the set-top box provider issued an apology, acknowledging that their systems had been hacked. They assured subscribers that they were actively investigating the problem.

Obaidullah Kazmi, the Founder and CTO of the Dubai-based cybersecurity company Credo, shed light on the situation, suggesting that the streaming servers of the illicit IPTV network had been compromised. "Due to the inherently insecure nature of such unauthorised services which often lack robust security measures, there is a heightened risk to both the service and its user," Kazmi explained.

He warned that this vulnerability might extend to consumers' networks, urging caution for those using such services and highlighting the associated risks of accessing unlicensed content providers.

The extent of illegal decoder and pirate satellite dish usage in the UAE is unclear. However, broadcast piracy poses a significant financial impact on the industry, potentially costing hundreds of millions of dollars. Reports indicate that licensed retailers in the UAE's electronic equipment market for premium content may be losing up to 40 per cent of their business due to the widespread prevalence of illegal decoders and satellite dishes.

*Residents, quoted in the report, are identified only by initials for anonymity, given the illegal nature of the set-top box.


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