Encryption is Key to Live Streaming Success (No Pun Intended)

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This is the third of five articles examining the decision-making process behind the creation of Sky's state-of-the art live streaming services. See the bottom of this article for links to the earlier installments. The author will be delivering the keynote at the 2018 Streaming Forum in London.

If you asked most people what they hold dearest and want to protect most, you'll likely hear them say "my family and loved ones." As human beings, we naturally feel and understand this, and so make rational choices to wrap layers of protection around those that cannot protect themselves. Insurance is one tool we use to offer us peace of mind. Another is security through monitoring and alarms to alert us when something changes at home and we need to respond.

Our business is no different. As a broadcaster that both produces original content and distributes other people's content, we also have an inherent responsibility placed on us to protect that IP. One of the primary tools at our disposal is to use encryption.

Most of us will regularly come into contact with encryption systems, such as when we use online banking to check our balance or make a purchase at an online retailer. We should always be looking for the small padlock in the web browser's address bar or hidden within our mobile phone apps. Because of encryption, we feel safe when making these transactions and nowadays don't even recognise them because we take it for granted.

Digital rights management, or DRM for short, is a set of technologies that allows us to encrypt our high-value content and effectively convert it into something that is practically impossible to watch without having the right key. Within a typical DRM system, a unique encryption key will be generated for every live channel and is changed frequently. Encryption can be done in one of two ways. The first takes place at the packager, and the second is using an external encryption component which performs just in time encryption.

Assuming you're a customer and have signed in, we next perform an entitlement check to validate the content you are allowed to view. Your client will receive an encryption key which it uses to decrypt the content and provide it to the media player on your device. 

With this in mind, we can constantly monitor our live streams across the internet to ensure viewers get the quality and security they expect from Sky.

Looking to the future, there will likely be a significant increase in the number of encrypted video streams delivered over HTTPS, which is something YouTube has been offering for several years. The benefit of this approach is that it protects the manifest from being tampered with between the client and the CDN, which is especially important considering the increase in dynamic ad insertion. Having a HTTPS encryption layer means that a hacker could not change the adverts for something that you had not intended.

Thank you for reading. In my next article I will be descending into the world of origin servers and also dispersing those fluffy white CDN clouds.

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