Conax: “Android TV is a very flexible and complex platform”

By Thomas Campbell November 4th, 2015 (link to article)

IP&TV News talks Android TV with Tor Helge Kristiansen (EVP Principle Architect, Conax).

Tor will be presenting on Android TV the OTTtv World Summit (9th – 12th November 2015 Millennium Gloucester Hotel, London) next week.

IP&TV News: How disruptive do you expect Android TV to ultimately prove? Is it going to be a game changer?

Tor Helge - headshot - small
Tor Helge Kristiansen: Android TV certainly has the possibility to become a true game changer, but it remains to be seen if it will be embraced by pay-TV operators on a massive scale. There is an increasingly competitive landscape for pay-TV operators and the fight for customers is moving more and more in the direction of delivering the best user experience. While content is still king, pay-TV providers also now need to provide compelling TV services that engage the audience and keep them using the operator’s platform.

The melting together of the Internet experience and the traditional TV experience must be seamless to enable users with access to the best of both linear and on-demand services, potentially coming from several different sources. Android TV is an excellent platform for bringing this Internet experience to the TV platform, and enables users to use all the stuff they love on their Android phone also on the big screen. But it also means that Google is given some level of control over the operator’s TV platform, which for some is seen as a threat. This has the potential to hamper the deployment rate of Android TV, at least initially.

What would you say its main strengths are?

There is a long list of strengths offered by Android TV as a platform for pay-TV operators; however I think the most prominent strength is the abundance of apps available in the ecosystem. There are currently around 1.6 million Android apps in Google Play Store, which means there is an application available for just about any purpose imaginable. For Android TV, this will represent availability of apps that enrich the TV experience through access to entertainment services, such as video rental services (e.g. Netflix), metadata services (e.g. IMDB), games, sports, news etc. With Android TV, Google has specified the look and feel of compatible apps, so that any app built for Android TV will work also on the operator’s platform.

Another key strength of Android TV is that it provides a large community of developers that work purely with development of Android apps. There are currently approximately 230,000 registered developers in the official Android Developer community. This means it is very simple for the pay-TV operator to find resources to develop their own apps for providing a truly unique user experiences. As the entire platform is based on apps, it also means that it is quick and cheap for pay-TV operators to introduce new features into their platforms. Innovation in the TV ecosystem can now be done in the speed we have become accustomed to from the Internet.

What security challenges does it present?

Unfortunately, as Android TV is a very flexible and complex platform it also very complex to secure it properly. An extensive range of features and functionality creates a large attack surface, and increases the complexity in protection from hacking. Google licensing for Android brings requirements for some services to be present in the set-top box and, while these makes it easier to develop apps for the platform, these services also makes it easier for hackers to attack the system. Some of these requirements appear to be in direct violation of the new content protection requirements from MovieLabs for 4K/UHD content.

The most critical platform security challenge however us the fact that the platform runs apps that are coming from untrusted sources. In principle, anyone can create an app and upload it to Google Play Store, and hence apps cannot really be considered trusted. A faulty or maliciously implemented app can be used by hackers to attack the STB, and potentially using it as a stepping stone to attack the content protection system that protects the TV services. It is therefore highly critical that the set-top-box implements some form of segmentation of the Android environment from the high security broadcast environment.

How can these security challenges be negotiated effectively?

Key is ensuring that the high security broadcast environment is isolated properly from the Android app framework where untrusted apps are running. There are a number of technologies available to implement such separation, including Linux User Privileges, SELinux, Linux Containers and ARM TrustZone.

AtConax we believe that, while this type of separation technology provides fairly good security, we can achieve an even higher level of security by introducing hardware-based separation inside the set-top-box chipset. Conax has developed new security architecture for Android that provides hardware-based protection of the CA/DRM environment. This solution is based on utilizing the Trusted Execution Environment (TEE) in modern chipsets to build a secure hosting platform for the content security technology. The TEE is a separate security core inside the chipset that enables execution of security sensitive operations in a manner that is completely inaccessible to other parts of the STB. By running all security critical operations inside the TEE, Conax ensures that even if the Android app framework is successfully attacked, it cannot compromise the security of the broadcast operation. This enables a pay-TV operator to offer all the benefits of the Android ecosystem, while ensuring they still comply with the strict security requirements from studios.

Finally, what other topics are you looking forward to finding out more about at the OTTtv World Summit?

As I expect the continuing, rapid development in OTT technology, the OTTtv World Summit is an important arena to share knowledge and experiences across the industry. I am particularly looking forward to learning more about how the industry is moving towards a tighter integration between the traditional broadcast world and the OTT world.

More and more operators are launching hybrid services – while end users don’t care if their content of choice is coming from the broadcast or over a broadband connection. The industry players that can seamlessly integrate these two worlds will become clear winners in this segment.