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Galvin doesn't think the Latin American operation uses ECMs. Instead, a new program was started where subscribers will periodically receive by mail a new access card.

"We're not saying nobody [is hacking the signal]. We're just saying it's not logical that somebody would do it, since we rent the equipment. You can't buy it in Mexico. If a customer does not pay the monthly fee, we are told by DirecTV in Mexico City to go out and pick up all the equipment. And when we pick up the equipment, where is he going to insert his [hacked] card?"

Galvin doesn't think there are many hackers in Mexico, "because it's very sophisticated to do it." (But in ads that have been running recently in the Tijuana daily El Mexicano, someone using an e-mail address and cell-phone number is offering to program DirecTV cards as well as to purchase blank ones.) Galvin does have people coming to him wishing to purchase the American card. "And I always tell them, 'I'm going to pretend that I didn't hear you say that.' "

In a colonia a short distance from Galvin's office in the Zona Rio, at least two households on one block alone enjoy DirecTV Latin America (which has only several hundred thousand paying customers), including the premium channels and free pay-per-view. They do not pay the monthly fee and say they have never experienced any interruption of service in the several years they've had it. A resident states that the entire system -- dish and box -- is sold on the street for $450.

Ruben Romero is an American citizen and chief of corporate security for DirecTV Latin America. But he investigates hacking wherever it occurs, he says, "because the pirates have no borders." His 12-man security group consists of former agents of the U.S. Justice and Treasury Departments. Romero, who attended SDSU and was once a customs agent in San Diego, states that his team is much more proactive in combatting the hackers than is U.S. DirecTV. Recently, he says, his group worked with U.S. Customs in Texas to arrest a major Mexican hacker who had smuggled into the U.S. a large number of access cards for the Latin satellite service, for sale to Latinos living in the U.S. Just like the American service, the Latin system is vulnerable to counterfeiters.

"There are major rings operating in Mexico," he says, speaking from his office in Florida. "They are hacking both the American card and the Latin American card." Because a big enough dish can grab the U.S. signal even as far south as Mexico City, there are "a large number" of counterfeiters in Mexico. And yes, he admits, the new HU card has been hacked, not only by the Canadians but by their Mexican counterparts. His team, he says, has sent out ECMs in Latin America but not yet on the scale of Black Sunday. They also operate fake Spanish-language hacker websites to gather intelligence and advertise a toll-free number for people to call to turn in their pirating neighbors.

Romero acknowledges that no arrests for hacking have ever been made in Baja, but he says that will soon change. Using an anti-hacking law passed by the Mexican congress in November, he states that there is "a major criminal investigation" currently in progress. And that his group, working with agents of the Mexican attorney general and coordinated with U.S. Customs in San Diego, will put a large dent in the activities of the Baja hacking rings. "I feel confident that a lot of those cards and boxes will be going down very soon."

Meanwhile, Dave in Rosarito gave up trying to buy the RCA box at Wal-Mart. Instead, he had his Mexican friend intervene with the hacker, who again sold him a card at the bargain price of $60. And on the new card is an image of a football player.

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