Protecting live-streamed XR services

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By Team ExpressPlay


In part 1 of this two-part series, we reviewed the current state of virtual reality (VR). That also included augmented reality (AR), and extended reality (XR). We now go a step further by first defining the content protection requirements to safeguard live-streamed XR services from piracy. We then present a security solution that fulfills all such requirements.

The expanding wave of live-streamed XR services  

Many VR 360 degree initiatives have come together under the Oculus Horizon Venues umbrella. Meta, as part of its metaverse realignment of Oculus, Facebook and other brands, is combining them into the Horizon Worlds social environment. Some VR sports offerings are tied exclusively to Oculus headsets, while others can be used with multiple brands.

One leading option promoted by Horizon Venues was the NBA’s 2021-2022 season package of 26 games made available for live VR viewing. Major League Baseball’s lineup of VR live streaming and on-demand highlights are featured as well. Other live VR programming featured boxing from Fox Sports, Breeder’s Cup horse races, and several Women’s NBA games. Other featured eSports competitions from VR Master League, and championship squash broadcast from the Middle East. 

Many XR initiatives are opening paths to immersive live VR viewing with incremental enhancements. Such steps feature enhancements like multiple camera viewing on traditional screens. There are of course special features for people with AR/VR headgear. 

Much of this newer activity revolves around carriers’ push to utilize 5G as the delivery platform for live XR streaming experiences. For example, Verizon’s 5G services offered in-venue and remotely supported multiscreen and AR viewing options during the 2022 Indy 500. Verizon has also experimented with 360 VR for other live events. They included Liga MX soccer games, the 2021 Oscars, and Live Nation music clubs throughout the U.S. 

South Korean mobile operators KT, SK Telecom and LGU+ became the world’s first providers of nationwide 5G services in 2019. Now they have begun to commercialize 360 VR sports streaming technology on their mobile platforms. Live VR sports in 8K is one of the primary applications they see for VR over 5G. Another opportunity is presented by multi-player gaming, says Digital TV Europe.

Piracy in the Live-Streamed XR Era

It’s only a matter of time before an increasing volume of users sparks aggressive piracy in one form or another. Already, we’re seeing hacking attacks on these types of services and their apps. Malicious actors are no doubt exploring their options and honing their skills. They aim to deliver a UX that will appeal to users who want to watch live sports without incurring legitimate service costs.

It is estimated that pirates’ annual ad revenues topped $1.34 billion in 2021. Additional income accrue from sharply discounted subscription fees. Clearly, pirates’ operations have reached new levels of sophistication. Mastering the complexities of XR technology is not a major obstacle. They’ll even be able to generate money from live VR 360 sports apps that require support for interactive responses to user actions. 

Pirates don’t have to replicate all the functionalities on their own infrastructures. They can simply hack and apply the APIs that tie legitimate apps to the processing and distribution functions of their underlying cloud platforms. This allows pirate customers to have the same interactive immersive experiences enjoyed by legitimate users.

A taste of what’s in store can be found in websites promoting generic apps suited to such purposes. One claims an app designed for “perfect immersion and seamless integration with 1800 and 3600 VR videos and movies” with “awesome features.” Claimed features include the ability to automatically recognize which types of streaming are in play, an “intuitive user interface,” and “8K video support.”

There are also other, less sophisticated approaches that pirates can take to give VR users what they’re looking for. For example, a bad actor may have legitimate access to live 360 video sports streaming. Such an actor can set up a means of sharing their personal VR viewing experiences with other VR users. The downside is that those users’ ability to have their own personal interactions is eliminated. However, restreaming such a service would still allow them to have a compelling virtual in-venue viewing experience driven by the illicit provider. 

Moreover, pirates who capture the immersive experience for viewing on headsets can store and offer them as time-shifted content. Such offers include both full-game coverage and the 360 highlight clips producers commonly include with their service options. Of course, the more sophisticated app hacks described above also provide access to highlights stored by the original provider.

It’s also important to recognize that a live-streamed XR service lacking adequate protection is easy to capture. It can then be converted and restreamed for conventional viewing by users without VR headsets. Thus, this becomes another method pirates can employ to deliver live sports content to anyone.

Exploitation of live-streamed XR services by illegal practitioners seems inevitable. Therefore, service providers need to embrace security solutions developed by experts laser focused on content protection. Service providers can ill afford the risks of relying on half-baked solutions. 

Protecting live-streamed XR services

There are no such concerns when it comes to the efforts Intertrust is investing in its ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. The goal is to provide ironclad protection to live-streamed XR content. 

By keeping tabs on pirate strategies and working with customers worldwide, Intertrust is applying a mix of anti-piracy services. These include digital rights management (DRM), forensic watermarking, and related mechanisms precisely tailored to these new market needs. The solution features the proven ExpressPlay scalability and pay-as-you-go efficiencies. Such conveniences have made ExpressPlay the leading go-to multi-DRM solution-set in the traditional live-streaming market.

The ExpressPlay multi-DRM software as a service (SaaS) protects content in both live and on-demand streaming scenarios. It is now one of the world’s most widely deployed multi-DRM technologies. 

Moreover, this is the only multi-DRM platform supporting all major DRMs, including Marlin. Marlin DRM is a natively embedded studio trusted DRM service securing millions of devices across Asia and elsewhere. Marlin is vital to enabling service reach where the other DRMs may not be operative. 

Next, market-leading forensic watermarking solutions provided by Intertrust partner Friend MTS are fulfilling another major licensing requirement being applied ever more worldwide. Forensic watermarking is critical to meeting the challenges related to thwarting piracy against live-streamed XR content. 

Fingerprinting technology is used as an initial step in identifying illegal streams. Identifying sources of illegal streams as early as possible during a live event is critical to safeguarding the service revenue. Service providers and their CDN affiliates must be able to immediately disrupt live streams in order to discourage viewers’ reliance on rogue providers.

In addition, another essential capability available to customers from an Intertrust partner is tamper-resistant white-box cryptography. This solution, leveraging technology partly developed by Intertrust, allows providers to meet the requirements for protecting apps against threats of various types.

The ExpressPlay Security Suite operates on the Amazon Web Services (AWS) global infrastructure. AWS supports virtually unlimited scalability and geo-redundancy in conjunction with the success-based usage costs enabled by datacenter virtualization technology. 

The ExpressPlay DRM Dashboard provides real-time visibility into operations. Customers can access the interactive data analytics they need across all operating regions. This is critical to sustaining the highest quality of experience (QoE) and minimizing operating costs. All security requirements for high-value video content are satisfied in accordance with the MovieLabs ECP specification.

Finally, service providers can apply these anti-piracy services to stop anyone attempting to benefit from illegal streaming of any type. Visit the ExpressPlay website for access to our whitepapers and other documentation, and get in touch for further guidance on next steps.