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A github mirror of antisky

Videocrypt Cryptanalysis

Markus Kuhn, University of Erlangen -- 1994-07-11

The files in this directory are TV pictures that have been received from the ASTRA 1A satellite, transponder 8, station "Sky One". These pictures have all been taken from a Star Trek TNG episode. The original files are:

d-raw.ppm A picture without encryption showing "Deana Troi" d-vc1.ppm The same scene (~2 frames later) with encryption e-vc1.ppm An encrypted starship in space r-raw.ppm Commander Riker on the bridge, not encrypted r-vc1.ppm Same picture (~2 frames earlier) encrypted r-vc2.ppm Same picture (~4 frames earlier) encrypted

Some of these files are available here in JPEG compressed format. Use the djpeg program from to decompress these into PPM. For other file formats, try

The images contain a PAL half frame (lines doubled) in an RGB color space and were converted with a frame grabber (Parallax XVideo Board) on a Sun SPARCstation 10.

The grayscale file


demonstrates the results of an Videocrypt prototype cryptoanalysis algorithm which I have developed. The only input to this algorithm was the file r-vc1.ppm when this result was produced, NO information from SmartCards or Videocrypt clone chips/cards was used. The algorithm is still under development. Suggestions for improved algorithms are welcome!

The file antisky.c contains the ANSI C source of the program that I used to decrypt the image. E.g.

antisky -1 -r20 r-vc1.ppm r-vc1.decrypted.pgm

produced the example file (~7 seconds on a Sun SPARCstation 10). Try also

antisky -1 -r20 -bc r-vc1.ppm r-vc1.decrypted.pgm

in order to see how the image looks after the first algorithm. The additional line you'll see (option -c) is the edge formed by the left/right border of the image which is detected by the second algorithm. The first algorithm (cross-correlation) matches two consecutive lines and shifts the lower line so that it matches the next higher one. The second algorithm searches the border so that the drift of the first algorithm and the total offset (which is inherited by the first line) can be corrected.

Some theory:

Videocrypt rotates individual lines, or in other words, every line is cut at a secret point in two parts and then both parts are exchanged. I.e. if an original line in the pixtures was


(each digit represents one pixel), then the rotated version (here with offset 3) looks like


What the first step of the ANTISKY algorithm is doing is only to compare this rotated line in all 10 offsets

7890123456 6789012345 5678901234 ... 9012345678 8901234567

with the previous line. The measure of how good this line compares in one particular offset to the previous one is the sum of the products between pixels in the same column. In the output picture, consecutive lines are rotated relative to each other, so that this measure is maximized. The first line is not touched.

The general idea is quite simple, the question is how to implement this idea as efficient as possible. The technical details of the implementation are a little bit tricky and you won't understand them without some mathematical background (fast fourier transform, real FFT, cross correlation, convolution -> simple multiplication in freqency domain, zero padding, etc.). If you want to learn, how all this works, then definitely read the chapters 12.0-12.3 and 13.0-13.2 in the book

William H. Press, Saul A. Teukolsky, William T. Vetterling: Numerical Recipes in C : The Art of Scientific Computing. Second edition, Cambridge University Press, 1993, ISBN 0521431085.

or the chapters about FFT, convolution, and cross-correlation in any introductory book about digital signal processing. It is really worth to invest some time into studying this. I believe the Fast Fourier Transform (FFT) is one of the coolest and most useful algorithms ever invented.

Some care has to be taken prior to this algorithm, because frames received from a frame grabber often look like this:

@@[email protected] (@ is a black pixel)

i.e. they have additional black borders and the left and right ends of the line might overlap. Before the ANTISKY algorithm can produce good results, you have to cut off black and doubled pixels (e.g. 3 from the left and 2 from the right with options -l3 -r2). If you don't remove these additional pixels, the corrected line would look like

[email protected]@@789

i.e. you get short black lines in the middle of the decoded image.

After the first step, the image has 2 defects (which you can see with option -c):

  • the overall offset is the (unknown) offset of the first line
  • there are sometimes between 0 and ~3 pixels error in the offset, so the whole picture slowly drifts to the left or right.

In order to compensate these defects, the second step of the ANTISKY algorithm searches the edge formed by the left and right border of the image which is not visible in a correctly aligned image. The lines are then rotated such that this edge vanishes. The edge detector algorithm uses a dynamic programming technique, that is it calculates the cheapest path from the top line down to any pixel based on the cheapest path to the pixels in the line above. A path is "cheaper" here if it goes along a high-contrast edge and if is does not deviate too much from a vertical line (see the code for the exact cost function used, I do not claim this one is optimal in any sense). If you have no idea, what "dynamic programming" graph search algorithms are, then read first of all the relevant chapter in Cormen/Leiserson/Rivest: "Introduction to Algorithms", MIT Press, 1991, ISBN 0-262-03141-8.

It is not easy to find the correct edge which represents the image margins in a picture, because some pictures contain many edges running nearly vertically over the screen and some of them have often better contrast than the left/right margin. But fortunately, a special property of the videocrypt system allows to find the correct edge quite safely. The following idea is implemented since antisky 0.92. If you use option -m in order to make the cutting points in the image visible, you'll discover, that cutting points appear never nearer than pixels to the image border and is about 12% of the image width. So the edge detection algorithm has to avoid getting nearer than pixles to any cutting point which excludes many of the "alternative edges" that have confused previous releases of the algorithm. You can make these deadzones around cutting points visible with option -d.

Option -f allows you to reduce the horizontal resolution of the algorithm to 1/2. This doubles the speed, but reduces image quality. You can apply -f several times, e.g. -fff reduces the resolution to 1/8 (which causes already severe distortions). Another method of increasing the speed dramatically is to make the source image smaller. An image that is obtained from the source image by taking only every 4th pixel in horizontal and vertical direction (i.e. which has only 1/16 of the original number of pixels) boosts the decoders speed so that real-time TV is possible on good workstation clusters (e.g. our fastest HP system here needs only 0.2s for such a frame, so with 10 workstations you have nearly 50 Hz :-).


  • Faster cross-correlation. This consumes nearly all the computing time at the moment and the FFT approach is quite well optimized since antisky 0.9. Anyone with better ideas (hierarchical matching, DSP, FFT processors, ...?).

  • Better edge detection (I have some ideas, but have not yet tried them). A lot of experimentation has to be done here.

  • Write drivers for the real time video recording harddisk cluster of the local computer graphics department. It might be used to decode a whole film during a night on a workstation cluster and put it back on video tape.

  • Color. The current software already supports it, but this is useless with our frame grabber (and every frame grabber I've seen so far). Problem: PAL decoder average the color vectors of the lines and if consecutive lines haven't similar colors, you'll get a random gray. A modified frame grabber hardware that doesn't implement the PAL standard color correction would be necessary! Experimental code for pure software PAL color correction is in the software since version 0.9, but it didn't work and thus has been deactivated with an #if 0. If you want to play around with the idea of doing the entire PAL decoding in software, you'll find on a suitable code written by William Andrew Steer [email protected]. [That web page vanished in 2002, but an archival copy can be found, for example, on].

A few more words about the color problem with Videocrypt, PAL and your frame grabber:

The RGB video signal from the camera source is separated in the PAL system in a luminance and a color (chrominance) part. Unfortunately, every standard PAL frame grabber is confused by the videocrypt line rotation and it destroys the chrominance part. One tricky detail of the PAL system is that the chrominance parts of two lines are averaged in order to avoid the phase-color problems (green faces, etc.) as they appear in NTSC. But in Videocrypt, pairs of lines don't fit together, so the averaged colors in the RGB image you get from your frame grabber are always very chaotic. In order to allow antisky to compare the lines correctly, only the part of the video signal which has survived the frame grabber's PAL decoder, i.e. the luminance signal, may be used. The luminance signal is what you see on an old black/white TV set. According to the CCIR PAL standard, the luminance Y of an RGB pixel is

Y = R * 0.299 + G * 0.587 + B * 0.114.

The grayscale image that you get with these Y values should now be undisturbed if your frame grabber strictly conforms to the PAL standard. If your frame grabber allows you to store the image in YUV format, then you should put only the Y component in a PGM file for antisky as the frame grabber gives you already separated the luminance Y and chrominance (U,V). If you give PPM RGB files to antisky, the program will automatically extract the Y signal using the above formula.


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