Dish customers kept in the dark as ransomware fallout continues

Dish customers are still looking for answers two weeks after the U.S. satellite television giant was hit by a ransomware attack.

In a public filing published on February 28, Dish confirmed that ransomware was to blame for an ongoing outage and warned that hackers exfiltrated data, which “may” include customers’ personal information, from its systems.

Dish hasn’t provided a substantive update since, despite customers continuing to experience issues — or know if their personal data is at risk.

TechCrunch has heard from customers that still have no access to Dish, or services through its subsidiaries like Boost Mobile. Others say they have been unable to contact Dish customer services since the incident began two weeks ago. We have heard from others who say they have been affected by email and voice phishing attacks exploiting the uncertainty around the Dish incident, and TechCrunch has also heard of customers saying their Dish services were disconnected due to ongoing issues at the company meaning the customers were unable to pay their bill.

In a statement given to TechCrunch on Wednesday, Dish spokesperson Edward Wietecha said that “customers are having trouble reaching our service desks, accessing their accounts, and making payments.” When asked whether Dish was disconnecting customers, Wietecha added that “customers who had their service temporarily suspended for nonpayment received additional time until our payment systems were restored.”

Dish declined to share more details on what customer data was accessed during the incident, with Wietecha telling TechCrunch that “these types of investigations take time.” Instead, Wietecha shared almost an exact copy of the company’s statement that has barely changed since it was first published.

TechCrunch also heard that the impact of the breach could extend far beyond Dish’s 10 million-or-so customers. A former Dish retailer told TechCrunch that Dish retains a wealth of customer information on its servers, including customer names, dates of birth, email addresses, telephone numbers, Social Security numbers, and credit card information. The person said that this information is retained indefinitely, even for prospective customers that didn’t pass Dish’s initial credit check.

Dish declined to comment, but did not dispute the claims. Dish also would not say if the company has the technical ability to detect what internal and customer data, if any, was infiltrated. The company also declined to say whether the company had received, or been made aware of, a ransom demand.

It’s unclear when Dish will recover its affected systems, but given the ongoing impact points to a long road to recovery. Internet records show that Dish hosted its own infrastructure until recently before shifting to Amazon’s cloud service around February 23 — around the time of the ransomware attack — suggesting Dish’s in-house systems may have been severely impacted by the attack.

Brett Callow, a ransomware expert and threat analyst at Emsisoft, tells TechCrunch that this, coupled with the fact the disruption has lasted so long, “implies the attack was significant and that Dish does not have an easy and straightforward path to recovery.”

Dish’s Wietecha told TechCrunch that Dish is “working to restore all of our customer experiences is a top priority, but it will take a little time before things are fully restored.”

It’s also not yet known who is behind the Dish ransomware attack but Bleeping Computer previously reported, citing sources, that Black Basta — which many believe to be a rebranding of the notorious Conti ransomware gang — may be responsible. Dish has yet to appear on Black Basta’s leak site, suggesting that negotiations may be ongoing.

Do you work at Dish? Do you have more information about the Dish cyberattack? You can contact Carly Page securely on Signal at +441536 853968, or by email. You can also contact TechCrunch via SecureDrop.

Dish customers kept in the dark as ransomware fallout continues by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

Dish confirms ransomware attack allowed hackers to steal personal data

U.S. satellite television provider Dish confirmed that a ransomware is to blame for an ongoing outage and warned that intruders exfiltrated data from its systems.

The multiday outage, which began last Thursday and was confirmed by Dish on Monday, is affecting Dish’s main website, apps, and customer support systems, along with the company’s Sling TV streaming and wireless services.

Now, in a public filing published Tuesday, first spotted by Bleeping Computer, Dish said it had “determined that the outage was due to a cyber-security incident and notified appropriate law enforcement authorities.” Dish initially blamed the outage on “internal systems issues.”

The company goes on to say that the filing relates to expectations “regarding its ability to contain, assess and remediate the ransomware attack and the impact of the ransomware attack on the corporation’s employees, customers, business, operations or financial results.”

Dish said in the filing that the attackers extracted “certain data” from its IT systems, noting that this data may include personal information. It’s unclear whether this personal information belongs to Dish employees, customers, or both, and the scale of the data theft remains unclear. Dish has about 10 million customers across its streaming, satellite TV, and other services.

Dish spokesperson Edward Wietecha did not immediately respond to TechCrunch’s questions.

The organization claims that while its “assessment of the impact of this incident is ongoing,” its Dish, Sling, and wireless and data networks “remain operational.” That said, TechCrunch has heard from multiple Dish customers that they have had no television service since last Thursday. Dish Network’s website is also still affected.

Dish also said Tuesday in its filing that its internal communications, customer call centers, and internal sites remain offline as a result of the incident. Employees have reported that they have been told not to log into Dish-issued devices or corporate VPNs, effectively preventing them from working.

One employee tells TechCrunch that staff are being kept in the dark about the incident and haven’t been told when they will be able to return to work.

It’s unknown who is behind the breach, and the attack has not yet been claimed by any major ransomware group. However, Bleeping Computer reports, citing sources, that the Black Basta ransomware gang is behind the attack, first breaching Boost Mobile and then the Dish corporate network.

Do you work at Dish? Do you have more information about the Dish cyberattack? You can contact Carly Page securely on Signal at +441536 853968, or by email. You can also contact TechCrunch via SecureDrop.

Dish confirms ransomware attack allowed hackers to steal personal data by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

Dish hit by multi-day outage after reported cyberattack

U.S. satellite television provider Dish is experiencing a multi-day outage after a reported cyberattack, with customers unable to access streams, services or their accounts.

The disruption began early on Thursday when Dish customers said they could not access their television services or pay their bills. The outage appears to affect Dish’s main websites, apps, and customer support systems, as well as Boost Mobile, a prepaid wireless carrier acquired by Dish in 2020.

Dish’s website currently displays the message: “We are experiencing a system issue that our teams are working hard to resolve.”

Dish spokesperson Edward Wietecha told TechCrunch that the issue is being “investigated,” adding that its Dish TV, Sling TV and wireless services are back up and running. “However, some of our corporate communications systems, customer care functions, and websites were affected,” said Wietecha. “Our teams are working hard to restore affected systems as quickly as possible and are making steady progress.”

Dish website displaying a message explaining that it is experiencing service issues

Image Credits: TechCrunch (screenshot)

Wietecha declined to answer TechCrunch’s questions about the cause of the outage, despite several reports that the disruption could be due to a cybersecurity incident. Dish did not dispute that it had been hit by a cyberattack.

Multiple Dish employees told Bleeping Computer over the weekend that the organization had been hit by a cyberattack, with one claiming to have received a message from their manager that explained that the ongoing incident was “caused by an outside bad actor, a known threat agent,” and that the company is unsure how they gained access. Another employee said that staff are seeing “blank icons” on their corporate machines, a typical side-effect of a ransomware attack.

Adding to mounting suggestions that Dish was hit by a potentially destructive attack, such as ransomware, an internal email obtained by The Verge instructs employees not to use Dish-issued laptops if they’ve been connected to the company network or its VPN, which allows its staff to remotely connect to internal systems. Employees working from home have been told not to log into their VPN, effectively preventing them from working.

TechCrunch will follow this outage as it develops.

Do you have more information about the Dish cyberattack? You can contact Carly Page securely on Signal at +441536 853968, or by email. You can also contact TechCrunch via SecureDrop.

Dish hit by multi-day outage after reported cyberattack by Carly Page originally published on TechCrunch

Sling TV continues to drop subscribers, loses 55K subscribers in second quarter

Dish reported today that its streaming service Sling TV declined in subscribers during the second quarter of 2022, with a net loss of 55,000. This significantly differs from the first quarter of 2022, when it lost 234,000 subscribers. However, this is the third straight quarter that it has seen a drop.

The figure was also less of a loss than Q2 2021, when Sling TV lost 65,000 subs. Now, Sling has a total of 2.197 million subscribers, a decrease of 242,000 from the 2.439 million in the second quarter last year. During the first quarter of 2022, Sling TV had a total of 2.252 million, for comparison.

The company wrote in a regulatory filing, “The decrease in net Sling TV subscribers was primarily related to higher subscriber disconnects following seasonal sports activity. We continue to experience increased competition, including competition from other subscription video-on-demand and live-linear OTT service providers.”

While Sling TV is considered one of the first live TV streaming services, launching in 2015, it still has yet to beat Google in the streaming wars. YouTube TV continues to be a live TV streaming service to watch after revealing that it topped the 5 million subscriber mark, which included those on trials. Disney reported during its Q1 2022 report that Hulu Live TV had 4.3 million subscribers — but it only includes paid subscribers in its numbers.

Sling TV still beats FuboTV, which has 1.05 million subscribers. Philo has around 800,000 subs.

The company has been focusing on retaining customers with new content, such as the free Elvis Presley Channel, which launched in June. Also, in July, Sling TV provided customers free previews to premium streaming services via its “Freeview Weekends,” which include AMC+, EPIX, Sundance Now, Hallmark Movies Now, and more.

Sling TV launches a co-watching feature for live TV, Sling Watch Party

Live TV streaming service Sling TV is joining in on the co-watching trend. The company today announced the launch of its own version of a co-viewing feature, which allows friends and family in different locations to watch live TV together at the same time. What makes Sling TV’s implementation unique, however, is that it’s allowing for both text and video chat alongside live TV, which is a first for the live TV industry, it says.

The feature, called Sling Watch Party, is initially available to existing Sling TV customers. But during the beta preview period, the company says guests will also be able to join a Watch Party by creating a free Sling TV account. However, this free access will only be available through month-end (Sept. 30).

To get started with a Watch Party, users should look for the new Watch Party icon on supported content.

Currently, Watch Party requires the Google Chrome web browser on a desktop or laptop computer in order to work. After clicking to start the Watch Party, users will sign into their Sling TV account if they hadn’t already, then send out an invite link that allows friends and family to join the Watch Party session. Sling TV will provide a built-in tool to quickly email the link or you can copy the link and distribute in other ways — like a preferred messaging app, for example.

Image Credits: Sling TV

At launch, Watch Party-enabled content can be viewed by 4 total participants at the same time. It’s also not available across all of Sling TV’s online library or live programming. Instead, the company says that it works on “most” live, On Demand and Lookback content, but not local channels like NBC and FOX, rentals, Pay-per-view events, Premium or standalone channels, or programming saved on the Cloud DVR. Standard regional blackouts will also apply.

The feature is supported across Sling TV plans, including its domestic base service (Sling Orange and/or Sling Blue), Sling Latino, Sling International or any Sling TV Extra, depending on subscription.

That means users can co-watch content from channels like TNT, TBS, AMC, CNN, A&E, History, IFC, BBC America, TruTV, and others. Sling TV suggests the feature would be great for co-watching the NBA Western Conference Finals Game 4 or Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back on TNT, The Walking Dead on AMC, American Pickers on History, or the first presidential debate on CNN, for example.

During the Watch Party session, the content will live stream in the middle of the screen while text chat sits off to one side of the screen (where it can be optionally hidden) and video chat is on the other. Sling TV recommends all users wear headphones for the best experience. Individuals will also be able to control what volume at which they hear each guest separately from the show itself by hovering over a friend’s video and adjusting their audio bar.

Customers can only host one Watch Party at a time, but there’s no limitation on how often the feature can be used otherwise.

Several streaming services and video chat applications have rolled out co-viewing experiences in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, which has limited real-world gatherings. In addition to Hulu and Amazon Video, users are co-watching Netflix with an unofficial extension, Netflix Party, and co-watching on Plex. HBO is working with Scener to support virtual theater experiences and Facebook just launched co-watching within Messenger, too.

For Sling TV, the feature’s launch may also be tied to hopes of stemming subscriber losses. The company in February posted its first-ever subscriber decline as streaming competition heated up. It then shed 56,000 more subscribers in Q2 as the pandemic took its toll. With the support for temporary guest access, Sling TV may be hoping to convert some new subscribers, as well. But the feature is being offered for such a brief period that users may not have time to make co-viewing the sort habit they later decide to pay for, and instead use it for a one-off co-viewing session of sorts.



Dish closes Boost Mobile purchase, following T-Mobile/Sprint merger

T-Mobile today announced that it has closed a deal that divests Sprint’s pre-paid businesses, including Boost and Virgin Mobile. The news finds Dish entering the wireless carrier game in earnest, courtesy of the $1.4 billion deal.

The whole thing was, of course, a key part of T-Mobile’s bid to merge with Sprint. It was a relatively small concession to those worried that such a deal would decrease competitiveness in the market, as the number of major U.S. carriers shrunk from four down to three. The $26 billion T-Mobile/Sprint deal was finally completed April of this year, and has already resulted in hundreds of lost jobs, as reported on last month by TechCrunch.

The deal gives Dish a nice head start in the pre-paid phone game, with north of nine million customers and access to T-Mobile’s wireless network for the next seven years. It also finds current Dish’s COO John Swieringa stepping in to lead the new subsidiary. Oh, and there’s a new Boost logo, too, seen below,


See? It’s basically the old Boost Mobile logo, but with the little Dish wireless symbols in the middle, to really show you who’s boss. Dish used the opportunity to announce a new plan for Boost users with 15GB of data for $45, and has already begun switching consumers with compatible devices over to the new T-Mobile-backed network.

Sling TV rolls out free streaming to U.S. consumers stuck at home

Dish-owned TV streaming service Sling TV announced today it’s making a selection of its content available to stream for free, no credit card or account required. The free offering includes breaking news and live events from ABC News Live, movies and kids content for families, and other lifestyle and entertainment programming. The new service arrives at a time when a significant number of Americans are stuck at home due to the COVID-19 outbreak. But Sling TV isn’t just hoping for a little good press — it’s also marketing its paid service to the free users by promoting content that’s labeled as being only available to subscribers.

“Stay in & SLING,” as the free service is called, now includes thousands of shows and movies without the need to sign up.

This includes a selection of older shows like “Hell’s Kitchen,” “Forensic Files,” “Kitchen Nightmares,” “Black Sails,” “Third Rock from the Sun,” “Roseanne,” “Grounded for Life,” “Hunter,” “Grace Under Fire,” “Shameless,” “21 Jump Street,” and others, plus a small selection of free live TV channels led by ABC News Live.

The movie section is organized by category, including Horror, Action, Drama, and Popular. In the latter, you’ll find mostly older films and unknown titles.

The free kids’ content section is a little more promising with free episodes and seasons from shows like “Teen Titans Go!,” “Adventure Time,” “DC Super Hero Girls,” “Total Dramarama,” “Justice League Action,” “LEGO Ninjago,” “Bob the Builder,” and others.

There are also rows featuring free comedy standup specials, free true crime shows, free popular shows (e.g. “Rick and Morty,” “Impractical Jokers,” Samurai Jack,” and more), plus a section with “get a free taste” shows. This latter row is a selection of single free episodes from better-known shows like “Power,” “Vida,” “American Gods,” “The White Queen,” “Party Down,” and more hailing from Starz.

All this free content offered is sandwiched in between much more enticing paid fare — like rows featuring sports, news, and entertainment programs, each with big, yellow “Subscribe” buttons overtop the image thumbnail. So if you want to watch shows like “Friends,” “Sportscenter,” “Anderson Cooper 360,” or movies you’re more likely to have heard of, you’d have to pay. There’s also a giant ad for Sling TV at the top of the screen.

This setup is because Sling TV’s free tier isn’t something it just came up with to capitalize on the health crisis. Sling TV has offered a free selection in the past, in order to draw in potential subscribers. However, its free tier last year had included access to more than 100 hours of free shows and movies. The newly rebranded and relaunched free tier is larger, with thousands of movies and shows included.

Sling TV, however, is positioning the free service primarily as a way to help U.S. consumers keep up with the news during the coronavirus outbreak.

“To stay informed in these uncertain times, Americans need access to news from reputable sources,” said Warren Schlichting, Sling TV’s group president, in a statement. “With many Americans finding themselves staying at home, we have an opportunity to use our platform to help them deal with this rapidly evolving situation,” he said.

Sling TV had been in a rough situation before the COVID-19 crisis, with regard to subscribers, it’s worth noting.

The company reported its first-ever decline in Sling TV subscribers in the fourth quarter of 2019, with a drop of 94,000 customers to end the year with 2.59 million total subscribers. The decline is likely due to a number of factors, including price hikes, increased competition from rivals like Hulu with Live TV and YouTube TV, and new subscription services like Disney+ and Apple TV+ that are eating into consumers’ limited entertainment budgets.

Still, Sling TV is far from the only streamer looking to win viewership by marketing to homebound Americans during the COVID-19 outbreak.

Disney just released “Frozen 2” on its service, Disney+, a full three months ahead of schedule. Hulu released the first three episodes of “Little Fires Everywhere” early, as well. And NBCU is finally breaking the theatrical window to release “The Invisible Man” and other movies on-demand.

The Sling TV free experience is available through the Sling app for Roku, Amazon or Android devices or via the web using a Chrome, Safari, or Microsoft Edge browser.

Dish’s AirTV launches an $80 streaming stick for accessing Sling TV, Netflix & broadcast channels

Dish is expanding its hardware lineup today with the launch of a new 4K streaming stick, the AirTV Mini, designed to make it easier for cord cutters to access its live TV service Sling TV, plus Netflix and over-the-air channels from one user interface. The Android TV-powered device is meant to complement an existing setup that already includes an OTA digital antenna and an AirTV WiFi-enabled network tuner, the company says.

For a limited time, new and existing Sling TV customers can get the latter two items for free — an AirTV Wi-Fi-enabled network tuner and an indoor antenna — by prepaying for 3 months of Sling TV’s service.

In addition, the AirTV Mini also includes support for 2×2 802.11AC Wi-Fi, a lost remote finder feature, support for Google Assistant and Google Play, as well as support for VP94K decoding, which allows you to watch YouTube or Netflix content in 4K.

airtv mini

The company has been offering streaming devices for a couple of years. Dish first unveiled its AirTV Player, a 4K media streamer set-top box, at CES 2017. In 2018, it expanded its hardware lineup again to include a new device just called the AirTV,

This year, it expanded its hardware lineup to include a new device, just called the AirTV, a networked TV tuner that streams local programming via Wi-Fi.

Despite the new AirTV Mini’s streaming stick form factor, it’s not meant to compete with rival streaming sticks like the low-cost Amazon Fire TV Stick, Roku streaming stick or Chromecast in terms of price. Instead, it’s a $79.99 alternative to the $119.99 AirTV Player bundle — perhaps for someone who doesn’t care for the sort of Playskool-inspired design of the original streaming box, but still wants over-the-air channels, 4K support, and easy access to Sling TV and Netflix.

The remote for the Mini is improved as well, in a more typical shade of black instead of the AirTV Player’s white and blue design. It’s also a more standard length and width than the stubby and seemingly childish AirTV Player remote. And it still has dedicated buttons for Sling TV, Netflix, and Google Assistant.

row1 img large 2

Through the remote, users can issue voice commands to control their TV experience. For example, you can use voice search to find favorite shows and movies, or say things like “go to guide,” “show me my DVR” or “rewind 10 seconds.”

“The AirTV brand is committed to making local TV relevant and easily accessible to streamers,” said Mitch Weinraub, director of product development for AirTV, in a statement. “The AirTV Mini is a powerhouse streaming stick with more memory and a faster processor than anything else in the category. When combined with the AirTV network tuner and the Sling TV app, the Mini delivers a superior streaming experience, especially for Slingers who want premium features in a small package at an affordable price.”

The audience for this sort of product — or any AirTV device, for that matter — is fairly niche. While there’s certainly some demand for access to over-the-air programming among cord cutters, there are other solutions that don’t lock you into Sling TV, specifically.

For instance, you can easily switch to your connected antenna from a Roku TV or you could buy the (currently $179.99) Fire TV Recast, which offers a Fire TV interface plus access to stream and record from live TV with its built-in DVR. Neither the AirTV Mini nor the AirTV tuner come bundled with a DVR — you have to provide your own, and plug it into the tuner.

Overall, the solution makes sense for DIY’ers who also subscribe to Sling TV and prefer a Google Assistant-powered experience instead of Alexa.


Sling TV closes year with 2.4 million subscribers, but growth slowed significantly

Sling TV’s growth has slowed dramatically as the competitive landscape for live TV streaming services has heated up. Despite this, the Dish -owned streaming service remains ahead of rivals in terms of subscriber count – largely due to it being first to market with streaming TV. Dish said today it closed out the year with 2.417 million Sling TV subscribers. That puts it ahead of AT&T’s DirecTV Now, which ended 2018 with 1.6 million subscribers.

It’s also more than newcomers like YouTube TV and Hulu with Live TV. The latter topped 1 million subscribers this past fall. YouTube TV doesn’t report its numbers, but had an estimated 800,000 subscribers as of last July. It’s likely neck-and-neck with Hulu Live TV at this point.

Dish reported its Sling TV numbers as a part of its Q4 2018 earnings, which also indicated that Sling TV is nowhere near making up for the subscriber loss from Dish’s satellite TV service. The company lost 1.125 million satellite TV subscribers during its fiscal 2018, up from the 995,000 it lost the year prior.

Meanwhile, Dish added a net gain of 205,000 Sling TV subscribers in 2018. That’s down from the 711,000 added in 2017 and the 878,000 added in 2016.

The company closed out the quarter with 12.32 million total pay TV subscribers, including 9.90 million Dish TV subscribers and 2.42 million Sling TV subscribers, it said.

In addition to the increased competition from other streaming services and a price increase, Dish’s carriage disputes have also impacted Sling TV.

The company no longer carries Univision on Dish or Sling TV. Plus, HBO and Cinemax left Dish and Sling TV on October 31, due to a dispute with the premium networks’ new owner, AT&T.

The move to drop HBO and Cinemax had already taken its toll on Sling TV in Q3, when Dish reported a net add of only 26,000 new Sling TV subscribers for the quarter.

In the months since, Sling TV has been trying new tactics to attract customers – including rolling out free content to non-subscribers, offering a la carte subscriptions that don’t require a core programming package, and, most recently, launching personalized recommendations.

Unfortunately for Sling TV, these moves may not be enough. And things won’t get better in 2019 as a number of new streaming video services compete for customers’ dollars – like those from Time Warner, Apple, and Disney.




Sling TV adds personalized recommendations, launching first on Apple TV

Sling TV, Dish’s live TV streaming service, will now make personalized suggestions of what to watch. The company this week introduced a new recommendations feature that will highlight the shows, movies, sports and news content it believes you’ll like, based on your viewing history.

The feature is initially available on Apple TV, but will roll out to other platforms in the future, the company says.

To access recommendations, Apple TV users can visit a new “Recommended for You” ribbon in the “My TV” section which will feature its suggestions of both live and on-demand content. The recommendations will also respect any parental control settings you’ve set up, so younger users won’t be able to watch the adult-themed content you’ve restricted.

Unfortunately, Sling TV doesn’t support user profiles, which means recommendations may be hit or miss.

It’s a little surprising that Sling TV hasn’t included recommended content like this, until now. Recommendations, and more broadly, personalization technology, have become table stakes in the streaming business – and beyond. Music services, podcast apps, news aggregators, and even our voice assistants are becoming services we customize to our own liking. Or they leverage A.I. to put together unique suggestions for their individual users. Or both.

Sling TV, launched four years ago, was one of the first services to offer live TV over the internet. That means it’s had more time than newer rivals – like DirecTV Now, Hulu with Live TV or YouTube TV, for example – to develop its own recommendation system.

The company says that recommendations are the first of more personalization updates still to come.

In the months ahead, it also notes it will improve the content recommendations and will make the browsing experience easier.

That’s much needed because way Sling TV has implemented recommendations – a ribbon of content – is fairly basic in comparison with others. Netflix, for instance, finds numerous ways to suggest content – “top picks” based on viewing history along with other suggestions based specific shows you’ve been watching, for starters. And this is mixed in with editorial and categorized suggestions (e.g. “binge-worthy shows), new releases, popular and trending content, among other things.

Meanwhile, Hulu recently rolled out features that let users explicitly inform the service’s recommendation engine – like a “stop suggesting” button that tells Hulu you dislike a show. YouTube TV is capitalizing on its larger video network’s recommendation technology to make its own “top picks” suggestions, and it points users to suggested content on YouTube for whatever show or movie they’re viewing.

Sling TV will need to ramp up in terms of personalization quickly to better compete as these others become more advanced.

“The ‘Recommended for You’ ribbon is just the beginning of more personalization updates to come,” wrote  Sling TV’s Vice president of product management, Jimshade Chaudhari, in the announcement. “We’re working to improve personalization in the app and create a more engaging and interesting viewing experience, so you can expect Sling to debut more helpful features,” he said.