HLS Encryption: How to Encrypt Video Streams in AES-128 [2022 Update]
As piracy and hacking continue to increase yearly, broadcasters should be concerned with securing their video content. The he U.S. Chamber of Commerce estimated $29.2 billion of lost revenue from piracy.That lost revenue isn’t just from feature films and television; but also from online content.
Data breaches, unauthorized video sharing, and hacks can be a substantial cost for many companies. That’s why protecting video content and securely delivering streams to users should be a broadcasting best practice.
First, we’ll cover what video encryption is and why it matters. Then we’ll dive into the HLS streaming protocol and how AES-128 encryption works. Finally, we’ll look at the key features necessary for a secure cloud video platform.
What is Video Encryption?
Encryption helps hide sensitive data from unauthorized users.
Encryption is a method for masking data so that only authorized users can decrypt and access a file. It’s a part of cryptography, which is a field of study devoted to the secure communication of information or data.
Over the years, many encryption algorithms have been developed with varying levels of security. Most algorithms, however, scramble the data into ciphertext and require the receiving party to use a key to reassemble the data into plaintext.
Can You Encrypt Video?
Video encryption allows broadcasters to scramble video content using a secure algorithm and transmit the data to viewers. Authorized viewers can then decode the video and watch it. That is how encrypted streaming works. That is the basics of how encrypted video streaming works.
Many broadcasters encrypt both on-demand and live streaming videos to prevent unauthorized third parties from accessing the content as it is transmitted. This prevents someone from interrupting a live stream in progress or taking the live stream and showing it on an unauthorized platform.
As broadcasters can make money from both on-demand and live streaming content, encrypted streaming is the best way to protect one’s revenue stream.
Why Does Protecting Video Content Matter?
- Sensitive Information: Many organizations use video streams for internal meetings and events that shouldn’t be available to the public. The company could risk violating industry regulations or leaking information to competitors if these videos aren’t protected.
- Digital Rights Management: Video stream encryption is a critical aspect of digital rights management (DRM), which broadcasters require for various reasons. For example, geographical regions—such as the People’s Republic of China (PRC)—may have specific regulations or censorship limiting who can view certain types of content.
- Monetization: Brands may have video streams at various price points that need access controls as well, such as charging more for high-definition videos or ad-free content. The ability to safely accept payment from viewers and ensure video content isn’t pirated are both crucial for monetization.
The HLS Streaming Protocol
Video streaming requires sending enormous amounts of data to viewers. RAW video files are too large, so broadcasters must encode videos into a compressed format using a codec like H.264 advanced video coding to reduce the file size.
A video stream also requires choosing a container format, which encompasses the necessary video, audio, and metadata. Most broadcasters choose the MP4 format because it’s compatible with a many devices.
Finally, broadcasters must choose a self-hosted video delivery method or private hosting. Two of the most common are the HLS streaming protocol and RTMP. These are standardized methods for transmitting video and audio data over the Internet as a continuous stream rather than a single file download. That is why HLS encryption is the most common method of encrypting streaming videos.
What is HLS Streaming?
HTTP Live Streaming (HLS) is a protocol that splits video streams into chunks that are transferred and reassembled within the user’s video player. In most cases, the video player is an HTML5 or Video.js player that offers playback natively in the user’s web browser.
Pure HTML5 playback without a streaming protocol requires downloading the entire video file during initiation. That’s why it’s crucial to break down videos into smaller files so that playback can start faster and there’s less wasted data.
In contrast to RTMP, the HLS protocol leverages HTTP to transfer video content in chunks to viewers. That means broadcasters can use a standard server or video content delivery network (CDN) to store and deliver video content. With HLS streaming, broadcasters can scale their streams to reach a much larger audience without compromising on quality.
Most broadcasters use HLS streaming because it’s the protocol supported by HTML5 players. These video players—built into web browsers—have become the default playback method rather than Flash. HLS streams are supported by nearly every device, from tablets to laptops and smart TVs.
What is Adaptive Bitrate Streaming?
Moreover, HLS is an adaptive bitrate streaming (ABR) protocol. That means broadcasters offer multiple variants of a particular stream at different bitrates or levels of quality.
These separate streams are split into 2 to 10-second segments and indexed in a manifest file. Then an adaptive video player can use the manifest file to choose the optimum video segment based on network conditions and the user’s device.
HLS Encryption Explained
While there are many encryption algorithms, the most common method for HLS is AES-128. Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) block cipher encrypts data in 128-bit blocks. Here are the basics of how AES-128 works.
How Does AES 128 Encryption Work?
The first block is encrypted using an initialization vector (IV)—or 16-byte random value—and the next block uses this to start the encryption process. Each subsequent block uses ciphertext from the preceding block for encryption in a method known as cipher block chaining (CBC).
As AES is a symmetric key algorithm, there needs to be a secret key that’s used for both encryption and decryption. That means the broadcaster encrypts the video using the key and the viewer’s browser decrypts it using the same key.
AES has widespread adoption because it’s straightforward to implement and safe enough for general use. The U.S. Government even uses the algorithm for encrypting sensitive data, which is how most digital rights management (DRM) systems protect media. HLS AES 128 encryption is easy to implement and, therefore, commonly used.
HLS Encryption Methods
While the HLS supports AES-128 encryption, there are two different ways to implement the standard in practice.
Broadcasters can use one key to encrypt the entire video stream, but that also means the whole stream is unprotected if an unauthorized third party intercepts the secret key.
Alternatively, each stream segment can be encrypted with a different key. That way, only a few seconds of video can be accessed without a specific key. Broadcasters might choose this method if the video content their sharing is highly sensitive.
Video content is invaluable for most brands, but if data gets into the wrong hands, it can be devastating. That’s why every broadcaster should prioritize offering secure stream services and storing video content safely using a reliable video streaming solution. Both HLS video encryption and M3U* encrypted players are two secure methods for keeping content safe.
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