Free illegal streams of films, TV shows and sports fixtures could end up costing you a lot, cyber security experts have warned.
According to a new report, pirates are letting criminals plant malware on their sites in exchange for money, with the content simply being used as bait to hook in as many potential victims as possible.
This malware can be used to hijack a target’s computer and steal sensitive information from it, such as bank details and passwords.
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Digital piracy is becoming an increasingly big problem. More people watched the latest season of Game of Thrones illegally than legally, it emerged recently, and the Premier League has been working to block illicit streams of matches since the beginning of the 2017/18 season.
A new report has just been released, titled Cracking Down on Digital Piracy, which links piracy with serious security risks.
It was created in consultation with the Federation Against Copyright Theft, the Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit, the Intellectual Property Office, Police Scotland, Entura International, the Government Agency Intelligence Network and broadcasters – organisations that are all campaigning fiercely against piracy.
However, security researchers say their warnings aren’t merely designed to scare people into avoiding illegal streaming sites.
“By using potentially harmful adverts to persuade unsuspecting users to click on links and install ransomware, criminals are extending their victim base and accessing vast amounts of information,” Raj Samani, McAfee Fellow and chief scientist, told the Independent.
“Ransomware and malware services are surprisingly easy to find online at very low cost, enabling even the most amateur criminals to attack individuals.
“Criminals are well aware of the huge potential for financial gain when launching ransomware attacks – one group we tracked made over £49,000 in just 10 weeks by attacking organisations in this way.”
Earlier this year, a report from the National Crime Agency concluded that “very little skill” is required to become a cyber criminal, due to the availability of online tutorials, video guides and free hacking tools.
Security firm Check Point also discovered a vulnerability that allowed criminals to attack Kodi box users through subtitles. The issue has now been fixed.
“In the case of illicit streaming, I don’t see this case as a major issue because, fortunately, there are relatively small numbers of people visiting these sites,” Simon Crosby, the CTO of Bromium, told the Independent.
“The people that do visit them think they are being clever and getting something for free, and then they get hit. Bad guys are incredibly good at taking advantage of these suckers, and a trend such as illegal streaming is always something they are going to jump on.”
According to the piracy report, cyber criminals can make hundreds of millions of pounds of profits per year by monetising stolen content.
They’re also using the Dark Web and anonymising tools to sell information, including customer data they’ve acquired through malware, without being caught.
“As a society, we continue to be in a state of conflict when it comes to data. On the one hand, we’re often outraged over regular news around data breaches, while on the other hand we think nothing about trading our identities for watching something for free or another enticement, often volunteering intimate data such as medical or financial information,” added Mr Samani.
“When we think about our data and where it’s going, who is using it and what we’re giving it away for, we need to be even more cautious and hard-nosed about entering into data transactions by driving harder bargains and asking ourselves smart questions such as who our data will be shared with and how it’s going to be protected.”