Like the old adage says, nothing is free. Piracy sites might give movies, songs, and other content away at no monetary charge, but according to a new study by the Digital Citizens Alliance, users still pay a price.
The new study, which was conducted by cyber security firm RiskIQ, found that content theft sites expose users to harmful malware, which can allow hackers to take over the computer, steal a person’s identity, and more. In fact, the study estimates that piracy sites collect $70 million each year for installing malware.
In a sampling of 800 websites dedicated to distributing pirated TV shows and movies, RiskIQ found that the web design of one in three contained malware.
“It’s clear that the criminals who exploit stolen content have diversified to make more money by baiting consumers to view videos and songs and then stealing their IDs and financial information,” said Digital Citizens Alliance executive director Tom Galvin.
Even scarier, the study’s findings also showed that nearly half (45%) of malware could actually make its way onto a user’s device through a “drive-by-download.” In other words, it could install itself without the user ever even noticing.
Once installed, the malware can pan for sensitive information (such as credit card or bank info), use the info to steal a user’s identity, and even lock a computer, allowing a hacker to demand ransom. Most terrifying of all, hackers can — and do — use compromised computers for illegal activities, such as fraud, and frame the original owner for the act.
John Diaz, VP of Operations at On Top Visibility, advises caution, and said, “First off, security software is an absolute must. Of course it’s not bulletproof, but without it you increase the potential for a catastrophe. It’s also a well known fact that hackers especially like to plant viruses on sites claiming to offer movies and music for free. The best advice we can give someone is really to just avoid these sites altogether. Aside from being illegal, the potential risks far outweigh the few bucks you might save.”
Researchers found that piracy sites collect about $70 million based off of Google’s Transparency Report, which revealed that about 4,865 sites receive more than 1,000 copyright removal requests in a year.
According to the study, “While this is a rough estimate limited by the lack of comprehensive visitation data, it is easy to see that malware and content theft work together as a big business for the organizations behind them.”