About 30 percent of the websites offering pirated versions of Hollywood movies, TV shows and computer games are deliberately infested with malware — making their illegally copied content a lure for consumers who end up with their computers controlled by cybercriminals.
That’s the takeaway from a new study issued Wednesday by the Digital Citizens Alliance — a consumer advocacy group backed by the health, pharmaceutical and creative industries.
The malware is sometimes disguised as an update for a movie player, or else it is loaded using so-called “drive-by” downloads which don’t require any action beyond visiting the site or clicking on an advertisement.
The infected computers can then be used to steal logins, passwords and other personal data from their users, or recruited into botnets — networks of compromised devices that are used to launch DDoS attacks or send spam.
Visitors to websites hosting pirated content are 28 times more likely to be infected than those checking out mainstream websites, according to RiskIQ, a cybersecurity firm which carried out the research for the report.
“Given that our research shows that 12 million Americans are exposed to malware through content theft websites, we are approaching a cyber epidemic that poses serious concerns about the long-term security of Americans’ computers,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of DCA.
“These rogue operators are using pirated movies and TV shows to lure consumers so they can infect their computers and steal their money, their identity or hold access to the computer for ransom,” said Galvin.
DCA is urging a vigorous public information campaign from the authorities, saying polling data shows consumers would stop visiting the pirate sites if they knew the risks.
“It’s time for government authorities – from the Federal Trade Commission to Congress to state attorneys general – to warn consumers about the risk content theft poses to their well-being,” said Galvin, using the term for pirate sites that content producers and copyright owners prefer to employ.
The report also dings U.S. service providers — hosting companies and content delivery networks — for turning a blind eye to what their clients are doing.
“Are these companies doing anything illegal?” asks the report. “No more than the landlord of an apartment isn’t doing anything illegal by renting to a drug dealer … But just like that landlord, more often than not these companies either look the other way or just don’t want to know.