GUEST ESSAY: How children using illegal streaming devices get targeted by malicious actors

By Tom Galvin

It is good to see pressure from advertisers  prompting a tech titan to clean up its digital neighborhood.

I refer to steps being taken recently by Alphabet,  the parent conglomerate of Google and YouTube. Alphabet announced a new plan to keep ads from premium brands off YouTube pages with videos pushing dangerous, illegal, and/or illicit behavior.

Related article: Lawsuits allege ‘kid spying’

It remains to be seen how effective these measures will prove to be.  Threat actors are not easily discouraged. In fact, they will certainly look for other money-making ventures in the digital space. These criminals will likely target poorly policed, yet highly popular, devices offering content that is easy to compromise.

Entertainment bait

There is no bait quite like content – movies, music, and games – to lure consumers into digital traps. Increasingly, people are buying devices just for the purpose of getting programming they need to watch and play what they want.

At the Digital Citizens Alliance, our research team has worked with top researchers at cybersecurity companies and advertising watchdogs to find how cybercriminals make millions by pushing both advertising and malware through illegal and illicit movie sites.

Make no mistake, pirated movies are big business – an attractive opportunity for criminals looking for easy money, vulnerable targets (often teens and children), and little threat of police action.

Galvin

Parents need to know about the dangers of illegal streaming devices (ISDs). According to the study by bandwidth-management systems vendor Sandvine, nearly 95% of streaming-TV piracy traffic is driven by purpose-built set-top boxes that are designed to recreate the experience of a traditional cable or satellite TV set-top.

Sandvine also found illegal TV-streaming outfits may generate as much as $840 million in fees coming right out of the pockets of consumers.

Rise of ISDs

And what do those consumers get in return? The rise of ISDs has made it easier than ever for kids to get access to illicit videos (including child pornography) and unlicensed content which is often loaded with malware that infects our electronic devices. That malware can provide criminals with a window into your home from which they can steal personally identifiable information (PII), compromise cameras to spy on you, and control other devices in our increasingly connected homes.

Unfortunately, these devices are frequently sold at stores alongside legal ones. Consumers often have no idea what they’ve brought into their homes until it is too late.

We’ve put out our own video, Do Free Movies, TV and Games Sound Too Good to be True? Pirate Devices and Apps are Putting Your Personal Information and Data at Risk, to show consumers just what is at risk. We’ve also worked with regulators and law enforcement to find new ways to reach those most at risk. We applaud the work of 28 states Attorneys General who have stepped up to educate people in their states with public service announcements airing on television and online.

Behavior change needed

Make no mistake, criminals will continue to evolve and we’ll struggle to keep up with them. This is not just about one platform or one device. Curbing content theft and the criminals who use stolen content to push malicious digital material will take a behavior change amongst all of us.

Until that happens, we’ll just have to keep on taking on each dangerous device that comes along and demonstrating how they threaten the consumers who use them.

About the essayist: Tom Galvin is the executive director of Digital Citizens Alliance, a Washington D.C.-based coalition focused on educating the public and policy makers on the threats that consumers face on the Internet. It’s  supporters include private citizens, safety experts and representatives from the health, pharmaceutical, and creative industries.

 

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