How Hackers Use Popular Shows to Infect Your Devices

By on Jan 02, 2015

If there’s one reasonable measurement of how popular a television series has become, it’s how often it’s illegally downloaded online. And for HBO’s hit series, Game of Thrones (GoT), episodes are stolen about as often as weddings are ruined in the series. That is to say: all of the time.

Torrentfreak, a website dedicated to file-sharing (the act of transmitting files from one computer to another over the Internet and often used to share  software, movies and other digital content without payment) news, has published its “most pirated” TV show of 2014. As you may have guessed, Game of Thrones won—for the third year in a row.

Episodes of the heralded series, including the latest season, were downloaded more than eight million times over BitTorrent, one such file-sharing service.

That gargantuan tally, sadly, does not translate into any direct monetary gain for those who help make the show possible. But, (and in theme with GoT’s appreciation for ruthless revenge) cast, crew and producers can take solace in the fact that a good deal of said thieves have probably downloaded malware—malicious software designed to steal information and ruin computers—in addition to stolen episodes.

That’s because shady sites like The Pirate Bay (which offers free downloads of pretty much anything), and services, like BitTorrent, often unwittingly promote and spread malware as well as other viruses. This can happen in a few ways:

First, and most obvious, is through malware and viruses found on the site, masquerading as more innocuous file types, such as a video. File-sharing sites operate on the honor system, allowing any type of user to upload and download content freely. You can bet that some users are going to upload malware to the site to be downloaded by unwary users later.

The second way is by hosting suspicious advertisements. Open-source sites like BitTorrent use side banners and popup ads just like any other page on the Internet. These malvertisements may look like other ads, but direct users to malicious sites, where they’ll then have data stolen and malware pushed to their devices. While site operators do have some control over ads shown, most cannot court big time products, like Nike or BMW, due to the nature of their service, and so look to less reputable advertisers to fill the gaps.

Finally, stealthy crooks can embed a malware program in the product the user is looking for—such as a Game of Thrones episode. Usually this is limited to software, but hackers can also use video files to spread their malware by instructing the user to download additional applications or files in order to play the video in question.

So how can you protect yourself from such online betrayal?

  • Don’t download illegal content. This should be simple. Don’t take what doesn’t belong to you. If you do, you run the risk of not only coming afoul of the law, but also infecting your devices with malware capable of stealing passwords, bank account numbers and a variety of personal information. When downloading video, music, applications and other such files, you are always safer using a known, legitimate source such as the iTunes or Google Play stores.
  • Steer clear of file-sharing sites. Such open-source warehouses for digital content cannot be trusted for the reasons listed earlier. Where there is little policing of the content that is uploaded, malware is sure to get in the door. Protect yourself and your devices by only visiting sites that have regulated content from trusted sources.
  • Use comprehensive security. Regardless of what type of online activity you choose to participate in, you should always have a sound security solution employed on your devices. Solutions like McAfee LiveSafe™ service can help protect you from malware and other bad things lurking online, across all of your devices including your PCs, Macs, smartphones and tablets

And, of course, stay on top of the latest consumer and mobile security threats by following myself and @McAfee_Home on Twitter, and Like us on Facebook. GaryNasdaq_NCSA_Conference_panel small

About the Author

Gary Davis

Gary Davis was previously McAfee's Consumer Security Evangelist providing security education and advice to businesses and consumers. He is a sought-after speaker on trends in digital security, appearing at conferences and events, as well as security and consumer lifestyle broadcast outlets and publications such as ABC, NBC, FOX, the Wall Street Journal, USA Today, Money ...

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