Entertainment Security

How Pirating Game of Thrones and Other Shows Can Give You Malware

Gavin Phillips 26-04-2019

The consensus is that pirating content leads to malware. Downloading illegal content exposes you to malware at multiple points: the file you download, malicious advertising, cryptojacking scripts, and more lurk on sites hosting illegal content.


It isn’t just malvertising and cryptojacking you must watch out for. The type of content you download can carry a higher risk of containing malware. Malware distributors know that the popularity of certain TV shows means that people will illegally download, regardless of risk.

So, which TV shows have the most risk of carrying malware?

Which Country Downloads the Most Illegal Content?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the western world tops the leaderboards for the most illegal content downloaded.

The 2017 Piracy Report by global piracy analytics firm, Muso, tracked and analyzed more than 300 billion visits to pirate websites across 2017.

The US topped the list with 27.9 billion visits. Next up is Russia, with 20.6 billion visits, followed by India, with 17 billion visits to sites offering pirated content. The figures also include web streaming for films, shows, and sporting events.


It isn’t just the US, Russia, and India. The following Statista chart shows the share of consumers who consumed movies or TV series from an illegal channel in 2017.

statista number of users watching or using illegal tv shows movies

Spain tops the list with 38%, with Canada close behind on 32%. There are a further nine countries where more than 20% of respondents watch illegal channels.

The figures show that despite the rise of easily accessible on-demand streaming services for music and video, a substantial number of people still pirate content.


Game of Thrones ISN’T the Most Torrented Show

And the most torrented show? Well, in 2018, it wasn’t Game of Thrones (GoT). HBO’s epic screen version of George R. R. Martin’s equally spellbinding fantasy series, A Song of Ice and Fire, took the unwelcome title of most pirated show for six consecutive years.

A new GoT series almost every year, combined with HBO’s original reluctance to allow Game of Thrones to broadcast on any other platform meant fans turned to alternative, illicit sources.

In 2018, AMC’s The Walking Dead usurped Game of Thrones, owing to the fact there was no new Game of Thrones series. The Walking Dead was followed up by The CW’s The Flash, and the Marmite-esq, The Big Bang Theory, completing the top three.

However, I would expect a prompt return to the top of the list for Game of Thrones. The eighth and final season first aired in April 2019, giving pirates plenty of time to return its unwelcome crown.


Game of Thrones Most Likely to Contain Malware

Even though Game of Thrones wasn’t the most pirated show, it holds an infamous accolade.

GoT episodes uploaded to torrenting sites are most likely to contain malware. According to a recent Kaspersky blog, there were 9,986 Game of Thrones related malware-species found during 2018. Furthermore, those GoT-related malicious programs attempted to infect more than 120,000 users, with 20,934 successful infections.

The Kaspersky blog also notes that “the statistics are limited to users of our solutions, so the total number of attacks worldwide should be far larger.”

kaspersky number of tv show infections game of thrones malware


However, the overall number of GoT-related malware dropped in comparison to the previous year. In 2017, Kaspersky found 19,810 GoT-related malware species which attempted 167,692 attacks, of which 42,330 were a success.

Running GoT an extremely close second was—you guessed it—The Walking Dead. Another hit show that a) fans cannot get enough of, and b) has a limited initial broadcast reach that sends people looking for pirate copies. The CWs Arrow was third. Refer to the table above to see the changes from 2017 to 2018.

Game of Thrones Season 8 Will See Malware Surge

If history repeats, as it so often does, the release of Game of Thrones Season 8 in mid-April 2019 will trigger a surge in GoT-related malware. And the biggest target? The first and last episode of each season.

GoT Season 1 Episode 1 (“Winter is Coming”) still sees the highest rate of malware exploitation across the GoT series. The Kaspersky study found nearly 600 individual “Winter is Coming” related malware samples.

GoT Season 7 Episode 1 (“Dragonstone”) hit similar highs with nearly 600 individual “Dragonstone” related malware samples.

In that, beware Game of Thrones Season 8 Episode 1 (“Winterfell”) torrents and illegal downloads. There is a strong chance it is a malicious file masquerading as a GoT episode. Besides the point downloading content under copyright is, well, illegal.

American Horror Story Is Most Effective Malware Disguise

Despite the Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead regularly topping out the highest number of malicious files and infections, neither show is the most efficient malware infection disguise.

kaspersky malicious tv show malware conversion rate 2018

In 2018 (see above chart), that accolade fell to FX’s American Horror Story, while in 2017, The Big Bang Theory topped the chart (see below chart). The charts show the proportion of malicious files to the number of affected users for each show.

kaspersky malicious tv show malware conversion rate 2017

What Type of Malware Do You Get If You Pirate Game of Thrones?

Lastly, what type of malware will infect your system if you pirate content? The Kaspersky team found that amongst the GoT malicious files were Trojans, adware, worms, Trojan-Ransomware, exploits, and plain-old viruses.

Downloaders and adware infections combine for a 49% share of malicious files, though these aren’t strictly malware (but do interfere with regular system operation).

kaspersky game of thrones malware types

Lots of Popular Music Also Hide Malware

A 2018 report by the International Federation of the Phonographic Industry (IFPI) found that although platforms such as Spotify and Apple Music stemmed illegal music consumption, 38% of listeners continue to acquire music illegally. Stream-ripping accounts for 32% of illegal downloading (such as converting YouTube videos to audio), while torrenting comes in with 23%.

As you might expect, the illegally downloading the most popular artists comes with the highest chance of carrying malware. For instance, a bootleg copy of Ariane Grande’s Thank U, Next album exists online; it carries a banking Trojan.

Researchers have found malware lurking behind downloads for Drake, Kendrick Lamar, Maroon 5, Arctic Monkey’s, Queen, The Beatles, and many more popular artists, old and new.

iOS and Android Apps Carry Malware

Mobile apps aren’t safe either, though it does depend on the mobile platform you use. Android users are significantly more likely to encounter malware via an app from the Google Play Store than an iOS user from Apple’s App Store.

There is no “one” type of app that malware distributors select, though there are common features.

For instance, Android malware tends to focus on apps that are easy to mimic, that have multiple entries of extremely similar apps using the same app logo, and have lots of potential for clicks or malvertising. Indeed, the Xavier ad library malware exploited over 75 individual apps Has Xavier Malware Infected Apps on Your Android Device?  A new vulnerability, Xavier, has been discovered on Android -- and it has been exploited for some time. Are your devices affected? And what can you do about it? Read More to deliver malicious content to hundreds of thousands of Android users.

In another case, security researchers for ESET found Android-based PayPal malware Warning: Android Malware Can Empty Your PayPal Account Want to know about cybersecurity threats in December 2018? Check these astonishing stories of hackers and malware. Read More that could steal funds, even with two-factor authentication enabled.

Apple runs a much tighter ship. iOS isn’t impenetrable but is certainly more difficult to infect due to Apple’s due diligence process regarding the App Store and how they deliver updates to their phones. You can find out more about iOS and iPhone malware right here Can iPhones Get Viruses? Here's Everything You Must Know Most people think iPhones can't get viruses, but is that true? Let's look at the facts and find out if your iPhone can get a virus. Read More !

How to Avoid Pirate Content Malware

So, the most obvious and easy method of avoiding pirate content malware is to stop all the downloading. Of illegal content, that is. If you’re not pirating content, you’re not exposing yourself to malware through these sites and files.

However, if you are determined to pirate content, take the following few tips into consideration:

  • Check file names. If the filename for a supposed Game of Thrones episode has the .exe file extension, it isn’t a video file. That is malware masquerading as the latest GoT episode.
  • Don’t follow suspicious links. Links advertising latest premieres, unreleased episodes, special episodes, or similar are likely to lead to malware or a phishing site.
  • Double-check. Make sure the torrent site you are using is the “legitimate” site. Torrent sites are a handy target for malware distributors.
  • Install and update. Install and update an antivirus suite. I would strongly advise picking up a Malwarebytes Premium subscription, too.

Steering clear of torrent and streaming sites isn’t a guarantee that you will remain malware free. The 2019 Webroot Threat Report found that 40% of malicious URLs are found on good domains. Formjacking attacks from the various Magecart groups show that hackers can compromise almost any site.

And the list of sites most likely to host malware Which Websites Are Most Likely to Infect You with Malware? You might think that porn sites, the Dark web or other unsavory websites are the most likely places for your computer to be infected with malware. But you would be wrong. Read More definitely has a few surprises on it.

Explore more about: BitTorrent, Game of Thrones, Malware, Media Streaming, Ransomware, Trojan Horse.

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  1. Steve H
    April 26, 2019 at 10:48 pm

    Linux Mint is a good OS, but it certainly is NOT a replacement for WIndows, of for no other reason than you can't run applications written for the Windows platform on it. Please don't suggest using an emulator, they are a complete pain in the ass and rarely work correctly.
    If and ONLY if, The Linux community can convince application developers to write to run natively in Linux, the OS will never be more than anything than what it is. It's a good platform for most end users if you're only interested in browsing the web getting email and running an OFFICE application. (LibreOffice also works quite well.) Forget about any advanced tax preparation software, it doesn't exist for MInt.