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.
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.”
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.
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.
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).
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 to deliver malicious content to hundreds of thousands of Android users.
In another case, security researchers for ESET found Android-based PayPal malware 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!
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 definitely has a few surprises on it.