Illegal downloads of copyrighted content such as films, music, or video games can entail substantial risks. This has just been shown by a recent study of the European Union’s Intellectual Property Office (EUIPO), for which IT and criminal researchers examined malware and unwanted programs from thousands of frequently visited websites. The sites analyzed are all suspected of illegally offering copyrighted content. Most of them are hosted in the USA, with only a few of them using servers within the EU.
The websites in question offer illegal downloads and streaming services, which are often publicly accessible without registration and allegedly free of charge. However, harmful business models are frequently behind this: Such websites regularly spread malware and potentially unwanted programs (PUP) or get users to download and install such programs, for example by disguising them as games or streaming clients. Often, social engineering tricks are then used to persuade users to provide personal data.
Subsequently, attackers might gain access to the hardware or software configuration of the device used and, potentially, to sensitive information of the end users. This threat from malware is not limited to users of Windows PCs: MacOS devices and the smartphones running the operating system Android can be affected too, according to the study.
The potential consequences are serious: Users run the risk of having their bank account and credit card details stolen, which could result in financial losses. They could also have to face the theft of personal data and basically all information stored in the browser or entered via the keyboard.
The EUIPO study, titled Identification and Analysis of Malware on Suspected Copyright Infringing Websites, was carried out in cooperation with the United Nations Interregional Crime and Justice Research Institute (UNICRI).