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Nightmare Before Streaming: common dangers of illegal streaming

It can be tempting to opt for free movies and TV series, but the risks involved might scare you more than a favorite Halloween horror movie.

Streaming fatigue hits hard. With people’s favorite movies and TV series often split across different services, each trying to vie for our attention and our cash, it can be tempting to save money by trying to bootleg some of your favorite shows on services that you don’t pay for access to. Some even foreswear paying for any streaming service subscriptions entirely, instead deciding to rely on pirate websites.

These sites offer the latest and best that streaming services have to offer while not charging a single penny. They’re also popular – and becoming increasingly so as the cost of living crisis starts to bite worldwide. Between January and August 2022, anti-piracy tracking website MUSO measured 141.7 billion visits to piracy sites for all industries – equivalent to a 21.9% increase over the same period of 2021.

What people look for when they visit depends on their personal interests, but it’s clear from MUSO data that there are shared interests among those who pirate streaming content. Nearly half of all the content consumed on pirate websites is TV streaming footage; movies make up a further 12%.

Where do people pirate content?

Nearly 15 billion visits were recorded to illegal websites from the United States, making it the streaming capital of the world. Half as many users come from the number two place most likely to stream, Russia, while India, China, and France round out the top five havens for pirates.

Most people come to such sites directly rather than from search engines or social media referrals, though there is a place, it seems, for illegal platforms aiming to gain eyeballs through search traffic if they can capitalize on the right keywords.

For those who decide to visit illegal streaming websites, the benefits are obvious: they get to access content for free without having to pay the multiple, costly subscription service fees that are spread across different providers. But are there drawbacks?

The dangers of illegal streaming

“Viewing content illegally puts users' data at significant risk from hackers and organized criminals and, worryingly, exposes children to explicit content,” warns Kieron Sharp, CEO at FACT, a UK anti-illegal streaming campaign group. Sharp explains that such pirate websites often use hidden tricks that can do everything from co-opting your CPU power in order to mine cryptocurrency using hidden embedded miners in the website to trying to install software such as keyloggers that can then track everything you type – including, they hope, passwords to key accounts.

Other issues highlighted by FACT as potential risks of streaming from illegal sites include the barrage of popups and redirects designed to bamboozle users into potentially installing software that can hijack a web browser and switch search results or spam people with notifications.

These bits of bad software are often installed through subterfuge by encouraging the user to close down popups, which download things as dangerous as banking trojans without someone realizing. By simply clicking on an ‘unmute’ button on one site, users unwittingly download a piece of software that hackers use to access banking details and personal information, according to one study by Opentext Security Solutions.

For some people, the potential rewards, and the opportunity to view the content for free that you would otherwise have to pay vast sums for, will outweigh the risks of exposing yourself to the huge volumes of potential malware that can ensue from visiting such illegal websites. But this Halloween, before you decide to try and find a free horror movie to watch, it’s worth considering: is The Nightmare Before Streaming worth it?

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