Hundreds of thousands of internet users in the UK could expose their devices to malware infections when attempting to download the final season of the Game of Thrones illegally from Torrent sites and other video-download platforms, experts have warned.
In 2017, anti-piracy analyst firm MUSO revealed that the seventh season of the popular Game of Thrones television series was pirated over a billion times via illegal downloads and streams. In fact, the season seven premiere was illegally downloaded or streamed 187.4 million times, over ten times more than the 16.1 million times it was watched legally on HBO's streaming platform.
Similarly, the final episode of season seven was illegally streamed or downloaded 143.4 million times but enjoyed only 16.5 million legal views even though the latter figure broke HBO's viewing records.
Cyber criminals filling piracy sites with malware
Recently, Kaspersky Lab warned that cyber criminals are actively using episodes of popular television shows such as Game of Thrones, The Walking Dead and Arrow to distribute malware to fans in order to leverage the popularity of such shows to distribute their malicious tools.
According to the firm, Game of Thrones led the list of TV shows targeted by cybercriminals to use as a disguise for malware with the show accounting for 17 percent of all infected pirated content in 2018 with 20,934 attacked users. This was despite the fact that in 2018, there were no new episodes of “Game of Thrones” released.
“We can see clearly that malware distributors exploit TV shows that are in high demand on pirated websites; these are usually actively promoted dramas or action series. he first and final episodes, attracting the most viewers, are likely to be at greatest risk of malicious spoofing," said Anton V. Ivanov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
"Online fraudsters tend to exploit people’s loyalty and impatience, so may promise brand new material for download that is, in fact, a cyberthreat. Keeping in mind that the final season of ‘Game of Thrones’ starts this month, we would like to warn users that it is highly likely there will be a spike in the amount of malware disguised as new episodes of this show," he added.
Game of Thrones fans vulnerable to phishing & malware infections
According to experts at Comparitech, nearly 40 percent of US TV viewers and over 30 percent of UK TV viewers are willing to pirate their favorite shows a week before they officially air on TV. This tendency may expose such users to malware infections as many piracy websites are riddled with powerful malware.
Such users will also be highly vulnerable to phishing attacks on websites serving up illegal video streams, or through malicious ads placed on such sites. Additionally, cyber criminals will also be able to package video files such as MPEG-4, AVI, and WMV with malicious code and infect .rar files before distributing them to unsuspecting users.
"According to our survey, half of UK adults have searched for a pirated version of their favourite TV show. Given the prevalence of malware on torrent sites, unsanctioned streaming sites, and in pirated downloads, many Game of Thrones fans in the UK will run a high risk of infection when attempting to stream or download the new season for free," said Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate for Comparitech.com.
Kasperly Lab suggests that when downloading files from the Internet, users must ensure that the files they're downloading have an .avi, .mkv or mp4 extension and are not .exe files. Using reputed antivirus solutions, visiting websites with HTTPS security, and visiting only legitimate services with a proven reputation for producing and distributing TV content to view and download shows will also save Internet users from malware infections.