Accessing free streams of top football matches is putting devices, and personal privacy, at great risk, says a study by computer science researchers at Stony Brook University in New York.
It says the most popular sites attract upwards of eight million visits per month. But like many free services, the pirate sites rely on advertising and with fewer reputable brands willing to promote on illegal distribution, the sites turn to malicious ads.
Of the thousands of streams studied, the researchers said that as many as half planted malicious software on the users’ machine through forced ads and other deceptive techniques. The researchers examined how the sites are run and from where.
As well as pop-up and overlay advertising, they observed an increase in sites demanding users install browser plug-ins in order to watch a free stream. They said that the software was also hijacking normally safe websites. “You have to install the extension, and once the user installs the extensions, it can infect any website the user is visiting,” lead researcher Zubair Rafique told the BBC.
The study analysed over 5,000 aggregator domains – that is, sites which collate free streams for visitors to browse and watch. It also looked at the vast networks of media providers – the services that provide the actual video. Because of that separation between the aggregator sites and media streaming services, it’s difficult for authorities to effectively stamp out football piracy.
Though several aggregator sites have been shut down, the video streams are quickly moved to a different site, and the cycle continues. Aggregator sites will usually offer several different streams for the same match.
“We discovered that nearly 25 per cent of live streams originate from the servers hosted in Belize….. More than 60 per cent of analysed streams originate from the media servers provided by only five companies located in Belize, Switzerland, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Canada.
“Additionally, we found that more than 64 per cent of parties providing these streams have been reported at least once for violating the copyrights of content owners…..Since only a handful of channel providers are responsible for broadcasting the majority of the live streams, we argue that a strict control on the operations of these entities, can effectively minimise the volume of illegal live streaming,” the study noted.