US state AGs warn of pirate site risks

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Attorneys General representing California, Texas, Virginia and 25 other US states have warned consumers about the threat of websites pirating TV, film and other entertainment content in a public service campaign spearheaded by Internet safety watchdog Digital Citizens Alliance. Hackers often target these illegal sites to bait users into downloading malware that can jeopardise their personal and financial information or, in some cases, secretly hijack their computer cameras.

The campaign – a national first – features a series of PSAs on television, radio, and social media channels.

“With technology moving so fast, it’s sometimes difficult to know what is risky. That is why state AGs are playing a vital role in alerting consumers to the danger that consumers face from malware and content theft websites,” said Tom Galvin, Executive Director of the Digital Citizens Alliance. “From websites to new devices loaded with pirated content, hackers have found ingenious ways to invade your home. The best defence is knowledge, and AGs are providing it.”

In addition to alerts from state AGs, the Federal Trade Commission has warned consumers about the malware dangers from content theft.

Research by cyber security firm RiskIQ found that one in three pirate websites expose users to malware. The firm also estimates that content thieves are making an estimated $70 million (€56m) a year just from allowing malware distributors to place malicious code on their websites.

A RiskIQ investigation probed hundreds of websites dedicated to distributing stolen movies and television shows and found:

  • Merely visiting a content theft site can place a user’s computer at risk: 45 per cent of malware was delivered through so-called ‘drive-by downloads’ that invisibly download to the user’s computer – without requiring them to click on a link.
  • Once hackers get into a computer, they can use it for a wide range of criminal schemes where the user of the computer is the victim. These include:
    • Stealing bank and credit card information that is then sold on underground Internet exchanges. After the hack, consumers find their bank accounts depleted or suspicious charges on their credit cards. There is an underground market for credit card information that ranges from $2 to $135 per credit card credential.
    • Finding personal information that makes it easier to sell a person’s identity to the highest bidder online. In July, the FBI added five online criminals to its ‘Most Wanted’ list for creating computer programs that stole identities and financial information.
    • Locking a user’s computer and demanding a ransom fee before returning access to their files.
    • Taking over the cameras of computers, especially young female and male teens. In some cases, hackers have tried to blackmail those targeted to perform ‘shows’ for them.

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