An extensive operation – Operazione Black out – carried out by Italy’s Polizia di Stato (State Police) against audiovisual piracy, aimed at combating the phenomenon of illegal IPTV services, has seen the dismantling of what it described as a complex criminal infrastructure, both from an organisational and technological point of view.
The measures were carried out in various Italian cities and more than 200 specialists from 11 regional branches of the Polizia Postale (Postal Police) were involved in the operation (Catania, Palermo, Reggio Calabria, Bari, Naples, Ancona, Rome, Cagliari, Milan, Florence, Venice
The Catania District Prosecutor’s Office coordinated in-depth investigations, lasting several months, following reports to the Postal and Communications Police of the existence of a complex technological infrastructure operating at national level and responsible for the dissemination via the Internet, through numerous sites, of the illegally-acquired signal of numerous pay-TV content platforms (Sky; DAZN; Mediaset; Netflix etc.).
An in-depth technical computer study of the broadcasting of streaming signals carried out by the Postal and Communications Police of Catania with the coordination of the Postal and Communications Police Service of Rome made it possible to identify the sources from which the pirated signal was distributed.
The Public Prosecutor in charge of the investigations, under the responsibility of the working group specialising in the field of computer crimes, investigated the crime of criminal association aimed at committing the crimes of unauthorised access to an IT system protected by security measures; of computer fraud aggravated by the enormous damage caused, and of abusive reproduction and dissemination via the Internet of works protected by copyright and intellectual property.
An important hub was identified in the city of Messina, its deactivation and seizure revealed that it managed about 80 per cent of illegal IPTV streaming in Italy. The criminal association was based on a pyramid scheme, sees the synergistic work of different individuals who, although not personally known to each other, are firmly linked to build the various pieces of the illicit structure.
Accordingly, content protected by copyright is first acquired legally, as a digital signal, by the higher management of the organisation (the so-called ‘Sorgenti’) and, subsequently, through the creation of a complex technical and organisational infrastructure, they are transformed into data and sent in audio/video streams, transmitted through a dense criminal framework to a capillary network of retailers and end-users, equipped with a domestic Internet connection and equipment suitable for reception (the now-known ‘Pezzotto’).
The complex investigations, carried out by the Postal Police of Catania, from the first investigations had highlighted the presence on Telegram, in various social networks and in different sites of bots, channels, groups, accounts, forums, blogs and profiles that advertised the sale, across the nation, of access to illegal streaming of paid content via IPTV of the most popular platforms.
The investigations made use of complex computer analysis, documentary, bank feedback and observation and tracking services. During the searches, a large amount of computer material was seized, as well as the illegal servers and devices used for connection and broadcasting activities.
Cash sums amounting to tens of thousands of euros were seized in the homes of some of the suspects, deemed to be the proceeds of the illegal activity.
According to the Polizia di Stato, illegal IPTV is a complex and very insidious criminal world, whose size and danger are not always realised by those who use such services. The illegal activity, which consists of about 1,500,000 users, who pay €10 per month, produced a criminal turnover equivalent to €15,000,000 per month, and at the same time, led to a much greater loss of income for the providers of pay-TV services.