Piracy sites bombard users with malicious ads, causing victims to download viruses, malware and even ransomware, a new report warns.
Research published by the Digital Citizens Alliance, White Bullet and Unit 221B has found that piracy sites, where people search for free content, such as movies, series or sporting events, are full of malvertising – malicious ads that promote fearsome tactics and other questionable means to to get people to click on it.
For example, an ad would look like an antivirus program claiming that the victim’s endpoint is infected with a virus and that they should click the button below to clean their device. However, clicking the button would do the exact opposite and infect the device with malware and in some cases even ransomware. Some malware distributed in this way can steal (opens in new tab) sensitive banking information, install spyware that tracks users’ activities, or flag the device for future attacks.
Malvertising on piracy sites has also grown into a major industry, the report claims, saying that piracy operators generate an estimated $121 million in revenue this way.
They also make up about 12% of all ads shown on piracy sites, with more than half of the $121 million ($68.3 million) coming from US visitors. In fact, piracy sites do so well with malvertising that nearly 80% of these sites serve malware-ridden ads to their users.
In addition, the volumes are immense. Visitors to piracy sites were shown a total of 321 million advertisements.
“This report confirms what content owners have suspected for years: that using piracy services can harm consumers through malware (opens in new tab) infection,” said Peter Szyszko, CEO and founder of White Bullet.
“We collect huge amounts of advertising data about piracy services and track its value. Clearly, it’s not just brands that are responsible for financing piracy through ad placement; ad tech companies need to be vigilant about where they place ads and the type of ads they accept. Piracy services try to make as much money as possible – be it from legitimate but misplaced advertisements or malicious actors. The ad industry must stop funding piracy or, as we can now see, content owners and consumers will all suffer.”