Piracy sites are bombarding users with malicious ads, pushing victims to download viruses, malware and even ransomware, a new report has warned.
Research published by the Digital Citizens Alliance, White Bullet and Unit 221B has found piracy websites where people search for free content such as movies, TV shows or sporting events are rife with malvertising – malicious ads that promote scare tactics and other questionable means of getting people to to click on them.
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 this way is capable of stealing (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, claims the report, which says piracy companies generate an estimated $121 million in revenue this way.
They also account for around 12% of all ads displayed on piracy sites, while more than half of the $121 million ($68.3 million) came from US visitors. In fact, piracy sites are so good at malvertising that nearly 80% of these sites serve malware-laden ads to their users.
What’s more, the quantities are huge. Visitors to the pirate site were shown a total of 321 million ads.
“This report confirms what content owners have suspected for years – that using piracy is likely to harm consumers through malware (opens in new tab) infection,” says Peter Szyszko, CEO and founder of White Bullet.
“We collect massive amounts of advertising data on piracy and track its value. Clearly, it’s not just brands who are to blame for funding piracy through ad placement; ad tech companies need to be mindful of where they place ads and the type of ads they accepts. Piracy services seek to make as much money as possible – whether from legitimate but misplaced ads or from malicious actors. The advertising industry needs to stop funding piracy or, as we now see, content owners and consumers will suffer everybody.”