Rather like the arrest of a few drug barons, the few successful actions against content pirates tend to highlight the ever-rising scale of the problem rather than progress made tackling it. This emphasizes that the industry has its work cut out tackling a piracy industry which is expanding its scope and range rapidly as content goes online.
This point was rather confirmed by recent cross border piracy arrests in Europe coinciding with an ABI report that $6 billion to $8 billion is now lost a year to piracy and rising. Content piracy, like other areas of criminal activity, is by its nature hard to estimate, but beyond dispute is that online piracy is growing – not shrinking, and broadening out across all media categories, attracting more and more organized crime networks.
The European investigation by Eurojust, the EU’s cross border unit set up to combat terrorism and serious organized crime, has so far led to two arrests in Spain and Saxony, along with closure of two websites, the portals www.town.ag and www.usenet-town.com.
According to Eurojust, this followed searches of data centers in Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, San Marino and Switzerland as well as in Canada, with coordinated actions across these six states. These were the largest online portals so far closed down by Eurojust, providing access to content on an industrial scale, having respectively 400,000 and 1.2 million titles available. These included TV series, movies, music, software, e-books, audiobooks and conventional books, as well as online newspaper and magazine content, showing how pirates are now profiting from all forms of digital media simultaneously. The owners of these platforms had so far made profits running into at least several million Euros, according to Eurojust.
That small figure shows how much more money is being made by pirates worldwide who are not being apprehended, especially as content security firms like Irdeto are now monitoring over 1000 sites and noting that 50 or more spring up every month.
Such sites alone would pose a threat without the existence of software making it much easier to locate them. Most notorious because of its ubiquity is the Kodi box, which according to Canadian network management technology firm Sandvine is now installed in 6% of US households configured to locate and access pirated content. Its high US penetration can be attributed partly to efforts by the leading search engines, especially Google, to block pirate sitesfrorm their search results, coupled with the high price of premium content. Kodi is really just software that can be loaded on Android boxes such as the Amazon Fire TV Stick, enabling bypass of search restrictions by scanning for pirate sites directly. It makes it much easier for the average non-technical user to find and access these sites.
Other common sources of illicit content include social media networks providing live streams from various transient sources and web-based redistribution via file lockers or temporary sites. Growing availability of content at 4K or at least full HD resolution is also encouraging a new wave of camcording films in cinemas, with content sometimes uploaded in real time. There is also growth in ripping content from online services like iTunes, as well as live TV and VoD using readily available tools that bypass HDCP (High-bandwidth Digital Content Protection) over HDMI interfaces to TV sets. It can be forgotten that older methods of piracy such as password sharing and ripping content from DVDs or and Blu-Rays using specialist software are still quite common, even though in decline.
Piracy is being encouraged among consumers who would normally not resort to it by the temptation of being able to access premium content including live sports, or exclusive shows, or content that looks great in Ultra HD, that otherwise they could not afford or is not available in a given region. Such high value content already accounts for about a quarter of pay TV revenues and will rise to a third by 2022.
The other factor, one which even some of the traditional Conditional Access/DRM vendors have failed to take full account of, is the growing convergence between pay TV content piracy or revenue theft and other security risks shared with different sectors. These include Distributed Denial of Service (DDoS) attacks and compromise or theft of customer data, as well as ransomware attacks. The cost of customers’ privacy being violated is going up as regulations such as the Europe Union’s GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation) come into force. There are also emerging threats associated with the Internet of Things (IoT) for those service providers extending into areas such as home security monitoring and environmental control.
So more than ever before pay TV operators and content owners need an integrated or holistic approach to security that goes beyond immediate content protection. The last thing security needs right now are islands of browser DRMs which soak up licensing spend, and distract from real end to end security solutions.