Stealing streaming video from sources like Netflix, Hulu or Amazon Prime does not require much effort or investment. An inexpensive piece of hardware, some free software and bingo! Now you can watch that streaming video without paying for the privilege.
That’s piracy, of course, and totally illegal, but according to a recent report from the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA), 12 million Americans use the devices. While a $50 device and some free software can give someone access to the vast amount of streaming video available on the web, the device also makes it easy for a thief to hack into someone’s home network and steal personal information like the home network name and password. With that data in hand, access to data behind the router is not difficult to steal.
Some devices are sold through Amazon, eBay, Craigslist and Facebook Marketplace, according to the DCA report for a one-time cost of $75 to $100. These devices link to so-called pirate apps that act as a software hub allowing access to unlicensed content at streaming video websites. At least 40% of the pirate apps, however, contain malware, according to a report at Dark Reading.
According to the DCA report, once the malware has infected the home network, it “will add any locally stored media it finds in a user’s network of interconnected devices and make it part of [the malware’s] catalog of media, including the user’s movies, pictures, images and applications.”
Even a legitimate device like Amazon’s Fire TV Stick 4K can be set to allow a user to download Android-based software known as Kodi apps. Here’s how one satisfied Amazon customer answered a question on whether the $50 Fire TV Stick was “jailbroken”:
The term being tossed around is “sideloaded”. As [the Fire Stick] comes from the factory it is set to NOT allow software from non-official sources. You can change this by going to the setup menu and changing the software switch to ALLOW, you’ll be presented with a warning advising you of some of the bad things that can happen, when you ACCEPT Bob’s your Uncle [British slang for “there it is”] and you can “sideload” 3rd party apps like Kodi or other 3rd party software. The Kodi menus are nice making it a nice choice for viewing programming you are licensed to view even if you aren’t planning on pirating programming (which is illegal).
A DCA survey estimated that 13% of U.S. homes have a device that would allow pirated content to be shown on their home screens. Of that total, 44% reported issues with malware compared with just 7% who did not own a piracy device.
What then do the thieves get from all this? Legitimate credentials to a legitimate Netflix subscription, for example, can fetch $10 a year. Do that enough times and you can make a decent buck. A malefactor has 12 million devices (so far) to steal from, so the odds aren’t bad.
The Kodi boxes and similar devices are not illegal, so neither is their sale. But devices that include phony Federal Communications Commission (FCC) certification are illegal and the agency last May asked Amazon and eBay to “take steps to eliminate non-FCC compliant devices or devices that fraudulently bear the FCC logo” from the companies’ websites.”
No word on how that has worked out so far, but even if it were 100% successful, it would have no effect on sales of a legal, programmable Fire TV Stick. While still on the subject if illegal products, take a look at the 10 most counterfeit products in America.