The promise of a free movie download led thousands of people into unintended malware.
There are probably few among us who, never have they ever, downloaded questionable content. Whether it was a hit song in the Napster era or a Blockbuster movie you found on a “special” site online, you can probably think of at least one occasion when you got access to something from a, shall we say, less than reputable source.
We’re not here to tell you what’s ok or not ok, but it is our job to provide a helpful reminder that there’s serious risk involved any time you download content from a questionable source. For a recent example, consider Universal Pictures’ The Super Mario Bros. Movie.
The hugely popular Nintendo-themed movie was posted and viewable on Twitter for two days before administrators removed it. The draw of getting to see a brand-new movie for free was too much temptation for many, so would-be movie fans took to searching the internet to rediscover the removed posts.
And those fans found the movie—laced with malware designed to steal credit card information and passwords from their web browsers. The pirated movie was seeded by threat actors taking advantage of the surge in interest of downloading a free movie. The download was made easy, and the malware trojan is estimated to have infected millions of computers across the globe.
The lurking dangers of downloading pirated movies
The allure of free or discounted access to movies (and software) can often lead individuals down the path of piracy. However, unauthorized distribution comes with real risk. The same people who are keen to distribute pirated content aren’t likely to take issue with spreading malware to the uninitiated. Malicious software can be craftily hidden in any set of bundled files and streaming links, which can cause considerable damage to your computer as well as your digital life.
When you download a pirated movie, you could unknowingly be welcoming malware into your system. This occurs because the movie file can come bundled with a range of harmful programs, including viruses, worms, ransomware, and spyware. As the movie file is installed, so too is the malware, slipping through your system defenses without a trace.
Threat actors also often use fake movie files as bait. When an unsuspecting user opens the file, the malware is activated and makes its way into the user’s computer system. What seemed like an innocent film can quickly become a real threat to your personal data and your privacy.
Even visiting the wrong website can cause malware infections
The danger is not limited to movie files alone. Piracy websites are notorious for an excess of pop-ups and redirect links. These nuisances do more than just disrupt your browsing experience; they can also lead to malware downloads when clicked on. You might think you’re closing a window or dismissing a pop-up, but you’re actually opening the door for the bad guys to install programs without your knowledge.
Even movie subtitles and codec packs, which seem harmless, can be used to deliver malware. Harmful scripts hidden within these files are triggered when you play the movie, resulting in an infected system.
These can extract sensitive information like credit card numbers, social security numbers, and passwords from your web browser. They can potentially encrypt your files, holding them hostage until you pay a demanded ransom. They might even use your computer’s resources to mine cryptocurrency or integrate your device into a botnet network, typically utilized for DDoS attacks.
Protecting yourself against these threats involves a few key practices. Firstly, avoiding pirated content and sourcing movies from legitimate streaming channels and websites significantly reduces your risk. Keeping your operating system, browser, and antivirus software updated is also crucial, as regular virus updates often include patches for the latest security vulnerabilities. Furthermore, regularly backing up your data can help safeguard against potential loss from a malware attack.
In the long run, the perceived cost-saving benefits of pirated movies are quickly outweighed by the risks that someone may take your personal or financial data. As some cybersecurity professionals like to say: A threat actor only has to succeed once. Respecting copyrights and prioritizing your online safety over free downloads can help ensure that your digital life remains secure.