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Piracy sites are bombarding users with malicious ads to download actual malware

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Piracy sites are bombarding users with malicious ads, pushing victims into downloading viruses, malware, and even ransomware, a new report has warned.

Research published by the Digital Citizens Alliance, White Bullet, and Unit 221B found piracy sites, where people seek free content such as movies, series, or sports events, are filled with malvertising – malicious ads that promote scare tactics and other dubious means in order to get people to click on them. 

For example, an ad would look like an antivirus program, claiming the victim’s endpoint is infected with a virus and that they should click on the button provided below to clean their device. Clicking the button would do the exact opposite, though, 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.

Major industry

Malvertising on piracy sites has grown into a major industry, too, the report claims, saying piracy operators generate an estimated $121 million in revenues this way. 

They also make up some 12% of all ads shown on piracy sites, while more than half of the $121 million ($68.3 million) came from U.S. visitors. In fact, piracy sites are doing so well with malvertising that almost 80% of these sites serve malware-ridden ads to their users. 

What’s more, the volumes are immense. Piracy site visitors were served a total of 321 million ads.

“This report confirms what content owners have suspected for years – that using piracy services is likely to harm consumers through malware (opens in new tab) infection,” says Peter Szyszko, CEO and founder of White Bullet. 

“We collect vast amounts of advertising data on piracy services and track its value. Clearly it is not just brands who are to blame for funding 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 seek to make as much money as possible – whether from legitimate but misplaced ads or from malicious actors. The ad industry needs to stop funding piracy, or, as we can now see, content owners and consumers all suffer.” 

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