Piracy is increasingly hazardous, says Digital Citizens.

I imagine most people, whether they’re users of pirate sites or not, haven’t paid much attention to the growing number of safety warnings associating content theft with identity theft and related crimes against consumers.  For one thing, the whole idea of media piracy itself has, for too long, enjoyed undeserved credibility as a so-called victimless crime performing a social good broadly described as “sharing.” Or it’s been framed in economic terms by various pundits as a natural market reaction to outdated distribution and pricing models. And more than a few notable Internet activist organizations have either explicitly or implicitly evangelized the notion that piracy is fundamentally free speech, which enables said activists to label various efforts to mitigate piracy as “chilling speech.”

But over the last year or so, several studies have been conducted—I believe I have cited most of them—which demonstrate that piracy is one thing for sure:   dangerous.   Anyone with a computer, a bank account, a business, children, etc. should probably set aside both their preconceived attitudes and their ambivalence on the subject of piracy and read this new report commissioned by Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) and conducted by RiskIQ.  Here’s just one hypothetical scenario that can happen to anybody:

You don’t visit pirate sites yourself, but your kid might without your knowledge, or even without necessarily knowing what he’s doing. Maybe he was just looking for mods for Minecraft or innocently trying to watch some anime cartoon, and you’ve never worried much whether he’s visiting legal or illegal sites.  But simply by stumbling onto a pirate site, this new DCA report indicates that your kid is at least 28 times more likely to infect the family computer with malware that can be used to drain your bank account, slave your computer for ad fraud (as described in my recent post citing the IAB report), or seize control of your computer to hold for ransom with a 72 hour window to pay several thousand dollars or kiss your data goodbye.

The DCA/RiskIQ report is aptly named Digital Bait in that it studies a growing sophistication among cybercriminals in the use of content theft sites—and presumably even misleading “free content” links—to hook users by downloading truly insidious malware to their devices. Businesses and entrepreneurs are particularly vulnerable to Denial of Services attacks in which the hacker takes down a website and demands a considerable ransom in order to restore the site to public visibility (y’know in the name of free speech and all).

RiskIQ estimates, just from the sites within the scope of this study, that 12 million U.S. users per month are being exposed to malware attacks, and DCA says this is merely the tip of the iceberg.  According to the U.S. Department of Justice 16.2 million consumers have been victims of identity theft representing financial losses totaling more than $24.7 billion. And the problem is currently growing in both scope and sophistication in the cybercriminals’ ability to use malware to scam their victims.

For instance, one of the more disturbing developments in malware is that a user no longer has to click on an infected link to contract the virus. Called “drive-by-downloads,” the Digital Bait report estimates that 45% of the malware in the scope of its study can be delivered invisibly without requiring the user to click on anything.  The report also indicates that more than half of the malware being delivered are Trojans, and many of these are Remote Access Trojans (RATs), which I discussed in this post after DCA published a report on this relatively unsophisticated form of hacking. Individuals can buy any of several RAT software kits for a few hundred dollars and start controlling a victim’s computer with an easy-to-use graphic interface that requires little-to-no coding skill.  RATs can be used to harvest financial information or to spy on victims, including turning on webcams and microphones. Personal data can then be used for ransom; or IP addresses,  particularly of young girls, may be sold in a black market exchange.

Not surprisingly, the report identifies that all of this growing malware activity is supported by a mature, underground “crimeware economy” operating on the Dark Web.  To quote the report:

“The DarkNet allows individual hacking groups to specialize in specific categories and to earn money for delivery of goods and services to other criminals. For example, one organization may specialize in developing the malware that is installed on consumer devices and sell it on the web. Another organization will be responsible for distributing and installing the malware on consumer PCs or mobile devices. A third group that runs a forum might also purchase stolen consumer credentials and resell them in the DarkNet.”

For years, copyright owners have focused on advertising, which remains the primary revenue source for many of the most popular sites dedicated to providing unlicensed “free” content.  But as the advertising community continues to collaborate on fixing the flaws in digital advertising ecosystem, which cause financial loss and harm to brand value, this  will likely motivate cybercriminals to more aggressively dangle the lure of “free” content to draw consumers into malware traps.

On the other hand, a likely silver lining in this growing relationship between mass copyright infringement and serious harm to consumers is that copyright holders and Internet companies should find common cause in seeking both voluntary and law-enforcement remedies to the problem.  After all, the spread of malware harms the entire Internet economy, and it as much in Google’s interests as it is in the creative industries’ interests to seek solutions.

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© 2015, David Newhoff. All rights reserved.

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13 comments

  • As data mining continues to become more important as a revenue generator and more sophisticated it only makes sense that criminal sites that exploit artists for revenue would extend their crimina behavior to their users.

    This is an important part of the message, why online exploitation of an artist’s work needs to end. If you haven’t signed the petition that asks our legislators to amend laws that fail to protect artists and their work please consider doing so.

    Give artists the tools they need to decide who can use their work on the internet: http://www.takedownstaydown.org

  • There is certainly far too much malware proliferating amongst the criminal black market as you say. Sometimes it seeps into open-source sites when they panic/corrupt and think they need more money to sustain themselves.* I would go one step further: those websites that do give away all kinds of creative works are not bothering to verify the age of the downloader when the stuff is 18 or even 15 rated.

    And I’ll also say this: drug dealers don’t check for I.D. either. They don’t check their compounds for unregulated, dangerous substances in the mixtures as they are indifferently dished out, and actual viruses are caught as a result of the repressing of folk’s own actions within their own spheres, noticably HIV. This is caused by a pointless criminalisation where the black market is replaced by gaps in the black market to eventually be refilled, all over actions that “do no harm” to others in every since of John Stuart Mill. Yet we do it, because humanity has a dark history of criminalising and demonising the unhealthy (see the criminalisation of attempts at suicide, the confinement of all the mentally ill to be locked up in hospitals, and many more). The criminalisation of self-harm through drugs or anything else, whether that self-harm is real or perceived is cruelty, and there’s no other way of putting it.

    With copyright piracy you may not be able to make the “do no harm” argument in the same way, if you experience joy from an artist without paying your dues. I certainly wouldn’t, but you sure as hell can make the argument from de-facto unenforcability, which is the only thing that matters. If you can’t do it, you can’t do it. And I find it hard to believe that the gigantic proliferation of piracy on the internet is because “we’re just not trying hard enough to fight against it”.

    “You can say this about any criminal market including the crimes that should stay crimes” you may say, but at least with these criminal-and-should-be markets e.g. illegal firearm trades, child sex abuse image trading, financial/identity fraud and virus spreading, you can safely say that all instances of these things should be removed as they appear on the internet, and that the general attitude to this things amongst civilised societies has no excuse-making component behind them.

    Whereas with copyright piracy, you can imagine law enforcement’s frustration when as they remove what pirated material they can, the artists are flooding the internet with exact copies with the difference being they they approve of them. And then wonder why everybody is making so many unauthorised copies afterwards. At least you know every single instance of, say, a virus is something to be eliminated. With copyrighted works, they could either be approved or not approved as they end up on the illegal downloader’s machine, and it’s simply not practical to press on charging them even if they’ve pirated thousands of dollars worth of software. Plus, we have a whole generation of folk who’ve grown up to believe it’s okay and hence outnumber the police with the force of “I Am Spartacus”, likewise to the war on drugs – so I hope you’ll appreciate this is quite different from those illegal activities that should remain illegal: the numbers are not in your favour.

    We all know why it would be a bad idea for the Federal Reserve to introduce JPEG dollars as legal tender. Nobody would say in this situation “yeah we admit about 99% of dollars out there are fake ever since we introduced this policy and our currency has crashed, but you know what? We wouldn’t use the excuse “just because we can’t get all killers therefore we should allow killing” would we? So let’s keep the JPEG dollars and continue to enforce against any unauthorised fakes.”

    And why shouldn’t I make this comparison? Isn’t money a system of artificial scarcity where one party is allowed to make copies and give permission to others to make copies, where everyone else is forbidden? And isn’t there a big reason why it works reasonably okay (UK fake pound coin rate is only 3%) when the legal tenders are coins and notes, and where stupid forms of money like JPEGs and TXT files are not allowed?

    Because we all know that the internet would be filled with viruses attached to these fake JPEG dollars as they were being traded. We all know that it’d be ridiculous to enforce it. We all know that even if there were honest people who wouldn’t make fake copies of the JPEG dollar and traded honestly without stealing, that the JPEG dollar tender in no way deserves credit for that honesty.

    Why else would piracy be so strong today, compared to about 100 years ago where it definitely was tougher to commit, as tough as the circulation of forged coins for example? And what makes us thing it’s going to get any better 100 years into the future, where high HD movies could very well be de facto as scarce as salt? Because there’s a reason why we reject doing what the Roman’s did when they traded in salt for monetary purposes.

    *(I don’t actually favour the open-source software/GNU movement because it too depends on copyright and therefore it too is doomed and unenforcable – every bit of code volunteered is just that, volunteered, and we shouldn’t really think any more of it).

    • Do you think any of us are so naive that we believe online exploitation can ever be eliminated or that the current generation embraces artist exploitation as did those who grew up with it and believe it was their revolution?

      No one can gauge how effective “stay down” will be in making it more difficult and more painful for those who profit from it.

      What I do know is we have a law that is not just ineffective it’s an insult and injustice to the person who created the work. There are no ‘free speech’ issues, because it is simply the creator or copyright holder who decides what happens to their work.

      I’m really not swayed by your lame inevitability argument, I simply want greater control for the creator.

      There are no valid reasons to oppose http://www.takedownstaydown.org only self-serving ones for those who can’t grasp the reality of creation being someone’s work.

      • Do you think any of us are so naive that we believe online exploitation can ever be eliminated

        Well I’m glad you agree with me there, never mind the offline exploitation.

        or that the current generation embraces artist exploitation as did those who grew up with it and believe it was their revolution?

        I certainly hope that such a generation grows up to take more solidarity with artists, because when they do, copyright law won’t deserve credit for it. Such a movement is going to have principles far beyond that of “because the law says so”.

        No one can gauge how effective “stay down” will be in making it more difficult and more painful for those who profit from it.

        It’s one thing to takedown millions upon millions of global pirate websites armed with all kinds of proxies, encryption, digital-lock evaders etc to get around all kinds of blocks as they keep popping up to fill the gaps in the black market driving their creation, it’s quite another to claim you know where piracy is going to happen before it actually happens and act on it pre-emptively.

        What I do know is we have a law that is not just ineffective it’s an insult and injustice to the person who created the work.

        Copyright law is indeed that, yes.

        There are no ‘free speech’ issues, because it is simply the creator or copyright holder who decides what happens to their work.

        How euphemistic of you. I would have gone with “well of course ownership of expression will never be at odds with freedom of expression – after all, you can trust us to know where to draw the lines!”

        I’m really not swayed by your lame inevitability argument, I simply want greater control for the creator.

        There are no valid reasons to oppose http://www.takedownstaydown.org only self-serving ones for those who can’t grasp the reality of creation being someone’s work.

        You’re evidently not swayed by it, but you’ve done nothing to try and refute it.

      • Jameshogg: “You’re evidently not swayed by it, but you’ve done nothing to try and refute it.”

        I would expect no other response from someone who is embedded in the artist exploitation conversation. I refrain from the word ‘piracy’ because frankly it is too glamorous for the problem, as pointed out lately by a friend.

        To attempt to transform the way hardcore anti-artist proponents think about copyright or any pro- creators rights mechanism on the internet is futile. We end up with the same arguments that have been circulated for over a decade, so why bother, really. You and I simply disagree.

        Fortunately, there is a new generation who are looking at the problem with some perspective and even those who support it, don’t share your messianic verve.

        “I certainly hope that such a generation grows up to take more solidarity with artists, because when they do, copyright law won’t deserve credit for it. Such a movement is going to have principles far beyond that of “because the law says so”.

        This entire statement is pretty delusional and demonstrates a lack of reality based thinking.

        “more solidarity with artists?” What are you going to start paying their rent and inviting them into your home for dinner?

        “Such a movement is going to have principles far beyond that of “because the law says so”.

        Unfortunately, without law we have anarchy. What; you think everyone is going to behave themselves and do the right thing? How awesome if that could happen, but it hasn’t. If that were the case, we wouldn’t have so much criminal activity on the internet, which is an experiment in seeing how an open source works.

      • Will–
        “I refrain from the word ‘piracy’ because frankly it is too glamorous for the problem, as pointed out lately by a friend.”

        Ha! Piracy has been the label that authors have used for people who made copies of their works without permission since long before authors were granted copyrights.  If I recall correctly, the first use of the word was in Thomas Dekker’s pamphlet ‘The Wonderful Year’ from 1603, a good century before the Statute of Anne.  And this was the golden age of piracy, when there were a lot of pirates roaming the seas and every sea voyage incurred a sizable risk of slavery or death, much less simple robbery.

        Nowadays pirates seem to have taken the word back, and are using it with pride in some cases, or with no great opprobrium otherwise.  But look at you, all indignant that you can’t effectively use it to show scorn!  Your reaction strikes me as being no different than that of old time bigots who are upset that they can’t say ‘kike’ or ‘faggot’ or ‘nigger’ in polite company anymore.

        I don’t really care for the term ‘pirate’ myself, but what you said there has really made my day.

        “hardcore anti-artist proponents”

        There’s no such thing, really. A few people might look down on particular authors — Steve Dahl’s infamous Disco Demolition Night springs to mind — but there’s really no one who is ‘anti-artist’ in general.

        Rather, there are people who don’t like how the law and the government bend over backwards to favor authors at the expense of the public.  Even a very strong (and rare) position like calling for the abolishment of copyright isn’t ‘anti-artist’ — It doesn’t put authors at a disadvantage compared to the public; it just levels the playing field.  You’ve just got your knickers in a twist because people have dared to suggest that authors might merit slightly less favorable treatment than the excessive favorable treatment they’re getting now.  I’m sure the French aristocrats of the 1780s were equally so baffled at the thought of losing an iota of their privileges that they decided to ignore the entire argument, save to bad-mouth it.  And just as their failure to seriously try to make any accommodation in time didn’t work out so well for them, hard-line copyright maximalist arguments will likely not wind up working out well for you.

        “We end up with the same arguments that have been circulated for over a decade….”

        Well over a decade. Try reading Thomas Macaulay’s speeches to Parliament on copyright from the 1840’s sometime.  Nothing’s really changed.

        “Fortunately, there is a new generation who … don’t share your messianic verve.”

        Yeah, they’re much more hardcore.  Instead of having grown up with relatively strong copyright and limited opportunities where one might consider whether or not to infringe, and having to think about it, the kids today will infringe as naturally as breathing, whenever they find that copyright gets in their way.

        Once, there were strong arguments about whether the Sun went around the Earth, or vice versa.  There was impassioned debate.  Now people don’t even think about it; the heliocentric argument is so solid that people would look at you funny and maybe take a few steps back if you suggested that there was even an argument to be had anymore.  That’s what’s happening with copyright; all the popular support for the law is eroding rapidly, and this will continue to happen until the law is reformed to reflect the reality of what ordinary people think is acceptable, and what they voluntarily abide by.  Whether authors and publishers like it or not.

        “Unfortunately, without law we have anarchy.”

        You mean chaos; anarchists are entirely capable of having laws and orderly communities.

        “What; you think everyone is going to behave themselves and do the right thing?”

        That is generally how society works, yes.  Most people aren’t assholes to one another.  Even if I knew that I would not get caught, I would not burn down people’s houses, or rape their children.  I don’t think that I’m unusual in this regard, though of course there are a comparatively small number of outliers, who the law does have to deal with.

        On the other hand, most people ignore copyright as a matter of course, which suggests (correctly) that copyright does not have a moral component.  People don’t obey copyright because it is the right thing because it isn’t the right thing.  It’s got no more moral basis than a zoning law that limits building heights to two stories in a neighborhood instead of three.

        Having informally looked into this for a long time, I’d say that the popular consensus about copyright is that ordinary individuals don’t think that it should restrict other ordinary individuals, at least when they’re not acting in a significantly commercial context.  So if you ask your friend if they’ll make you a copy of the music on their computer, this is not seen as something the law should concern itself with.  When a preschool paints a mural of Disney characters on the wall for the enjoyment of the children, or the Girl Scouts sing songs around the campfire without paying ASCAP, this too is not seen as being offensive.  However, if a record company started printing up and selling CDs without paying the songwriters and musicians, that would be seen as something that the law ought to provide a remedy for.

        So basically, there’s no real dispute that professional publishers and similar entities should have to abide by some form of copyright law which provides a benefit to authors.  The law just shouldn’t stop ordinary folks from doing basically whatever they feel like, the aggregate effect of which doesn’t even get considered, and so isn’t a real justification for regulating the ordinary folks.

        Reform copyright law down to the level of what people would abide by anyway, and you’ll see that there isn’t chaos, or even anarchy, but instead that the vast majority of people become perfect law-abiding citizens.  Not by changing their behavior, but by changing the law.

        We’re already seeing this with states raising speed limits, legalizing drugs, etc.  No reason why copyright can’t be changed too, so that it only becomes of interest for people in the industry, and stops being of any concern for everyone else.

        “[T]he internet, which is an experiment in seeing how an open source works.”

        Wow, a statement that is both untrue and nonsensical.  Certainly an interesting choice to close with.

        David–
        Your article here is a great example of the sort of information-free, hyperbolic “utter bullshit” writing you were decrying in your previous article, yet with the masterful spin of coming at the copyright debate from the other side. Pretty clever of you to show that chowderheads on both sides will do this sort of thing. Well done!

      • “Nowadays pirates seem to have taken the word back, and are using it with pride in some cases, or with no great opprobrium otherwise. But look at you, all indignant that you can’t effectively use it to show scorn!

        Indignant? What should my attitude be? Grateful. Ever read what ‘pirates’ had to say when an artist stood up for their rights? Why do you think artists have been on the sidelines, primarily silent?

        “Your reaction strikes me as being no different than that of old time bigots who are upset that they can’t say ‘kike’ or ‘faggot’ or ‘nigger’ in polite company anymore.”

        Hardly. Guess I touched a nerve. What really gets me are low ballers like yourself, who lack the courage to identify themselves. Old time bigots? You should talk.

        I don’t really care for the term ‘pirate’ myself, but what you said there has really made my day.

        What word would you prefer, you seem to excel at demonstrating your command of the vocabulary. Or is it just showing off?

      • Will–
        “What word would you prefer”

        For infringement: ‘infringer.’
        For alleged infringement: ‘alleged infringer.’

        These would be easy, accurate, and in the interests of promoting actual discussion, rather than appeals to emotion or slurs, they’re neutral in tone.

        “What really gets me are low ballers like yourself, who lack the courage to identify themselves.”

        Does it matter? My identity doesn’t have any bearing on the points I raised in my earlier comment (other than whether or not I engage in serious crimes, but even that doesn’t invalidate the argument generally).

      • Will–
        “What word would you prefer”

        Can I play this game?

        The teen: Little deluded dupe
        The mid 20 something: Self-entitled freetarding scum.
        Those in the tech media that advocate and trumpet piracy: Cultural scabs for mega-corps.

  • “Your reaction strikes me as being no different than that of old time bigots who are upset that they can’t say ‘kike’ or ‘faggot’ or ‘nigger’ in polite company anymore.”

    You make these kinds of statements and hide behind anonymity. You are a coward.

  • Nice post, very provoking. Can you update the links here, or just put in the full name of the research you put links to?

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