Report finds 12% of ads on piracy websites involve malware to target users

WASHINGTON — There are tens of thousands of illegal piracy websites that offer free movies, TV shows and games to users.

It’s a roughly $2 billion-plus industry.

The very nature of piracy websites means they are not regulated since they are already illegal, and a new report has revealed that cybercriminals are taking advantage of that lack of regulation.

The report, from the Digital Citizens Alliance, found that 12% of total ads on piracy websites involve malware.

“Investigators found malware on piracy sites designed to gain access to a user’s device to steal banking information, download spyware to track a user’s activities, or flag it for a potential future attack,” the report said.

Cybercriminals can cash in on users with just a few clicks.

“Criminals are engaged in a very clever but dangerous trick to click scheme,” said Tom Galvin, executive director of the Digital Citizens Alliance.

Sometimes it may look like ads offering a free product or it could be a scare tactic to convince users to hand over information.

Galvin said his organization’s own investigators were hit with a ransomware attack while looking into the issue on a piracy website.

“Our computer was taken over,” said Galvin. “Our files were encrypted and then we received a message, a demand for money, to be able to decrypt these files and get access to them again.”

The report found that nearly 8 out of 10 pirate sites investigated had malware-ridden ads.

“We are on a cusp of a malware epidemic and the simple act of searching on piracy websites in search of free movies, TV shows and games is helping fuel that,” said Galvin.

This report comes as law enforcement and members of Congress have been investigating the overall rise in ransomware attacks in recent years.

Earlier this year, the Department of Homeland Security testified about the danger to everyone.

“They target large and smaller targets, whether it’s large corporations, small or medium enterprises, hospitals, local governments or schools,” said Iranga Kahangama, assistant secretary for cyber, infrastructure, risk and resilience, Office of Strategy, Policy, and Plans for the U.S. Department of Homeland Security, during a House hearing in June.

Galvin is hoping the new findings will make users think twice before logging on to a piracy website.

“When someone goes on a piracy website and gets infected, that can lead to a small business being shut down,” said Galvin. “It could lead to serious confidential documents being compromised.”

Galvin said the group is engaging with government organizations and the ad community to address this issue and it is creating education programs for users about the dangers.

Download the FREE WPXI News app for breaking news alerts.

Follow Channel 11 News on Facebook and Twitter. | Watch WPXI NOW