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Massive illegal streaming crackdown launched after true scale of illicit live streams revealed

·2-min read
Mobdro offered free live streams of premier league football matches and other sporting events (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Mobdro offered free live streams of premier league football matches and other sporting events (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

A major anti-piracy campaign has been launched in the UK after research revealed how popular illicit live streams of sporting events have become.

The research, commissioned by the Federation Against Copyright Theft (FACT) and published today, found that nearly half of all respondents would be willing to share their personal email address in order to gain access to an illicit stream. This is despite the majority of those questioned saying that they recognised the potential risk that comes with watching pirated content.

The single most popular sport to pirate is European football, which fans seek out on illicit online streaming sites or through pirate TV services

“European football accounts for over a quarter of all illicit streaming sites online,” said cyber security expert Jamie Woodruff.

“This means that football fans in particular are putting themselves at risk of everything from viruses and malware to stolen personal information. The truth is that while these sites may look harmless, the criminals behind them and the danger they pose are not.”

Examples of cyber mischief carried out by hosts of illicit streams include using a viewer’s device to mine cryptocurrency, and hijacking their webcam by tricking users into downloading fake video players, according to Mr Woodruff.

The campaign, which features former Premier League football star Jimmy Bullard, coincides with a major weekend of sport, including the North London derby, the Ryder Cup and the heavyweight boxing showdown between Anthony Joshua and Oleksandr Usyk.

Joshua’s popularity has seen thousands of live stream links spread online in the build up to his fights, with piracy-tracking firm Muso registering 13 million views of illicit streams of his first title fight with Andy Ruiz in 2019.

Not all live streaming sites actually pose a cyber risk to visitors, with some relying on advertising to generate revenue – often in the form of invasive pop-ups. And while hosting illegal streams is illegal, no one has ever been arrested for watching them.

Last year, thousands of people believed to be subscribed to an illicit streaming service received a warning notice from police, however law enforcement tend to focus on the people providing access to premium content. A recent joint operation between West Midlands Police and FACT resulting in three arrests and the dismantling of a major piracy network.

“It’s really important that people know the serious nature of the risks they’re exposing themselves to if they choose to view content illegally,” said Kieron Sharp, the CEO of FACT.

“Anyone considering turning to illegal content should think twice about whether it’s really worth it – what appears to be free could come with a very high cost.”

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