Piggybacking on pirated content is a tactic long employed by the internet’s underworld. But hackers are increasingly are turning to pirated episodes of popular TV shows as a vehicle to deliver malicious software, according to new research released Sept. 26 from antivirus vendor Kapersky Lab and U.K.-based website BestVPN.com.
Malicious executable files can easily be binded with or disguised as video files. With such surreptitiously planted malware, a user only needs to launch the video file for their computer to become infected, the researchers noted.
HBO’s “Game of Thrones” is the top TV show worldwide hackers have turned to for distributing embedded malicious code, according to the study. Over the last 12 months, more than 170,000 infection attempts were detected from illegal downloads of “Game of Thrones” episodes affecting about 50,000 users, Kapersky and BestVPN.com found.
The next most popular show for hackers was AMC’s “The Walking Dead,” with around 100,000 infection attempts detected on nearly 20,000 computers around the world. Researchers found far fewer malware attacks for other TV shows: Pirated copies of Netflix’s “Stranger Things” resulted in 13,257 attack notifications affecting 4,600 users; HBO’s “Westworld” episodes had 5,300 infection attempts on 2,063 computers; and Netflix’s “Orange Is the New Black” pirated copies showed 3,348 attempted attacks on 1,334 PCs.
The fact that hackers are huge fans of “Game of Thrones” for delivering malware payloads isn’t surprising: The HBO epic fantasy series, based on the novels of George R.R. Martin, historically has been the No. 1 pirated television show worldwide.