Study Warns of Malware on ‘Pirate’ Apps Loaded on Kodi Boxes

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WASHINGTON — The entertainment industry in recent years has taken aim at a new front in piracy — so-called Kodi boxes, which sell legally but come loaded with infringing content.

Now a group is warning that consumers risk serious attacks from malware for accessing the pirated material.

The Digital Citizens Alliance, a non-profit focused on issues of internet safety, issued a study on Thursday that showed that malware from the apps stole usernames and passwords. The organization has received funding from the Motion Picture Association of America in recent years.

The study, “Fishing in the Piracy Stream: How the Dark Web of Entertainment Is Exposing Consumers to Harm,” focused on devices, known as Kodi boxes or “jailbroken” Fire TV sticks, that resemble Roku or Apple TV boxes yet offer apps that include pirated movies or live sports broadcasts.

“If apps on the box or that are later downloaded have malware, the user has helped the hacker past network security,” according to the study. “Like a trojan horse, the pirate apps are welcomed into the consumer’s home because they purport to offer the gift of free content, only to use their position inside the walls to launch an attack.” According to the group, researchers conducted 500 hours of tests.

One researcher downloaded an ad-supported movie and sports app Mobdro, and it contained malware that forwarded a user’s wifi name and password to a server that appeared to be in Indonesia, according to the study. In another instance, malware uploaded, “without permission, 1.5 terabytes of data from the researcher’s device.” Researchers also found piracy apps supported by advertisers, including Amazon and MiniCooper.

The study was done along with cybersecurity company Dark Wolfe Consulting.

The Canadian cybersecurity firm Sandvine found that almost 10% of the homes in North America are using Kodi devices, which is about in line with some other estimates. A Digital Citizens Alliance survey of 2,073 Americans found that 13% had a device that enabled the streaming of pirated content.
“We know streaming is growing, and we also know that pirates and hackers go to where the money is. They use advertising and malware,” said Tom Galvin, the executive director of the group.