Over a million illegal set-top boxes have been sold in the UK in the last two years, putting consumers at risk
New report from police, law enforcement agencies and creative industry professionals gives comprehensive insight into digital piracy criminality in the UK – and the crackdown that continues
Over one million illegal set-top boxes with add-ons that allow consumers to stream content illegally have been sold in the UK in the last two years, putting the public at significant risk.
A new report entitled Cracking Down on Digital Piracy, which collates expert insights from the Intellectual Property Office (IPO), FACT, City of London Police, Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit (PIPCU), Police Scotland and Entura International, gives a first-of-its-kind insight into how criminals profit from pirating content.
The majority of criminals behind digital piracy make their money from advertising; typically banner ads or pop-up windows for casinos or dating sites, sometimes exposing children to inappropriate content. Other money-making scams include subscription fees to access paid-for channels; and charging other criminals to put malware on sites and hijack users’ computers. Estimates range from tens of millions to hundreds of millions of pounds going to these criminal groups every year.
Kieron Sharp, Director General at FACT, said: “This report has come at a crucial time in our fight against digital piracy. A quarter of Brits access digital material illegally, and often don’t realise the risks associated with that, for them and their families. Pirates are not Robin Hood characters; they are criminals who do it to make money through illicit means. As a result, the risks are high – inappropriate advertising that could be seen by young children, electrical safety associated with counterfeit parts, and financial cyber crime.”
With criminal enterprises closely linked to piracy, there are also several concerning trends emerging, which consumers need to be aware of:
- Kodi add-ons: The availability of illegal add-ons to Kodi software has helped organised gangs reach a wider audience, but these add-ons have no parental controls or security standards
- Social media streaming overtaking web streaming: Most streaming now happens through social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook, helping the criminals attract more viewers and put more users at risk of malware or security issues
- The dark web and bitcoin boom: More criminal gangs are using the dark web – hidden from the mainstream internet – to sell illicit information, such as the illegal software used to modify set-top boxes or the customer data they’ve acquired through malware
- Social media commerce replacing the pub or car boot sale: The criminals selling illicit streaming devices are moving their business online, advertising on social media platforms and e-commerce sites. This helps them remain anonymous and avoid capture.
DCI Pete Ratcliffe, Head of PIPCU, added: “While it may be tempting for people to think they are getting a bargain when streaming illegally, it’s important to remember that there are organised criminals behind it, often associated with other serious crimes. Pirating content is not a petty crime; from release groups, to site operators to set-top box wholesalers and distributers, there is an international criminal business model.”