Piracy sites make more than $1 .3 billion from malicious and real ads
Adam Janofsky August 12, 2021

Piracy sites make more than $1 .3 billion from malicious and real ads

Piracy sites make more than $1 .3 billion from malicious and real ads

Online criminals reap an estimated $1.34 billion from websites and apps that feature pirated movies, TV shows, games, and live events, according to a year-long study published Thursday by the nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance and anti-piracy firm White Bullet.

About one-third of piracy websites and apps analyzed during the study carried “malvertising”—fake ads, fraudulent promotions, and deceptive images that, once clicked, trigger the download of malware on the user’s computer. The malware can be lucrative for publishers, according to the study, which found examples of adware that automatically displays ads when a user goes online, browser hijackers that redirects users’ browsers to specific ads, as well as Trojans and keyword loggers that can steal credentials and other sensitive data.

“The purveyor of the malware not only pays the publisher for placing the ad, but may also provide additional commission for every resulting malware infection or fraudulent installation,” the report said. “In this way a complex symbiosis develops between piracy and malware that ultimately harms both consumers and rights owners.”

The study tracked over 664 billion ad impressions across roughly 6,000 popular piracy websites and 900 apps between June 2020 and May 2021. By cross-referencing the impressions against an advertising revenue matrix, the study was able to determine that the websites generated about $1 billion in ad revenue annually, while the apps generated more than $250 million. Although there are significantly more piracy websites than apps, the report found that the market for apps is growing at a faster pace.

The study highlights several examples of malicious advertisements they found on piracy sites. On one website used to stream live US sporting events, clicking on an advertisement installs malware that floods a user with pop-ups and redirects them to an adware site.

The study tracked over 664 billion ad impressions across roughly 6,000 popular piracy websites and 900 apps between June 2020 and May 2021. By cross-referencing the impressions against an advertising revenue matrix, the study was able to determine that the websites generated about $1 billion in ad revenue annually, while the apps generated more than $250 million. Although there are significantly more piracy websites than apps, the report found that the market for apps is growing at a faster pace.

Adam is the founding editor-in-chief of The Record by Recorded Future. He previously was the cybersecurity and privacy reporter for Protocol, and prior to that covered cybersecurity, AI, and other emerging technology for The Wall Street Journal.