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Digital Citizens News

Victims No More: Malware Risk Prompts Internet User to Steer Clear of Content Theft Sites, According to New Survey

Published Wednesday, December 16, 2015

1 in 5 Americans Acknowledge Visiting Content Theft Websites

But 82 Percent Said That if They Knew That Content Theft Websites Could Expose Them to Computer Viruses They Would Steer Clear of These Websites

Survey Comes on Heels of Recent Report That Revealed That 1 in 3 Content Theft Websites Expose Internet Users to Dangerous Malware

WASHINGTON, DC (December 16, 2015) – Internet users, including many who acknowledge visiting content theft websites to watch free movies, TV shows and listen to music, report that if they knew that it could expose them to malware and other viruses they would steer clear of these websites, according to a new survey.

According to the survey, one in five Americans acknowledged visiting content theft websites. But 82 percent of Internet users reported that if they knew that content theft websites could expose them to computer viruses they would steer clear of these websites. Of those who visited these websites, 81 percent acknowledged knowing that they were illegally offering stolen content.

The Digital Citizens Alliance survey of 1,000 Americans comes on the heels of new research by the cyber security firm RiskIQ that show content theft sites are riddled with malware that can expose Internet users to identity theft and financial loss. RiskIQ, in a survey commissioned by Digital Citizens found that one out of every three content theft sites exposed users to malware. Internet users who went on content theft sites were 28 times more likely to get malware from a content theft site than from mainstream websites or licensed content providers.

“Internet users that visit content theft websites have up until now seen it as harmless, but the RiskIQ research is a wake-up call that these websites dangle free movies, TV shows and music to lure consumers and then infect their computers,” said Tom Galvin, Executive Director of the Digital Citizens Alliance.

Younger Americans have typically been the most prone to visit content theft websites. As part of the research, Digital Citizens focused on Americas aged 18-29. The findings – conducted in a separate survey of 500 younger Americans, showed they are more apt to visit these websites but also said they would avoid them in the future if they exposed them to malware:

  • Fifty-three percent of Americans aged 18-29 acknowledge having visited content theft sites, nearly three times as much as the overall population.
  • Seventy percent said that they knew these websites illegally offered content, while 13 percent said they knew it was “wrong” but weren’t sure if it was illegal or not.
  • Sixty-three percent said that if visiting these content theft websites exposed them to malware they would steer clear of them in the future.

The RiskIQ study, Digital Bait, probed a sample of 800 websites dedicated to distributing stolen movies and television shows. The results were alarming:

  • Merely visiting a content theft site can place a user’s computer at risk: 45 percent of malware was delivered through so-called “drive-by downloads” that invisibly download to the user’s computer - without requiring them to click on a link.
  • Once hackers get into a computer, they can use it for a wide range of criminal schemes where the user of the computer is the victim. These include:
    • Stealing Bank and credit card information that is then sold on underground Internet exchanges. After the hack, consumers find their bank accounts depleted or suspicious charges on their credit cards. There is an underground market for credit card information that ranges from $2 to $135 per credit card credential.
    • Finding personal information that makes it easier to sell a person’s identity to the highest bidder online. In July, the FBI added five online criminals to its “Most Wanted” list for creating computer programs that stole identities and financial information.
    • Locking a user’s computer and demanding a ransom fee before returning access to their files.
  • Hackers don’t just steal personal information and financial records – they gain access to an Internet user’s computer, enabling them to control it for nefarious purposes, including ad fraud, spamming, denial of service attacks, or extortion by threatening to cripple businesses through attacks on their computer systems.

“One of the best weapons against hackers and malware peddlers is public awareness. It’s imperative that Internet safety and consumer protection groups raise public awareness about the risks Internet users face,” added Galvin. “And federal agencies such as the Federal Trade Commission play a vital role in ensuring that the public is well educated so we can protect our family’s computers.”

To assess Americans perceptions of malware on content theft websites, Digital Citizens conducted two surveys. The first looked at the behavior and opinions of 1,000 Americans, while the second focused on 500 Americans aged 18-29. The surveys were conducted on December 10-13, 2015. More information available upon request.

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