GUEST COLUMN: How to combat streaming piracy with OTT’s broken protocol?

GUEST COLUMN: How to combat streaming piracy with OTT’s broken protocol?

Global TV industry is losing $39.3 to $95.4 billion per year to digital piracy

Deepak Bhatia

Mumbai: With vast sums of money to be made, it’s not surprising that streaming pirates are continually upping their game to keep their highly profitable illegal businesses afloat.  A recent global study conducted by Ampere Analysis for Synamedia found that sports streaming piracy alone is worth over $28 billion and the Global Innovation Policy Centre places the global TV industry’s losses from digital piracy between $39.3 to $95.4 billion per year.

From Bollywood and Hollywood blockbusters to LIVE sports including IPL and women’s football, streaming piracy has reached an industrial scale in India. Within minutes of release, stolen content is circulated, exchanged and sold on open internet sites and social media platforms, such as Telegram and WhatsApp, as well as on closed subscription-based pirate networks and dedicated OTT applications. Some illegitimate, subscription-based pirate services are now so good that consumers think they are using the brand’s own service, damaging the brand of the legitimate service and preventing upsell opportunities.

But with superior intelligence and the appropriate technology and legal procedures in place, the industry can stay one step ahead, protect its revenue streams and stop criminals siphoning off billions in revenue that rightfully belong to content owners and services providers.

Pirate profiteers raise the stakes

Although low quality pirate content filmed surreptitiously in cinemas is still available, as more consumers switch to digital platforms, pirates are using increasingly sophisticated ways to steal content – and deliver it in pristine quality.

And the pirates’ methods have advanced considerably since they simply exploited “the analogue hole”: in other words, stole content from the HDMI ports of Set Top Boxes. As license owners and operators have increased their protection methods, cracking down with a combination of source-detection and disruption technologies as well as legal action, pirates have been hunting for new and more concealed ways to source content and find the weak link in the chain.

From Digital Rights Management (DRM) hacking as seen recently with Widevine, to bypassing client watermarking and manipulating legitimate OTT applications, today’s streaming pirates have found ways to steal not just high-quality content but entire OTT services, including redistributing directly from the service provider’s content delivery network (CDN).

Sourcing, aggregating and distributing content

A quick Google search will quickly take you into a world of organised crime: industrial scale professional hackers, criminal technology experts with content aggregators, content wholesalers and content resellers conducting the biggest criminal heist the world has ever seen.

Current anti-piracy approaches - such as DRM, client hardening and concurrency restrictions are simply scratching the surface of OTT piracy and pirates continue to profit.

Using the intelligence provided by our operational security team and with access to pirates’ scripts, we have unearthed the root source of this problem - the OTT protocol is broken. The technology of OTT delivery makes it simple and cheap to set up as a pirate operator. Pirates don’t necessarily need to break the DRM to steal content. Using pirate servers and clients, pirates are hacking the OTT protocol to get the DRM license and redirect pirate clients to legitimate service and content providers’ CDNs.

With little to no acquisition or content costs, pirates have become ultimate media super-aggregators. They can bring highly-sought after content together at an unbeatable price with no geo restrictions or competition law challenges – and then redistribute the stolen content to their paying customers at the expense of the video service provider by using their infrastructure undetected. 

Protecting content across the ecosystem

With an understanding about the methods used and insight into how pirates operate, Synamedia has developed the industry’s first solution to systemically address the inherent weaknesses that make it easy for pirates to not only steal content but also entire OTT services, including gaining access to the service provider’s CDN.

Synamedia OTT ServiceGuard makes it possible to securely distribute content on open platforms by validating that only legitimate subscribers and applications are granted authorised access and receive content. It gives each client a unique identity that is not cloneable and allocates secure keys for signing service requests, ensuring all client messages are validated for their authenticity and origin. This has a critical role to play in protecting content, but tackling piracy requires an all-round team approach, blending pre-breach approaches with proactive detection and disruption technologies and solutions.

Synamedia’s unrivalled intelligence-based model leverages AI technologies alongside human intelligence - including undercover investigators and cyber security, psychology, criminology, and sociology experts - to monitor and map the piracy supply chain, detect, deter and disrupt piracy and orchestrate anti-piracy activities and legal and technical takedowns.

The financial rewards on offer and the ease of set-up - combined with the low risk of arrest or meaningful punishment - means the problem of piracy will not go away.  But, by making life as difficult as possible for both pirates and viewers of illicit streams and making legal subscriptions more attractive, content owners and rights holders can not only protect their content investments, but video service providers can cut infrastructure costs and create the opportunity to capture new subscribers.

(Deepak Bhatia is general manager and head of sales, India at Synamedia. The views expressed in this column are personal and may not subscribe to them)