Don't break the chain: Why streaming piracy prevention requires industry-wide collaboration

Video piracy is not dissimilar to a game of cat and mouse where both protagonist and victim are caught up in a seemingly unending match of wits and agility.

Viewers are enjoying a golden age of TV, spoilt for choice with box sets and movies. But for streaming providers it’s a battle to confound and curtail the pirates’ activities at a time when content costs are spiralling, revenue leakage from casual credentials sharing is rising, and most are struggling to turn a profit. You need look no further than the piracy challenges currently facing many sports platforms to see the full extent of the business risk.

It doesn’t help that the public perceives video piracy as a victimless crime and that stretched law enforcement agencies are reluctant to pursue people watching content for free. While pirates in Europe might face jail, convictions in many countries are treated as a misdemeanour that incur little more than a fine.  Pirates must feel they have a licence to print money.

The name of the game is demotivating every player in the pirate chain which is why the industry needs to collaborate to stem the tide and sink the pirates.

Lessons can be learned from the music industry, when everyone in the industry was encouraged to take an active role in fighting illegal music distribution. Through collaboration and bringing down Napster, the industry turned a corner. It wasn’t the end of illegal streaming, but it gave record companies, artists and rights owners a chance to reinvent their business and survive.

The weakest link

Progress to combat piracy is being made by industry organisations such as Asia Video Industry Association (AVIA). But the responsibility has to be broader than the members of these alliances.

Everyone including CDN and cloud service providers, ISPs, payment providers, chip manufacturers, anti-piracy vendors, integrators, rights owners and streaming providers has to acknowledge their responsibilities and cooperate.

The goals are to make itdifficult for pirates to start streaming as making it easy to take down illegal networks as soon as they are detected. Legal payment providers such as Visa or PayPaland cloud providers have an important role here.

Today end user devices are generally the weakest link in the distribution chain. By making streaming services accessible on as many devices as possible, providers have unwittingly ended up making themselves more vulnerable.  It’s not just phones and tablets, this also includes legitimate redistribution systems installed in less rigorously controlled environments such as hotels and bars.

And when pirates findit is too difficult to steal content through those end devices, the cat and mouse game will continue and pirates will simply turn their attention to finding other vulnerabilities further up the chain.

Building a better mousetrap

Anti-piracy vendors need to continually evolve their tools and operational security services to outsmart the pirates. This includes using AI to help streaming providers quickly find pirates who are selling credentials.

While AI is making it easier to detect piracy, any insight needs to be overlaid with sophisticated human intelligence in order to understand the criminal mind-set and ecosystem; how the pirates are organised; what motivates them; and their business model. With this knowledge it is possible to devise a plan to disrupt and demotivate them.

This requires diverse skillsets including cyber security specialists, field and undercover investigators, as well as forensic and intelligence analysts, and psychology, criminology, and sociology experts. For example, undercover investigators can be active online including social media and the dark web as well as gettinginside manufacturing facilities with boots on the ground.

While rights owners and service providers need to invest in these anti-piracy technologies and services, third parties including ISPs also need to ensure that their systems are secure and can move quickly to disrupt or remove any leaks that do occur.

Plus, if one operator is being targeted by pirates, there are usually other similar victims. By sharing details and even pooling resources, we can frustrate the pirates’ efforts.

Finally, while streaming piracy is important, don’t ignore other forms of video piracy, requiring ongoing investment in conditional access and DRM technologies. Plus, consumers are still unknowingly buying illegal set-top boxes from criminals who set up shop to look like a legitimate provider - even going so far to use content brands’ logos.

Together, we can make the pirated content so painful to watch that consumer demand falls away,disrupt their revenues using electronic counter measures that kill pirate devices, and increase legal action. This will minimise and contain piracy and allow legal streaming services to triumph.

  • The author is vice president of intelligence & security operations, Synamedia. The views expressed in this comment piece are entirely Avigail's and Synamedia's and need not subscribe to them.

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