Guest Column: Combatting sophisticated streaming piracy, from the dark web to Lazada

Live sports and new movies have emerged as some of the most pirated content in recent times.

GURUGRAM: Synamedia’s piracy investigators have verified a disturbing trend in India and South East Asia. Research both on the dark web and open internet by the company’s anti-piracy experts shows that illegal streaming of over-the-top (OTT) services using stolen subscriber credentials is now well established, with both local and international OTT video services being targeted.  And the growing popularity of premium streaming services, such as those of live sports, makes this an increasingly lucrative business for pirates.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways that legitimate OTT providers can combat content theft without impacting genuine subscribers.

Hacking tools are rife on the dark web

Synamedia’s expert team found that pirates are using the dark web and Telegram to exchange and sell software that allow OTT accounts to be hacked, as well as selling subscribers’ stolen credentials to each other. Both generic credential cracking tools and configuration files tailored to specific OTT platform offerings are available.

Investigation also revealed that dealers are selling thousands of illegally obtained credentials for the most popular Indian OTT platforms in bulk, on closed e-commerce sites popular with pirates.

Pirates can also buy leaked credentials that have been taken from well-publicised, large-scale account breaches such as those suffered by major airlines, content providers and hotel chains. The re-use of these credentials for OTT piracy relies on poor security awareness, where people use the same username and password across multiple accounts, even after data breaches have been made public.

Validated login credentials may then be sold in bulk to other dealers or offered free of charge to pirates to establish credibility. For example, we found that thousands of one South East Asian OTT platform’s credentials were being sold in bulk for approximately $1 per credential.

Pirates are posing as legitimate businesses

Pirates are increasingly posing as legitimate businesses as their levels of sophistication increase. Blatant examples of pirates selling illegal subscriptions to consumers on social media platforms such as Facebook, Telegram, and WhatsApp are rife. Pirates are also posing as legitimate platforms on popular Asian e-commerce sites such as Lazada, Shopee and, where some even use the real OTT providers’ logos and branding to confuse consumers.  

These pirates are typically charging consumers between a half to one fifth of legitimate subscription fees, with premium services that include live sports packages and new movies attracting the highest rates.

They are also offering a wide range of payment options including bank transfer, credit card and online payment. Dealers on some platforms accept PayPal and crypto-currency payments to hide their identities.

Some credentials are being used to feed long-established illegal re-distribution from piracy networks. In this case, the pirate operator typically takes out legitimate OTT subscriptions, and takes advantage of credentials sharing to repackage and offer this content for sale as an illicit subscription service.

Combatting streaming piracy

These illegal streaming services compete head-on with legitimate OTT services, stealing revenues and devaluing content. There is an urgent need to disrupt these pirates’ ecosystems with a more forensic, inference-based approach designed to help drive up legitimate revenues and reduce consumers’ reliance on illegal streams.

Legitimate providers don’t just have to contend with the lower subscription fees charged by pirate services. Pirate operators also often offer a greater choice of channels, more flexible packaging options, and contract free subscriptions – things that many consumers find more convenient, even if morally they know it is wrong.

This point was discussed in a research report on global sports piracy recently published by Synamedia. The report concluded that an important element in the fight-back is for legitimate streaming providers to adopt more flexible solutions and services that offer sports fans more appealing themes, mixes of access and payment models. This would make it easier for sports fans to choose legitimate services over pirate streams.

Adopting technologies and approaches that can demonstrably move the anti-piracy needle are vital. For example, Synamedia’s new intelligence-first security model makes it possible to measure the efficacy and Return on Investment of anti-piracy initiatives. Using these advanced technologies, solutions and services that draw on a blend of human and digital intelligence, a detailed picture can be built of the pirate ecosystem, crack the criminal mind-set and – working closely with law enforcement agencies – ultimately shut down pirates’ businesses. This hard data can help Synamedia customers not only protect revenues, but also negotiate fair content licence terms such as sports rights and ensure compliance.

With streaming piracy an increasingly existential threat to the industry, there is no time to lose.

The writer is head of sales – India at Synamedia. The opinions expressed here are his own and may not subscribe to them.

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