Choosing a free or suspiciously low-cost option to watch that new movies or binge-worthy TV show can sometimes point you to illegal videos and unlicensed content. This is known as pirated content.

The infotainment web site howstuffworks.com explains that certain sites hosting illegal content or promising access to movies or shows can offer freebies because they don’t need paying subscribers. They make their money by piling on pop-up ads or getting users to download software, either of which can be annoying but can also be damaging to your devices and privacy.

A report from the nonprofit Digital Citizens Alliance and cyber security company RiskIQ found that:

  • Approximately 1 in 3 websites that host pirated content deliver malware
  • At least 12 million people in the U.S. are estimated to be exposed to malware each month while seeking free pirated content from websites
  • Simply visiting a site could be problematic. The report also found 1 in 12 visits to sites with pirated content resulted in malware exposure. Users did not have to click or download anything to be at risk.

In a blog post, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said they visited five sites offering free movies. In all five cases, downloading a movie resulted in malware.

The FTC also stresses that it’s best not to take the risk. It recommends consumers never watch pirated content, online or through a video streaming device.

In some cases, you may unwittingly encounter pirated content. Your best line of defense is following best practices for general computing security.

UC Berkeley, MIT, and Stanford offer tips, including:

  • Keep your software up to date
  • Carefully manage passwords
  • Use anti-virus protection from a known and trusted provider
  • Back up data regularly
  • Beware of unknown websites and emails from unknown sources

These aren’t foolproof. But they may help. The last tip listed is particularly relevant to searching for entertainment content. To learn how to tell legitimate sites from ones pushing out illegal content, click here.