A hand pointing a remote at TV to access streaming services.

Whether or not you’ve heard of Internet Protocol Television (IPTV) you’re almost certainly familiar with it. In a nutshell, IPTV is live television—sometimes now called linear television—delivered via the internet rather than through cables or satellite feeds. Sling, YouTube TV and Hulu + Live TV are all examples of legitimate, licensed IPTV subscription services.

As IPTV services become more established, more and more illicit, pirate IPTV services pop up. These pirate IPTV providers can look and feel like the real thing, but not only do they trade in stolen content, subscribing to them comes with risks.

An August 2020 report from NAGRA (a global leader in digital security) and the Digital Citizens Alliance offers new clarity into the world of pirate IPTV providers. It details the structure and players in this criminal enterprise and provides the following data and conclusions.

  • Whether or not they know they are buying pirated content, millions of US broadband users subscribe to pirate IPTV. Pirate IPTV sellers do their best to fool customers into thinking that they are legitimate. There are an estimated 3,500 pirate IPTV retailer “storefronts” on the internet; they run ads all over social media, design professional looking websites, sell subscriptions, and take payment by credit card and other common methods like PayPal. A pirate IPTV user interface can look as clean and professional as legitimate services, and they often offer video on-demand. Sometimes the only obvious identifier of a pirate IPTV service is that subscriptions are unreasonably cheap.
  • Pirate IPTV operators potentially make around a billion dollars per year in revenue, in just the United States. Consequently, that is money not going to honest content providers, and not being taxed for the benefit of all Americans. And that revenue doesn’t include piracy related income like selling illegal streaming boxes and devices, illicit website advertising revenue, and, most ominously, payment from hackers for access to pirate IPTV subscribers.

Whenever one does business with those dealing in stolen property, there is risk. The most likely risk in subscribing to a pirate IPTV service is that it will be shut down without warning and subscribers will lose their money.  Other less likely but more serious dangers are that pirate IPTV services use or sell customers’ credit card information, or that they sell hackers access to subscribers’ networks. In this case, hackers then infect subscribers’ computers and devices with malware.

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