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One of the most common recurring questions in respect of downloading, sharing and even streaming, is whether service X or platform Y is 'safe' to use, from a copyright-infringement perspective. Recent developments show that no matter how safe users think they are, security is something that should never be taken for granted.

When mainstream piracy was in its infancy two decades ago, the majority of file-sharers had no idea that they were even at risk from snoopers. Thanks to a massive wave of lawsuits from the RIAA in 2003, that perception soon changed. Somewhere around 2004, the MPAA embarked on a parallel campaign to drive the message home to pirates that the Internet is not anonymous. “If you can think you can get away with illegally swapping movies, you’re wrong,” the ‘You Can Click But You Can’t Hide’ posters read. “Illegally trafficking in movies is not just a dirty little secret between you and your computer. You leave a trail.” The MPAA also gave unquestionably good advice: the only way to guarantee that users weren’t caught for sharing pirated movies was not to share them at all. Of course, millions didn’t listen and by the time that VPNs really started to take off around 2006/2007, file-sharers were laughing into their keyboards.

The biggest threat back then (as it is now) was sharing torrents without protection. Torrents are public and any rightsholder can monitor them before filing a lawsuit for damages. But by 2009 or so, when streaming sites had already embedded themselves as the next big thing, a whole new click-and-play generation had become complacent again, lulled to sleep by the perceived security offered by third-party hosting sources. Today, millions of people are streaming content via apps and so-called Kodi boxes, mostly with zero protection. The idea, if people even consider it, is that ‘pirate’ sites can’t or won’t give up their information. That is a dangerous assumption.
The thing is, if a torrent site or app developer can be pressured in this way, so can any other site holding potentially incriminating user data. There can be little doubt that many file-hosting and streaming platforms carry detailed logs and if the proverbial hits the fan, they could be handed over. Even some so-called debrid download sites, that appear to offer enhanced security, state that they carry download logs for up to a year.

The bottom line is that if users are expecting pirate sites (or even gray area sites like the now-defunct Openload) not to store their personal information or carry download and upload logs, they are effectively banking on a third-party’s security and their determination not to buckle under the most severe pressure imaginable. In 2020 and after almost two decades of aggressive litigation, it’s perhaps surprising that anyone is taking such things for granted. But people do. They use their regular email addresses to sign up for questionable services, access all kinds of pirate sites without using a VPN, use their personal PayPal accounts for payments and donations, and generally fail to take seriously what could be a very expensive exercise in complacency.
 
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