Illegal streaming websites may host malware

Many of such sites offering 'free' content are likely infringing on copyright, say experts

Platforms like Movies123 may even be promoted as "legal", but they are illegal and should not be viewed or shared, say experts. PHOTO: SCREENGRAB FROM MOVIES123

If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. And that adage holds true for websites claiming to offer free access to thousands of the latest movies and television series.

Other than the obvious fact that many of these sites are likely infringing on copyright, they may also infect your devices with malware, said experts.

A number of links to such sites have been widely shared on platforms such as Facebook and WhatsApp recently, as more users seek various entertainment options online amid stay-home measures to combat the spread of Covid-19.

Some of these platforms, such as Nites.tv and Movies123, are even promoted as "legal" under the guise that the American authorities have made it so to help viewers cope during this period. Shortened Bitly links being shared on WhatsApp link to content on other movie sites such as 9movies.to

Cyber security experts and lawyers here, however, said these sites and content links are illegal and should not be viewed or shared.

Movies123, for example, has a disclaimer stating that content on the site is "provided by non-affiliated third parties", which suggests the site does not have authorisation from copyright owners to publish their works, said Mr Andy Leck, who heads the intellectual property practice at Baker McKenzie Wong & Leow.

Meanwhile, Nites.tv was taken down by the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment in the United States because of copyright infringement earlier this week.

Mr Leck said it is potentially an infringement of copyright to share such links with other people, even if one is not running the site. "While a person who sends a hyperlink of an illegal streaming site is differentiated from a person who operates the site, the person may possibly be deemed as having authorised copyright infringement, which is in itself considered an act of infringement as well," he said.

A spokesman for the Intellectual Property Office of Singapore said users are encouraged to check that any content offered has obtained the necessary rights from the relevant content rights holders to avoid any potential contravention of the Copyright Act. It is a criminal offence for a person to conduct wilful copyright infringement.

Even if someone is not caught for this, he risks having his device exposed to malicious software on these streaming sites. The user may get bombarded with unwanted advertisements, have his personal information and files from his device stolen, or even have his device taken over entirely. This can happen with a mere click on the link, even if he did not stream a film.

Mr Stephan Neumeier, managing director for Asia-Pacific at cyber security firm Kaspersky, said that online streaming sites have become a "hot spot of cyber-criminal activity" as they take advantage of what users are interested in, such as a particularly popular movie title.

Mr Paul Hadjy, chief executive of Horangi Cyber Security, said that to be safe, one should never click on unknown links. He said: "People should be cautious about shared links, even if they come from people they trust."


This article has been edited for clarity.

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 22, 2020, with the headline Illegal streaming websites may host malware. Subscribe