Fantasy epic Game of Thrones returns to the UK tonight for its eighth and final season. But for fans looking to torrent Game of Thrones, cybersecurity experts have a warning: malware is coming.
As many fans turn to downloading pirated copies, experts warn that hackers could be taking advantage of the show’s popularity to trick victims into downloading malware instead of the episode. That malware could then be used to monitor keystrokes and steal personal data to sell on in the black market or use in future cyberattacks.
The hit US show has pulled in millions of viewers each year since it first aired in 2011, with an average of 32.8 million people tuning in per episode in season seven.
But for six years in a row it has been the most pirated series. According to the Guinness Book of Records, last season’s finale, which aired on 27 August 2017, was shared across more than 400,000 torrents at once. In total, season seven was pirated more than one billion times, according to copyright publication TorrentFreak.
Game of Thrones torrents and streams
As well as torrenting, fans also turn to streaming Game of Thrones on unauthorised websites. These sites are often full of pop-ups, some of which contain malicious links.
“The potential for malware is staggering, and people who are inclined to torrent irresistible content will have to make sure they are sufficiently protected,” says Jake Moore, cybersecurity specialist at IT security firm ESET.
“If not, they risk becoming victims of cybercriminals who could mine personal data such as credit card details, addresses and personal shopping habits, all to be sold on the black market.”
While downloading a pirated torrent is illegal, half of UK adults have searched for a pirated version of their favourite TV show, according to a survey by consumer advice site Comparitech.com.
“Given the prevalence of malware on torrent sites, unsanctioned streaming sites, and in pirated downloads, many Game of Thrones fans in the UK will run a high risk of infection when attempting to stream or download the new season for free,” says Paul Bischoff, privacy advocate for Comparitech.com.
“In particular, the first and last episodes of a season are preferred to transmit malware,” he warned. “Phishing is also a frequent threat on these dodgy sites and their advertisements.”
When you play the game of torrenting, you win or you… get infected
The surest way to avoid getting infected by malware is to watch Game of Thrones legitimately.
“Torrenting copyrighted data is an illegal activity and should be avoided as it could result in a penalty or, even worse, jail time,” Joseph Carson, chief security scientist at cybersecurity firm Thycotic tells Verdict.
“Even beyond the illegal concerns is the risks of the content being malicious or including malicious malware. In many incidents, the content being torrented has been modified to include potentially dangerous code which could infect your systems with viruses, steal your identity or your password and ultimately cause financial fraud.”
US audiences can watch Game of Thrones at 9PM EST on HBO on Sunday evenings, while UK audiences can catch it on Sky Atlantic on Monday nights at 9PM BST.
It can also be watched through platforms such as Now TV and Hulu. But it is the spiralling cost of subscriptions that is pushing people to torrent Game of Thrones, says ESET’s Moore.
“Content streaming platforms have become more competitive over the years, with most of them owning exclusivity to popular shows like Game of Thrones to gain subscribers,” he explains.
“However, people will reach a point where they will not buy into multiple streaming services and could instead turn to piracy for content that they can’t view.”
Verdict does not condone downloading pirated content. But for those choosing to torrent Game of Thrones in spite of the risk, checking the extension of the download and ensuring your computer is protected by a good anti-virus software can prevent malware infecting your computer. And, in general, installing an ad-blocker can also reduce the risk of malicious pop-ups fooling users into downloading something they shouldn’t.