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Websites that allow people to watch free streams of the latest season of Game of Thrones contain a worrying amount of harmful malware, security researchers have found.
Three streaming sites in particular were found to host a variety of scams designed to trick visitors into entering their personal information. This can then be used to carry out phishing attacks – where cyber criminals pose as trusted sources to extort further valuable information like credit card details.
The first episode of season 8 of Game of Thrones is available to watch on HBO in the US, as well as NowTV and Sky Atlantic in the UK. However, all of these are paid-for services This has led to people seeking free alternatives via illicit streaming sites, which can usually be found through search engines, social media and within forums of popular sites like Reddit.
Researchers at Check Point research discovered that this is where the dangers lurk. Adding that fans would find these malicious sites by looking up 'Game of Thrones streams' on Google and other search engines.
The links may also appear in emails, banner ads on websites and social media ads. Instead of streaming the episode, the links typically download malware to the user's device. Other links are intended to coerce users into providing personal information that may be used for future targeted phishing or scam campaigns.
Other ways hackers are targeting fans of the hit show include fake merchandise and news sites that dishonestly collect credit card details of users by posing as an official store. A total of 42 suspicious sites were identified by the researchers.
Security experts not involved in the latest research told The Independent that illegal streams were also being used to host a vast range of cyber threats, from so-called "drive-by-downloads", to cryptojacking.
This latter form of malware allows hackers to secretly hijack the device used to visit the streaming site and use the processing power to mine cryptocurrencies without their knowledge.
It is important to remember that pirate streaming sites are illegal by nature and are often riddled with malicious software.
Joseph Woodruff, a threat intelligence analyst at cyber security firm EclecticIQ, stated that "In cases like the latest series of Game of Thrones, criminals can use illegal streaming sites to roll out entire campaigns to target the show's fans. Social engineering is key here. The criminals rely on the emotions built by the show's cliff-hangers and the general feeling of missing out.
"This can go so far that users will be asked to enter personal data like phone numbers and credit card information in order to be able to access a stream. In order to stay out of trouble, sites like these should be avoided under any circumstances, even if it means missing the latest episode."