The Price of Free Illegal Live Streaming Services

by   Luke Hsiao, et al.

As Internet streaming of live content has gained on traditional cable TV viewership, we have also seen significant growth of free live streaming services which illegally provide free access to copyrighted content over the Internet. Some of these services draw millions of viewers each month. Moreover, this viewership has continued to increase, despite the consistent coupling of this free content with deceptive advertisements and user-hostile tracking. In this paper, we explore the ecosystem of free illegal live streaming services by collecting and examining the behavior of a large corpus of illegal sports streaming websites. We explore and quantify evidence of user tracking via third-party HTTP requests, cookies, and fingerprinting techniques on more than 27,303 unique video streams provided by 467 unique illegal live streaming domains. We compare the behavior of illegal live streaming services with legitimate services and find that the illegal services go to much greater lengths to track users than most legitimate services, and use more obscure tracking services. Similarly, we find that moderated sites that aggregate links to illegal live streaming content fail to moderate out sites that go to significant lengths to track users. In addition, we perform several case studies which highlight deceptive behavior and modern techniques used by some domains to avoid detection, monetize traffic, or otherwise exploit their viewers. Overall, we find that despite recent improvements in mechanisms for detecting malicious browser extensions, ad-blocking, and browser warnings, users of free illegal live streaming services are still exposed to deceptive ads, malicious browser extensions, scams, and extensive tracking. We conclude with insights into the ecosystem and recommendations for addressing the challenges highlighted by this study.


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