Video consumption has evolved from the familiar pay TV bundles of channels delivered by cable or satellite to today’s multi-sourced streaming content delivered digitally across many devices — thanks to advances in internet/cloud and mobile technologies. These advances, combined with the OTT revolution and COVID-19 disruption, have accelerated the pace of change and corresponding threats. Piracy, for example, has grown from local, isolated annoyances to technically savvy fraud executed at scale, capable of disrupting multi-million dollar revenue streams with ease. Serious stuff.

PwC estimates that by 2023, the OTT market will be worth $73 billion. Although this is impressive growth, the more profitable the OTT market becomes the more thieves are looking for ways to take a cut of the earnings.

While OTT services have evolved, so too have the pirates. The bad guys have reacted to every innovation to construct their own workarounds that enable pirate business models to siphon away revenue from legitimate rights holders. Piracy started as torrent downloads and individual file sharing. But today’s pirated services are sophisticated and conducted on a massive scale. In fact, many crooked OTT offerings can easily pass as the real deal, having advanced features and enormous content libraries to choose from.

For the broadcast industry to effectively combat piracy, we first need to understand the types of attacks that happen:

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Pirated VoD: Copycat service

Using your own content, a pirate can create a clone of your service. They can then market the service at a lower price point, or sometimes even for free (with advertising support). Customers are often unaware that they are dealing with an illegitimate service, and they download an app and subscribe, assuming what they are purchasing is real.

The profit margins on these services are clearly much higher because pirates are not paying for the content. And if the service goes down, it is often the original service that is blamed since pirates make their offering appear identical to the original service.

Hijacking ads: An inside job

Pirates can hack, or reverse engineer, an OTT app and replace the ads with their own. This ensures they are the ones getting paid from these advertisements instead of the OTT service. Although the immediate threat seems to be revenue, this can also cause issues in reputation if the ads do not align with the originating company’s values.

Credential stuffing: Security subterfuge

Consumers often reuse the same login information across multiple services, so bad actors can often use one piece of credential info to access multiple accounts. By purchasing a list of pre-breached usernames and passwords on the dark web, pirates can gain access to millions of consumer video accounts quickly and inexpensively. When a consumer’s account is breached, it is often blamed on the lack of security in the service, regardless of the actual reason. In the end, this exposes the OTT service provider to reputational risk.

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DDoS extortion: Ransom at scale

Cisco predicts that DDoS attacks will double from 7.9 million in 2018 to 15 million+ by 2023.

It is conceivable that hackers could target millions of sports fans, movie lovers and esports communities to bring content distribution streams to its knees. It’s happening more than you may know, courtesy of DDoS attacks.

Whether motivated by mischief or money, threat actors are creating armies of hacked devices that are used to generate DDoS traffic jams. They can easily slow down a legitimate OTT infrastructure with a DDoS attack, and request a ransom be paid to restore the service to normal operating levels.

Protect and defend against piracy

It is estimated that unauthorized piracy of digital content costs rights holders billions in lost revenue annually. Rapid identification and takedown of live pirated streams or the removal of premier material at the source, should be the goal of all content producers, broadcasters and distributors.

Content protection and anti-piracy solutions go hand-in-hand as part of a layered security approach, especially for ultra-high value content, and when attached to a timeframe, like live sports or online theatrical releases.

Digital rights management (DRM) is the first line of defense for OTT video piracy prevention. It ensures content is encrypted, whether in storage, transit or delivery, and delivers the right key and content ID to authenticated users for their playback environment.

Forensic watermarking helps identify the source of unauthorized streams or copies by tracing them back to the last authorized recipient. Once illegal sources are identified, they can be shut down, thus protecting key revenue streams for the service provider. 

The Net Net

The most important component of an advanced security solution is that it needs to be seamless so that it doesn’t disrupt the viewing experience of consumer while being tough enough to thwart the pirate’s endeavors. Your security solution should provide you access to better content that meets next-generation security specifications. It should enable new types of live streaming events to launch without fear of stream ripping, and new services to experiment with to help grow your business.

For example, one of our customers, Little Cinema Digital, developed a new way to stream movie premieres virtually. If the high-value movie and TV content was pirated during one of their events, the company would be in breach of their Hollywood contracts, putting their entire business mode at risk. By partnering with Verimatrix, Little Cinema Digital was able to prove that all content was protected to studio-grade standards, allowing them to land new business deals and protect their growing revenue model.

View an on-demand session with NAB Amplify to learn more about this success story with Little Digital Cinema.

Security that enables amazing innovation to happen is what Verimatrix is all about. We help OTT customers expand into new markets and launch new services with confidence. Anti-piracy can become a reality with the right type of secure content delivery technology such as multi-DRM, watermarking, reveal and next generation takedown services.