The exponential growth of file-sharing services and peer-to-peer networks over recent years has made it extremely easy to share any kind of media content. Through simplified file-sharing services such as BitTorrent, eDonkey and Gnutella, it has become very easy to share and obtain copyrighted materials and pirated versions of popular applications. However, with this growth in peer-to-peer networks that allow users to share files with other users worldwide comes risks for the users, which have increased dramatically at the same time.
BitTorrent is the most popular technology to share digital materials regardless of any limitation from copyright regulations. Through this technology, it is possible to download any type of files: movies, TV shows, songs, software and games. What makes BitTorrent so advantageous? Firstly, BitTorrent is a protocol for distributing files from user to user. It identifies content by URL and persistently integrates with the Web. BitTorrent is advantageous over plain HTTP because it allows multiple simultaneous downloads of the same resource. Users upload resources to each other, which makes it possible for the file source to support a very large number of downloaders with little increase in its load. However, the ease and freedom of downloading “free” desired content pose some serious risks for unaware users because when they download such content, users often get their systems infected with malicious code hidden behind the torrent. So, even if you have malware removal software in place, why take a risk in first place?
Popular Torrent Search Engines
Everyone who wants to download content via Torrent has to search for the desired media using special search engines. Before delving further into content that can be downloaded by users and the inherent risks involved, let us look at some of the top BitTorrent search engines. Historically, the most popular, famous and important search engine is "The Pirate Bay". This is because this Torrent downloading site has faced dozens of legal issues in the last decade. The site has been shut down, seized and reopened several times due to legal disputes with private firms and the Swedish government. Yet, The Pirate Bay is still up and running. The Pirate Bay is popular because it gets lots of traffic, running into millions of users. In 2018, the site has estimated 2.8 million visitors with 2.7 million unique visitors. Users visit, on average, 5.2 pages on the site. This means that users search about five torrents in a day. Other popular famous torrent search engines are 1337x, Rarbg and LimeTorrents.
Files Downloaded on Torrent
Like I mentioned earlier, every type of media content is available for download on Torrent. Unfortunately, this poses risks for average users who download media content via torrent. Downloaded content often contain malicious coded hidden behind otherwise unaffected files. These malicious codes can deliver malware or allow crooks to steal data and carry out other dangerous activities.
Every year, thousands of games are released into the market. Often times, these games are either expensive or are not available in some regions or some platforms. This is what hackers leverage on; they provide these games on torrent sites and when these files are downloaded, the users' system will get infected with malware and other malicious code. Examples of popular pirated games include, "PES", "FIFA", "Call of Duty", "Fortnite", and etc.
Movies and TV shows are abundant on Torrent sites. Torrent downloading sites are usually the number 1 stop for those looking to download pirated copies of new and anticipated movies. The newest movies on Torrent include "Avengers Endgame", "Joker", and etc.
Another desired category users download is commercial software. Many users search for them in hopes of downloading a pirated copy of the desired software. The method is the easiest for installing malware because the downloaded file contains a patch of the original software. When this patch is installed, it installs malware on the machine alongside it. Some of the popular software available on torrent sites are "Adobe Photoshop", "Malwarebytes", "NERO", and etc.
Risks Associated with Torrent Downloads
Researchers at the Yoroi/Cybaze Zlab examined a couple of files and downloaded from The Pirate Bay search engine and discovered quite a number of malicious files embedded in the files. We will look at the examined files separately.
The researchers examined "Fortnite", the most popular game of 2018. Despite the fact that the game is not officially available on the Android platform and is still in Beta release on a few devices, many users still try to get the file through illegal means. When the game was inserted on VirusTotal, it was discovered that it was a fake app used to spread spyware. Researchers reverse-engineered the app and discovered that the app requested all permissions, even the critical ones such as sending and receiving messages, camera, Bluetooth and other critical ones. The researchers dug further into the application, decompiled it, and studied its source code. They made an amazing and terrifying discovery. They discovered a routine used by the fake app to establish a connection with its Command and Control. The malware was able to intercept incoming messages, collect data and store them in a private repository, which is sent to the server.
Two movies, "Avengers: Endgame" and "Joker" were analyzed. The folder containing the movies had a Codec Pack, which had to be installed before the movie could play. In reality, the Codec Pack is a well-known bot linked to a botnet already analyzed by ESET researchers. The same results were recorded for the tested software – "Nero Burning Rom", "Adobe Photoshop Lightroom" and "Malwarebytes Premium". These files contained malware, adware, spyware and other security risks. Also, according to researchers at the Digital Citizens Alliance and RiskIQ, torrent search websites regularly serve their visitors malware. Also reported by Security Affairs, the firms' latest research claims that 800 popular torrent websites served malware to users through ads and the download of malicious files.
Risks which torrent users face are:
- Malware risks
- Data security
- Legal troubles
If you are an ardent lover of torrent files, then what you need is a good malware removal tool. Get that and you are covered.
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