Pirates today are very sophisticated, not only in the technologies they use to capture and redistribute content but also in how they protect themselves from content owners and anti-piracy vendors.
This problem is amplified because content is no longer only available via smartcard; the prevalence of networks and devices makes content distributors vulnerable to myriad threats. Although protection continues to become more sophisticated, the sheer volume of streaming approaches makes it difficult to close all potential points of attack.
While some pirate organizations do everything -- from capturing content to redistributing it to the user -- many pirates specialize in one part of the chain, content protection specialist Nagra said. Some solely capture content and resell it, while others exclusively build a viewer base and embed streams.
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There also is the alarming development of clandestine ad networks created by pirates for pirates, largely due to their rejection by legitimate ad networks (think Google Ad Words and Facebook).
"Pirates have moved from focusing on distributing access rights to legitimate broadcasts ... to distributing the content itself and therefore benefitting from the technical advances in technology, such as Adaptive Bitrate Rate (ABR) streaming and cloud hosting," said Fred Ellis, senior director at Arris Security Solutions, in an interview.
Millennials & Piracy: They Do It & Don't Care
In its study, Anatomy Media found 69% of young millennials use at least one form of video piracy; of that group, 60% stream content without paying, according to "Millennials at the Gate."
Even with a crackdown on the sale of pirate devices by large e-commerce sites, pirates adapt by using vague terms that merely hint at what a user could access on pirate IPTV services. Even some major retail chains sell these devices.
Pirate protection plan
Pirates have become better at protecting against anti-piracy efforts.
"Some use session-based tokens to prevent ISPs from accessing those URLs to validate infringement notices, some generate dynamic URLs that change every few minutes so they can argue they are compliant and are taking down streams," Christopher Schouten, senior director of product marketing at Nagra told UBB2020. "Some block access to the infringing streams to IP ranges from major cloud computing providers" as they know these are used by anti-piracy vendors.
What to do
Ideally, content creators protect the entire platform with an end-to-end solution, from watermarking to fingerprinting, crawling, capturing and taking down the source of the infringement, said Schouten.
"Regardless of whether they work with Nagra for the entire solution or only parts of it, they still need to act. If piracy is left unattended it will grow at an exponential rate," he said.
Pirates are driven by opportunity: Deployments scale with larger audiences, especially as a result of OTT video delivery services.
"Given a large enough target population and motivated by limited availability of specific content, pirates will invest fairly heavily to find flaws in any deployed system," warned Arris's Ellis. "Content protection organizations must provide solutions that have been well designed from a protocol and cryptographic algorithm point of view [and] which have been analyzed carefully in regard to robustness."
It's critical to protect content across three key locations, added Petr Peterka, CTO at content security vendor Verimatrix, in an interview. The first is where the service is hosted.
"They need to be sure it is protected while it is still in their hands," Peterka said. Hacking involving major distributors like HBO and Disney are examples of pirates going directly to the source.
The next step: Put proper security measures in place to prevent illicit capturing of content as it is delivered. Conditional access (CAS) and digital rights management (DRM) help here. Finally, service providers must ensure end-devices, where content is consumed, operate in a trusted, secure manner -- and that robust security measures are maintained over time.
"An important question to ask would be if they take advantage of security tools like trusted execution environments [TEEs] and downloadable DRM that are available to ensure that new security advancements can be applied later down the road," said Peterka.
During any of these stages, providers can use anti-piracy monitoring and detection services for traceability. They can leverage forensic watermarking to trace instances of illegal redistribution back to an individual subscriber or compromised device so service providers can shut it down and even take legal action.
What's the cost?
The investment required of OTT providers, broadcasters and pay-TV operators differs very little if their strategies are largely aligned.
"Both content owners as well as distributors need to protect their interests using content security technologies as well as forensic watermarking during every stage of the production and distribution process," said Schouten.
There are some distinctions. OTT providers must implement two aspects of protection. One to attain content licenses from content providers such as studios and networks in order to gain the ROI they need for their product offering. The level of protection of the content depends on the content owner and the content value, which increases with early release windows and the video quality of the content (UHD).