OSINT for Anti-Piracy
By Rebecca Lindley
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How Open Source Intelligence can play a key role in the fight against online content piracy
The scale of the problem
The global video streaming market has grown exponentially in recent years, with recent projections expecting its value to reach $80.83 billion by the end of 2022. Yet with this growth comes the darker side of online video: criminals exploiting the demand for constantly cheaper streaming services are on the rise.
Piracy of individual pieces of content is not a new problem for content owners or services, but these criminals have taken it to the next level. By stealing large volumes of content directly from platforms, they can set up ‘alternative’ streaming platforms at a lower cost than the legitimate streaming services. When consumers opt for these cheaper services instead – often in the knowledge that they may be illegal – legitimate streaming services are experiencing loss of income.
Streaming services and content owners will already be acutely aware that piracy is negatively impacting the resources available to invest in better technologies and content. To preserve the content quality and income, the criminals behind these networks need to be stopped – but this is easier said than done.
Why is it so difficult to stop online piracy?
Illegal streaming networks tend to have very nimble business models. Many are run through social media platforms such as Facebook, where users have to first be members of a dedicated group. While blocking orders for pirated content can be obtained, the flexible nature of these networks means that they can adapt quickly and the delivery of illegal content is barely disrupted. The same nimbleness means that even if a content owner is successful in taking down an illegal platform, another is likely to spring up to replace it.
Targeting individuals, not platforms
Because the illegal platforms themselves are so difficult to shut down permanently, one option for content providers is to instead investigate the individuals and networks behind these platforms. Considering that much of the traffic to illegal streaming platforms comes through word of mouth, this has the potential to be a highly effective way of both targeting the roots of illegally pirated platforms, and limiting their user base and therefore income.
How can OSINT help?
Open Source Intelligence (OSINT) is the use of open source data (data that is publicly accessible, generally online) to extract actionable intelligence. It is used widely by investigators in government, financial services, consultancies and corporates to provide answers to pressing security or business issues.
In an anti-piracy context, OSINT is useful to investigator when identifying and understanding the networks at the root of illegally pirated TV. As we’ve already discussed, many illegal platforms are run through groups on social media. The identities of those in the group and those running it may not be clear, but there is frequently some information provided that allows a skilled investigator to trace back to an individual. For example:
- A username or handle may also be used in other contexts, which may ultimately be traceable back to a named individual, address or company.
- Likes on profile photos are often publicly viewable and can give clues about the possible identities of friends and family members.
- Payment methods may be used elsewhere on the internet, especially on the dark web. They may be associated with a name, or company name which can be traced back to a criminal.
- Open friends lists can be viewed and contacts who appear to also be involved in illegal streaming identified.
Once suspects have been investigated and identities found, content owners and streaming platforms can pass these details to law enforcement or private prosecutors.
Expediting the process with Videris
Content owners need to identify perpetrators and remove illegal platforms as quickly as possible in order to minimise loss of revenue. Yet OSINT investigations can be time-consuming: investigators need to collate and analyse large volumes of data from multiple sources, whilst ensuring their security and that any evidence identified is captured in an auditable way.
Our OSINT investigations platform , Videris, was built to help investigators overcome these problems:
- Videris automates areas of an investigation that do not require human investigative skills, such as collecting data and mapping it on a chart for easy understanding.
- Investigators are able to work up to 5 times faster, with more time spent performing valuable analysis.
- Videris offers inbuilt security that allows an investigator to stay anonymous and reduces the risk of manual error.
- Investigators no longer need to spend time worrying about capturing evidence over the course of an investigation: Videris automates this so that vital evidence can never be lost.
Investigators fighting online video piracy are faced with an enormous and frustrating task, but identifying the perpetrators behind these networks is the best way of shutting them down. Using OSINT, investigators can find key information that enables them to reveal the individuals behind online profiles. This information can then be used to prosecute these criminals, helping online content streaming platforms to minimise the impact on their business.