The first episode of Season 8 of Game of Thrones finally aired on Sunday, sparking hundreds of illicit stream and torrent versions of the hugely popular series to appear across the internet.
Fans of the show in the US were able to watch the beginning of the eighth and final series at 9pm EST on 14 April on HBO, while viewers in the UK could watch it at the exact same time – 2am BST on Monday morning – on Sky Atlantic or through NowTV.
However anyone hoping to watch it for free will likely turn to third-party streaming and torrenting sites.
These websites are usually easy to find through search engines and social media platforms, as well as streaming forums in popular websites like Reddit.
But despite their prevalence, anyone visiting them could be putting themselves at serious risk from cyber attacks and other online criminal activity.
Security analysts and piracy experts warn that people hoping to view streams and torrents on illegal websites for free face a number of potential dangers.
“These risks from illegally streaming or downloading Game of Thrones are the same as downloading any other illegal file – it could contain anything malicious,” Javvad Malik, a security advocate at AT&T CyberSecurity, told The Independent.
“So, while it may appear to be the latest Game of Thrones episode, it could actually be a host of a nasty virus or malware that plants malicious files on your device in the background. These could later be used by hackers to steal personal information and banking details if they go undetected by AV or anti-malware software.”
Security expert Jake More from ESET added: “The potential for malware is staggering, and people who are inclined to torrent irresistible content will have to make sure they are sufficiently protected. If not, they risk becoming victims of cyber criminals who could mine personal data, such as credit card details, addresses, and shopping habits – all of which could then be sold on the dark web.”
A recent survey by UK privacy firm Comparitech found that half of UK adults were willing to take this risk by searching for a pirated version of their favourite TV show.
“Given the prevalence of malware on torrent sites, unsanctioned streaming sites, and in pirated downloads, many Game of Thrones fans in the UK will run a high risk of infection when attempting to stream or download the new season for free,” Paul Bischoff, a privacy advocate for Comparitech, told The Independent.
“In particular, the first and last episode of a season are preferred to transmit malware. Phishing is also a frequent threat on these dodgy sites and their advertisements.”
To mitigate risks from such sites, Mr Bischoff said people should take a series of protective measures if they are going to risk downloading torrents and clicking on streams that are not from an official source.
These include making use of real-time antivirus scanners from reputable security companies, such as Norton, McAfee and Panda.
Using Adblockers will also help prevent malicious links appearing on their screen, while virtual private networks (VPNs) will help hide their online identity from any potential cyber criminals.
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