The final of the 2018 Fifa World Cup is almost here, with France and Croatia both hoping to claim the most vaunted prize in football. This year, more fans than ever before are tuning into tournament games through sites providing links to free live streams of the action, though cyber experts warn this could be risky.
The match is set to kick off at 4pm BST on Sunday, 15 July, with football fans in the UK able to tune in via BBC iPlayer and the ITV website. Many fans further afield, however, will be seeking to bypass paywalls blocking them from watching the semi-final fixture.
Thousands of live feeds are appearing on websites with links to watch the game, but cyber security experts warn that such sites – many of which are easily accessible through search engines like Google – could infect the computers and devices of visitors.
The proliferation of illegal live streaming sites for the World Cup has prompted warnings from cybersecurity experts that people could put themselves at risk if they view matches on illegal websites.
“It’s become a lucrative business for malicious actors to host illegal streaming websites – and the World Cup is a perfect opportunity for them," Chris Hodson from the cybersecurity firm Zscaler, told The Independent.
"While sports fans prepare to stream their favourite teams’ games, the increased interest in the tournament will also attract the attention of cyber criminals who’ve produced a variety of ways to trick fans into downloading malicious code and unwittingly giving up account credentials."
These account credentials, Mr Hodson warned, are often used over multiple sites, meaning cyber criminals could gain access to individual's email accounts and bank accounts.
"These sites are made to look legitimate and will often overlay a video with an ad that has a fake close or even play button," Hoyt told The Independent. "Users will attempt to ‘close’ the ad to enable a full view of the video but behind the scenes malware will be installed on their computer or device as a result of that single click."
Another threat posed by illegal streaming sites is something known as cryptomining, whereby people's computers are used to secretly mine cryptocurrency.
“Illegal streaming sites are illegal by nature and are riddled with malicious software," said Joep Gommers, CEO at EclecticIQ.
"The machines of users visiting those sites are mostly attacked in the form of drive-by-downloads, which means that malware is downloaded when visiting a website, completely without the user’s knowledge. Currently, a very common type of malware is cryptomining."
Steve Mulhearn, director of enhanced technologies at Fortinet, told The Independent that fans who risk visiting these sites should follow certain precautions to minimise the danger.
"Running the most updated versions of your operating system, security software, apps and Web browsers is among the best defences against malware, viruses and other online threats," Mr Mulhearn said.
"Cyber-attackers usually target flaws and vulnerabilities in outdated browsers and plug-ins. It is best to have your security software and web browser update automatically to minimise exposure to known threats."
Other experts advised that people would be best to avoid visiting these sites entirely.
“Overall, I’d say that visiting these types of websites is not a good idea," Leigh-Anne Galloway from Positive Technologies, told The Independent.
"You can’t be 100 per cent confident that you’re not basically walking into a trap and, for the sake of 90 minutes of free football, it will take a lot of effort to clean up.”
Richard Walters, Chief Security Strategist at CensorNet, added: "These websites are essentially cesspools of malware and viruses, and people using them do so at a personal risk to their devices and the data stored on there.
"From a personal perspective at home or at work, you should stick to trusted websites and legal streams."
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