Winter is coming – so is the malware

Thursday, 4 April, 2019

Spring may be here, but elsewhere winter is definitely coming, with the imminent arrival of the final season of the phenomenal HBO hit Game of Thrones. But beware we are not the only ones excited for the release of the series.

Cybercriminals, scammers and hackers are rubbing their hands in anticipation of exploiting a bonanza of opportunities to make money out of us through malware and other nefarious means.

According to Kaspersky Lab, Game of Thrones was the most exploited series by hackers and scammers last year. This was hackers targeting online users who watched the series through the internet or downloaded episodes from torrent sites, due to not having access to HBO.

Of course, Game of Thrones has not been the only show targeted as a lucrative potential for the criminals. Other shows that were popular targets last year included The Walking Dead, Arrow, Vikings and Doctor Who.

With Game of Thrones, they found in total 33 new types of malware and over 500 unique families of threats being used in episodes. In all the infected episodes accounted for 17% of all infected pirated content last year.

Kaspersky found that almost 126,320 users ended up downloading malware. They also found 21,000 machines were successfully infected out of 130,000 attempts.

Trojan malware was used in almost 33% of the infected episode files, adware was found in 28% and payload downloader was discovered in 21%. The downloader could infect systems without any interference from users, while adware was used to embed unwanted ads and manipulate browser search results to collect data for displaying targeted ads.

In a majority of cases Kaspersky Lab found the Trojan malware was distributed through emails containing a file that purported to be an episode but in reality, was a shortcut to the malware.

It seems that this year the bad guys are concentrated on streaming websites instead of the more traditional file-hosting and torrent sites like the infamous Pirate Bay. Despite this, Kaspersky says that fans should avoid downloading pirated episodes from torrent sites and always use an authentic streaming site. But it is also extremely important to pay attention to the extension of the file.

If there is a video format extension then it will be a video file and if there is an .exe extension, it will probably be an executable file, and these should be avoided.

Finally, don’t be tempted by those enticing, supposed leaked episodes. This is a favourite tactic of the hackers and scammers into luring users into downloading their malware.

So, to paraphrase Cersei Lannister – you watch the Game of Thrones legitimately or you get infected. Winter is indeed coming.

Tim Bamford author picture


Tim is a veteran freelance journalist writing extensively on internet news and cybersecurity.