Time to turn up the heat on payment platforms that enable piracy

A woman uses a tablet device to pay for something with a credit card

Investigators often get told to “follow the money”. The time has come to extend this approach to the fight against online piracy, as new Irdeto research reveals the scale at which payment platforms are being used to enable illegal streaming.          

The online piracy money making machine
It’s no secret that online piracy is big business, diverting vast revenues from genuine content providers every year. Illegal streaming services are increasingly sophisticated, with slick websites and advertising, secure payment facilities and money-back guarantees. It’s often hard for consumers to be sure if they are subscribing to a genuine or illegal service.

Those secure payment facilities are a big part of the pirates’ veneer of respectability, with many supporting transactions via industry big hitters like Visa, Mastercard, PayPal, American Express and the rest. The Irdeto anti-piracy team has now revealed the scale at which different payment platforms are enabling pirates to get away with content theft.

A sense of scale
Irdeto conducted test purchases and research from our existing database of known pirate IPTV streaming sites to see what payment patterns emerged.  An example site and the payment methods they advertise are included below.

Screenshot of online advert for a pirate IPTV site

Screenshot from an example online pirate site showing the supported payment methods

After identifying more than 400 pirate IPTV streaming supplier sites that are currently active, our analysis revealed 76% of them openly advertised the payment methods that they support. The majority of sites offered multiple payment methods. Visa and MasterCard were the clear leaders, each accounting for 21% of all payment methods advertised. PayPal was next at 14%, followed by American Express (9%) and Discover (7%). Cryptocurrencies only accounted for around 4% of payment method mentions on the sites we analyzed, with Bitcoin by far the most popular option.

You can see the full breakdown of our analysis in the chart below:

Pie chart showing the results of Irdeto research on the payment methods advertised by different pirate IPTV suppliers

Whose business do you prefer?
What this data confirms is that pirates depend heavily on leading payment platforms to help them gather subscription and pay per view revenue. But of course, legitimate media companies also process a huge volume of payments online. In many cases, they’re relying on exactly the same financial platforms that pirates are using to rip them off.

Surely, it’s time for the payment platforms to support legitimate media organisations by conducting better due diligence and stopping support for these pirate IPTV streaming sites? These platforms should be able to identify and suspend sites that are offering illegal content. But they won’t unless there’s something in it for them.

If media organisations threaten to vote with their feet against payment platforms that enable piracy, it’ll be fascinating to see who blinks first.

Mark Mulready | VP Cybersecurity Services