The real threats of VPN usage to streaming services

The streaming sector is growing! To fulfill the demands of the expanding subscriber base, video content is getting more plentiful. People are therefore continually coming up with new ways to abuse the services and get the content in illegal ways in their pursuit of free or inexpensive entertainment. This fuels the rampage of piracy on Over-The-Top (OTT) services.

Along with methods like content key exploitation and session token hijacking, which interfere with the deep-down information processing to grant unauthorized access to the OTT content, there is a popular piracy strategy for getting over geo-restrictions. This is the usage of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs).

Let’s dive into how it happens as well as the potential threats for streaming service providers in this blog.

What is a VPN? 

A VPN assures that users’ online experiences are private and more secure by rerouting the user’s IP address through a specially configured remote server operated by a VPN host, making it the source of the user’s data. Neither the Internet Service Provider (ISP) nor third parties are able to trace and monitor the encrypted internet traffic and the user’s personal data as a result.

Originally served as a means of providing safe access to the network, nowadays manipulating and making improper use of VPN services has become a popular practice. This has also become a way for pirates to access content by circumventing geo-restrictions related to content and usage of the OTT platform.

What is a VPN

Types of VPN services 

Users can easily find a VPN service provider online today – one click could leave them overwhelmed with a large number of options. Three major categories can be used to classify these VPN services: corporate, commercial and free VPN services.

Corporate VPN services

Corporate VPN services serve business purposes. It offers organizations the opportunity to provide their employees with access to the company’s resources via a secure encrypted connection, no matter where employees are working.

Commercial VPN services

Commercial VPN services are often used by individuals outside of work who wish to disguise or obfuscate their physical location or IP address.

These people use this kind of VPN service for a variety of reasons, including:

  • Security reasons, such as avoiding identity theft or mitigating the risk of using public Wi-Fi.
  • Privacy reasons, for example, disguising their online identity and personal data.
  • Illegal practices, like evading internet censorship or region-locked content.

With the aid of a commercial VPN, a user can connect to the internet via a remote server. It rents data centers (commonly in different geographic locations) from hosting companies, routing high volumes of traffic from multiple users globally.

Free VPN services

Free VPN services are also used by people for non-work-related purposes, much like the commercial type. By letting users select a particular location (country, city or mobile phone carrier) and browse the web as a real user in that area, they are frequently used to getting around geo-restrictions.

A free VPN service is accessible to everyone because no subscription fee is required. However, there is a good likelihood that those who utilize the service for free may end up leaving their data vulnerable, which can be abused by free VPN service providers. This is where problems begin that could put users’ security and privacy at risk.

The real threats of VPN usage  

VPN providers evolution: Residential VPN  

Commercial VPNs lease data centers from hosting companies which are not ‘traditional access provider’ ISPs. These hosting providers receive a sizable volume of various traffic from multiple users around the globe to flow through these data centers.

Normally when a subscriber uses a commercial VPN, it is less complicated for a streaming service provider to identify that somebody is accessing their platform via a VPN, thanks to a known pattern of traffic routing, and then they have the possibility to deny access if needed.

VPN providers were therefore compelled to evolve and innovate, coming up with new strategies to make the detection of the VPN service more challenging. A new kind of VPN provider that touts a residential VPN proxy service emerged as a result.

Even though residential VPN proxy services also utilize hosting data centers, there is an additional hop between streaming services and hosting data centers, which is residential IP. Those VPN providers target regular consumers’ residential IP addresses, leading streaming services to only see these IP addresses and are completely unaware of how or who is routing the requests. This is where residential IP hijacking stems from.

Residential IP hijacking: How it works

Users knowingly/unknowingly have their IPs taken over by these VPN providers when they use free VPN software. The diagram below demonstrates the process of how it occurs.

Residential IP hijacking: How it works

Source: Mesaonline

By signing the terms of service without reading them properly, customers provide consent for the usage of their IPs for any purpose by these free VPN service providers. Those providers then leverage the available residential IPs to support the routing of commercial VPN traffic, hence bypassing geo-restriction.

How does VPN usage pose risks to streaming services? 

By hiding behind a legitimate domestic IP address thanks to residential IP hijacking, viewers can successfully bypass VPN restrictions. Detecting these users is challenging since they are indistinguishable from genuine user traffic. Any attempts to block them put streaming services in danger of excluding legitimate users, who may not even realize they are hosting a proxy.

Failure to stop this practice will cause the OTT service to face considerable damage. Firstly, there is a threat to their content obligations. Operators run the risk of breaking the terms of the content exclusivity agreements with the rights holders if they do not make sure that the premium content is inaccessible outside the allowed geographic regions. They might incur penalties, lose access to premium content and worst of all, run into legal issues as a consequence.

Secondly, the business models of the OTT providers are also weakened due to this geo-piracy form, since the cost of a monthly subscription varies by region. When premium content is accessible from an alternate country with a lower subscription fee, a subscriber has the opportunity to pay considerably less to watch the same content by hiding behind a geo-relevant valid IP address.

This will have a negative impact on the streaming services’ revenue if a significant number of people continue to get around geo-restrictions to access the same content from another lower-cost service in a different geography.

Getting a real solution for the real threats! 

VPN usage is a simple way for dishonest viewers to bypass your OTT security and watch premium content for free, or at a much cheaper rate. It is, however, not simple for streaming providers to address them.

But difficult does not mean impossible! Contact us – we have an effective solution for you.