OFFICIAL SECURITY BLOG

We’ve moved! You can now read the latest and greatest on Mac adware and malware at Malwarebytes.

How the movie industry is causing adware problems

Published September 6th, 2014 at 3:37 PM EDT , modified September 6th, 2014 at 3:37 PM EDT

Before you think I’m saying something I’m not, let me clarify: the movie industry is not deliberately infecting people with adware. Nonetheless, it is their policies that are giving power to the scams that hackers use to infect people with adware… and actual malware, for that matter. This may seem like a stretch, but let’s look at a real-world example that illustrates why this is true.

I have been on a bit of a health kick lately, and part of that involves 35 minutes spent in the basement on a stair climber every day. There’s no denying the positive effect this has had on how I feel day-to-day, but nonetheless, fifteen minutes into a workout, it’s hard to keep that in mind. At that point, my brain is constantly hassling me. “Hurts!” it complains. “If you get off this thing, I promise I won’t make you think about having a soda for 24 hours! No? 48? Okay, okay, you’ve got me, a whole week!”

Of course, if I give in, my traitorous brain reneges on its promise immediately, citing the instant refreshment to be found at the bottom of a can of Coke. And then I look at the number of calories I’ve just consumed compared to what I burned in a piddly 15 minutes on the stair climber, and I know I’ve been beaten.

For this reason, I have to keep that treacherous brain occupied, so it’s not thinking about the pain. At first, I found success watching movies, watched in 35 minute chunks, on my iPad while I worked out. I’ve bought a number of movies on iTunes, and have ripped a few of my favorite DVDs (which I own) with Handbrake, so I had plenty to choose from. It didn’t take as long as I thought to run through all of them, though, and then I was back to being hassled by that grumpy passenger riding inside my skull.

Thus began my flirtation with Netflix. I signed up for a trial subscription, and have been streaming movies and TV shows, and so far it’s great. I’m enjoying the things I’m watching, and that’s keeping the old noggin occupied on the stair climber. Success all around, right?

Not quite. As I’ve been exploring Netflix, looking for things to watch, I’m coming up short. It seems like every time I try to look for a specific movie, I come up empty. So I started going through my personal movie collection, comprising around 70 movies (I’m guessing), most of which are on DVD. Of these movies, only 5 could be found on Netflix.

Thus, I’m looking at an end to my video streaming activities far sooner than I anticipated. I’m sure that Netflix will add more content by the time I run out, but my big question is whether it will be content I want to watch. So much of it isn’t. I considered switching over to Amazon Prime, but the same thing appears to be true of Amazon Prime Instant Video. Most of the movies in my library do not appear to be available for streaming through that service.

Of course, I can rent videos for online streaming fairly cheaply through either iTunes or Amazon. They’re even cheaper per day if I’m stretching out a 2-hour movie to four days… oh, wait. I can’t. These online rentals expire, only allowing me to watch the movie for 24 to 48 hours before I’d have to rent them again. That simply doesn’t work when you’re only watching in half-hour chunks, and I simply don’t have time in my day to spend watching the remainder of a movie I started during a workout.

Purchasing movies is out. That’s simply too high an expense when you consider I’d burn through a typical movie in 3-5 days and then be hungering for another. Plus, I simply don’t want to own most of the movies I’d like to watch (or re-watch). If once is enough, purchasing the movie is often more expensive than just going to see it in the theater when it was new.

So, where am I to go looking to satisfy my movie fix when the content runs out? I am standing here with my credit card in hand, ready to pay a reasonable price for streaming popular movies that I’m interested in… and nobody is stepping forward to take my money. Where am I to turn now? For many people like me, the answer comes in the form of a multitude of free video streaming sites hosted in countries with a tolerance for their citizens breaking the copyright laws of other nations.

David Pogue wrote about this problem back in 2012, and I’m sad to say that very little has changed since then. If anything, the situation has worsened, with the reluctance of Hollywood to make movies available online leading to a proliferation of free video streaming sites. Most of these sites are offering commercial videos for free, in direct violation of the law in the videos’ countries of origin. This is theft, pure and simple.

FirstRowSportsWhy are these streaming sites there, though? It costs a lot of money to put such a service online. The demand is obviously there… but what is the impetus to provide the supply for free? The answer comes from an oft-quoted piece of internet wisdom: “If you’re not paying for something, you’re not the customer; you’re the product being sold.” In other words, these sites are there so that they can, in some way, shape or form, get paid by having you come to their site.

In a large number of cases, the method of getting paid involves advertising… and not the good, ethical kind of advertising. Most of the web is free because of advertising. No, in this case, we’re talking about seriously bad, unethical advertising, done through adware installed on your system.

People are constantly looking for free videos, and these sites are there to meet the demand. They provide the videos you want to see, and they’ll let you stream them now. All you have to do is download some video plug-in for your browser, or a streaming app that works with their system. So just click here and download that, and you’ll be on your way to free videos in no-time!

Genieo fake codec 1Not quite. The software that you end up downloading ranges from completely fake to legitimate “bait” software wrapped in a malicious wrapper to conceal the fact that something else was installed. Oh, sure, there’s usually some kind of license agreement in the installation process, so technically you agreed to having the adware installed. But most people don’t read those things. Worse, if you actually do read them and uncheck the oft-provided checkbox to opt out of the installation, it’s not uncommon for the adware to be installed anyway.

I wrote a couple weeks ago about the growing adware problem in the Mac community, and how Apple needs to step in and stop it. (See The unchecked growth of Mac adware.) However, Apple isn’t the only player here. They only own the system, and one could certainly argue that users are doing what they want to be doing. (Though, in my experience, most users are not aware of what they’re getting into, and are not appreciative after the fact.)

Hollywood could also take action here to cut off a significant portion of the demand. By providing reasonably-priced online streaming of a wide selection of popular movies, the movie studios could provide an outlet for all those people with open wallets looking for a way to watch movies online. Of course, there will always be folks out there looking for something for nothing, but given a safe, inexpensive and legal means for streaming movies, I believe most people will be willing to pay.

Of course, we’ll never know for sure if Hollywood doesn’t give online streaming a fair chance.

If you have been visiting sites like these, and have found yourself deluged with unwanted advertisements, see my Adware Removal Guide for assistance.

Tags: , ,

6 Comments

  • Jay says:

    I completely agree with this article. I myself am an avid Anime watcher. The only problem is…..I live in Canada. This means many streaming services such as Hulu and Amazon are frustratingly unavailable to me. We do have Netflix, but comparing the amount of titles available to stream versus the US is like comparing the size of Earth to the size of Jupiter; a huge difference. This is why, in the past, I dabbled in these shady streaming sites. I know now that it is the not the right thing to do, and my computer suffered because of it. I realize licensing and other issues in another country can be a huge hassle, but here I am along with many more Canadians with our wallets open, but they refuse to give us anything!

  • tom says:

    i agree, and I’ve said it a million times to various people i have this conversation with, I’ve tried netflix, I’ve tried love film (amazon prime now) if i wanted to watch films from 1980 i probably already have them on DVD i want new releases at a reasonable price. most of the world would be happy to pay a reasonable price for content if it was the content they want to actually view. Also if it is available within a reasonable time frame. I did an experiment with Top gear in the uk, my wife watched her program and rather than recording i thought ill watch it on iPlayer when it finishes…..as a test i also set an automated tv show downloader the task of monotoring usenet for the new episode (usenet being the service people pay for to “steal content”)

    so i flick over and hit refresh on iPlayer, no top gear, i wait 5 mins refresh no top gear…i wait 10 mins u guessed it no top gear. but at the 10 minute mark the downloader started downloading top gear in HD to my computer….
    top gear didn’t hit iPlayer till the following morning. My point is why can a bloke in a cupboard somewhere record and upload a tv show quicker than the BBC can offer it on demand bearing in mind once it has aired it is free to air and download with a tv licence (which i have)

    I’ve never been a fan of streaming sites to many pop ups to much adware (ironically the reason i found your site is one of my colleagues got a load of crapware from streaming football which adwaremedic removed?

    most people will pay but they won’t pay a ridiculous amount and thats the issue movie and tv studios want the big bucks rather than less £per person. when in fact if it was lower amounts more people would subscribe more people would watch their films

    one day i guess they will learn

  • Garrett Weiss says:

    Thank you so much for this information! i couldn’t agree with with you more about this. More people need to be aware of the threats this problem actually could result in. Few peoples lives can contribute to such a matter for the fact that the issue being that it can not be resolved singlehandedly.

  • U.N. Owen says:

    I’m assuming the original article was written awhile ago, & the ‘type’ of Netflix (movies-by-mail, or streamed) being talked about it the by-mail type.

    I hate labels, so, I’m just going to say what I have – for the past five years (it’s Oct ’14), I’ve a Roku (the HD kind) with subscriptions to Netflix & Amazon Prime.

    The Amazon Prime subscription does ‘double duty,’ as I originally got it (several years ago) for faster shipping. The video streaming – a wonderful add-on – came l8r.

    These 2 services overlap somewhat, but, not enough to make me want to stop either.

    The total cost is (Amazon prime is currently $80/year, which breaks down to) $6.66/Mo & $7/Mo (Netflix) =$13+ change.

    Additionally, I pay $50/Mo for a VERY high-speed wireless internet connection (with no cap) th@ I’v had for all ths time (the ONLY increase was once – $5) frm Clear Wireless, but, I’m probably going to swtch to RCN, for HALF the price.

    So – total for all is $63/Mo – &, unlike cable subscribers, my bill doesn’t change.

    Every article about so-called ‘cord-cutters’ says you can’t get away frm the big cable operators – they got you even if you just get WiFi, that’s NONSENSE!

    I didn’t include all the FREE stuff I can watch (Roku FINALLY got a ‘legit’ youTube channel), so, I’m quite content (yes, I get lcl news over the air. I don’t watch network garbage, the only series I like are either on PBS, A&E, Netflix, or AMC – who are ALL doing REALLY good jobs in-house).

    Which brings me back to ths article.

    Since I don’t have a need to (illegally) stream, I don’t c a problem.

    Perhaps – several years ago, I would agree with ths article, but, now – and as we move forward in time – the options are getting better.

    • Thomas says:

      The issue is not about cost. Most people like at least some “network garbage,” and also like to watch movies. Netflix and other legit streaming services have some very good content. But, many movies that I would like to watch are simply not available anywhere, unless I go order a DVD. That was fine ten years ago – even five – but these days, people want to be able to stream such things, and the failure of Hollywood to satisfy that desire leads to piracy, and from there to worsening adware and malware problems.

  • U.N. Owen says:

    (Update) Yipes – I just noticed the article is of recent posting.

    The author really should have a talk with me.

This post is more than 90 days old and has been locked. No further comments are allowed.