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There is no magic cure for piracy. Plan & prepare for future: Mark Mulready, Irdeto

“Many countries do not have strong legislation and enforcement responses to address piracy. And often these are the same countries (or regions) where pirates will base their operations to evade prosecution,” says Mark Mulready, VP of Cyber Services, Irdeto. The proliferation of more streaming services has in turn widened the scope of pirates, making piracy an attractive option. Pirates have also become intelligent and their attacks are more sophisticated, says Mulready in an exclusive interview with Adgully. He dwells at length on the various facets of the piracy ecosystem, including possible deterrent measures that can be taken at various levels. Read about this and much more in this interview. Excerpts:

How can we solve the problem of movie piracy, which has become so rampant and pervasive?

There is no magic cure for piracy. As entertainment consumption evolves and the manner of delivery of that content changes, so do the pirates. Pirates have always found and will continue to find ways to circumvent security technologies to steal assets to make a profit. Rights holders and content owners should use every tool at their disposal to thwart the latest threats to their premium content and protect their revenue.

Imagine if a store owner decided to remove shoplifting sensors in their store knowing that people would still steal from them anyway. It just doesn’t make sense. The key is to deploy top-of-the-line security, monitoring, investigations, and enforcement at every step of the value chain and adapt as new threats arise. Good security and enforcement measures can serve as a deterrent and an effective mitigation tool for the unauthorised distribution of content. It’s always useful to plan and prepare for the future because online criminals never sleep.

To protect your content, brand, and investments while meeting premium content security requirements, five simple steps can be done:

  1. Ensure the basics are in place. This is done by deploying essential technology to secure your platforms and content.
  2. Understand the threats and define the strategy. Gather, categorise, and prioritize based on risk severity. Identify and gather intelligence; detect, infiltrate and monitor the hacking; and finally perform attack surface management and penetration testing on your network
  3. Build towards a complete and secure solution. Implement advanced security and anti-piracy technology
  4. Plan and prepare for the future. Remain vigilant to prevent leaks, breaches and attacks by identifying and protecting, detecting, and finally responding and recovering
  5. Build towards a complete and secure solution. Implement advanced security and anti-piracy technologies

Can a combination of effective technical protection and legislation with stringent punishments for violators solve the issue to some extent?

It is crucial that law enforcement bodies, trade associations, content and rights owners work together to combat piracy. Particularly when it comes to large-scale operations, which often have ties to other criminal activities in multiple countries. When successful operations are carried out and global entities work together, it results in the take-down of multi-million-dollar operations and protects revenue. 

Unfortunately, there is still a lot more work to be done. Many countries do not have strong legislation and enforcement responses to address piracy. And often these are the same countries (or regions) where pirates will base their operations to evade prosecution. Irdeto works closely and regularly with large groups of international law enforcement partners to investigate and prosecute pirates.

In the past few years, numerous Asian countries have implemented legislation to successfully fight piracy. Vietnam, for example, passed a new regulation in mid-2020 on penalties for IP-specific online violations and adopted a practice of blocking access to pirate websites. And in mid-2021, Malaysian Intellectual Property High Court in Kuala Lumpur ruled that the sale, offer for sale, distribution and/or supply of TV Boxes or illicit streaming devices (ISDs) offering unauthorised access to copyrighted content constitutes copyright infringement under the Copyright Act 1987.

Therefore, it’s important to remember that protecting your content with technology also needs to be supported by appropriate local or international legislation and enforcement to combat piracy and allow a quick response.

In countries like India, individual filmmakers are employing third-party anti-piracy agencies to crack down on piracy. How effective are such measures? 

As posed in the question, it is a cat-and-mouse game. It doesn’t really address the root of the problem. Irdeto serves 400+ customers in 75+ countries with operations in more than 15 locations on six continents, including India.

On multiple occasions, we have seen how an infamous group known as “Tamilrockers” has released movies within hours of release. They are a constant nightmare for the Indian film industry. The current breed of third party anti-piracy companies in India involved in content protection is really just removing it from social media platforms, websites, cyberlockers, hosting sites, etc. More often than not, they are missing the root causes. Why is it happening? Who is involved? What should be the solution? In other words, they are only “scratching the surface”.

When companies use TraceMark™ (Irdeto’s Forensic Watermarking solution), the content can be laced with a unique signature that is embedded in the video. This watermark will not be visible during playback to the end-user, but is very helpful when leaked/ pirated content has made its way on social media. With TraceMark, Irdeto can trace it back to the original source and can fill the gap. If initial take-down notifications are ignored, legal actions can be taken as Irdeto technology can track the source of illegal content. 

Digital Rights Management alone won’t suffice to prevent streaming piracy. How can streaming platforms create a unique experience that cannot be duplicated by pirates? Are digital signatures and blockchain technology good solutions? 

These are technical things that can be put in place to keep fighting, but there are many more tools that can be used beyond technology. One is key rotation – which is done today but more often you rotate the keys; harder it is for pirates to be successful. They may hack the key to content (such as film), but if keys are rotated every x minutes/ hours, the pirates need to hack the key again and again or the video content will stop playing. This, however, cannot be done on the fly since it is not possible for them to know when the hacked key stops working.

From a commercial perspective, what the consumer is typically looking for is cost, content and convenience.

Today, there are ways to address all three. Music piracy was mostly addressed with online music services. Affordable pricing (or free, advertising-funded), content (the four major labels, plus independents, and local content), convenience (apps available across any device, connected or not connected). Why would you want to hassle with pirate sites and risk viruses, scams, etc.?

From video perspective, online streaming service providers’ initial appeal was similar (well-priced versus pay-TV subscriptions), content from across most studios (and high-quality original content, film/ TV-series) and easy-to-use interface (available on smart TVs, tablets, phones, etc.). 

But as more OTT players have entered the market, we begin to see the content spread out across various platforms, which makes “all the content I want” an issue. If a consumer wants “all” the content, he needs to subscribe to many services (which makes cost an issue). And she will need to jump from app to app to enjoy her content (convenience erodes).

In sports arena, cost has been an issue. The price of content rights has been growing for years, making affordability an issue for all except the most fanatical sports fans. And the content rights are many times not even available in the region the consumer sits. As such, consumers may resort to piracy to gain access to such content.

These are issues that the industry as a whole needs to address:

Digital Rights Management (DRM) is a technology used by operators to secure their content without it being distributed to unauthorised person(s). There are and continue to be various ways that pirates can circumvent DRM protection. Control, Irdeto’s multi-DRM solution, has upheld its reputation and helped in ceasing piracy for customers, operators, etc.

Geo-fencing, wherein the content is being pulled by servers in countries where there’s no native audience, is a major issue for any operator irrespective of their region. This is done by pirate IPTV providers to cater to their illegitimate business and provide content to their customers throughout the world. Irdeto handles this situation by implementing geo-blocking of requests originating from systems outside of geography, limiting the number of requests coming in at a particular time frame, blocking the user with odd viewing patterns, etc.

Another way of handling the piracy issue is by tokenization of streams at CDN level.

What are Irdeto’s unique solutions to fight cybercrime in video entertainment? How do you view India as a market?

Irdeto is already present in India and caters to all major DTH operators securing their platform for any kind of piracy. Irdeto has had remarkable success over the years when it comes to combating piracy on DTH platform; otherwise known as Card sharing. Card sharing has evolved over the years and we have seen pirates trying to evade the solutions implemented by Irdeto. Our investigators, legal specialists, law enforcement specialists, cryptography experts, forensic analysts and security software engineers have been able to contain piracy to a great extent by using a variety of our own technologies including:

  1. Watermarking solution (TraceMark)
  2. Brand Protection
  3. Online Piracy Detection portal

Here you can find some examples of our Success Stories.

What are the trends that you foresee in the realm of anti-piracy and related fields this year?

With the explosion in streaming services, the entire production process from filming to production to distribution to consumption unfortunately offers opportunities for hacking and piracy. Pirates exploit vulnerabilities in Over-the-Top (OTT) media services and Content Distribution Networks (CDNs), often taking advantage of the operator’s system and redistributing their content.

The increased need for new and fresh content also requires access to more streaming services, and the increased number of subscriptions to different services in turn increases the costs that the consumer faces. This might make piracy an attractive option. Pirates also become intelligent and their attacks more sophisticated. Therefore, understanding the nature and magnitude of cyber attacks becomes essential. Awareness of potential threats and actions required to protect your content is more and more important. As the hackers develop and improve their methods, so too must companies improve their campaigns against them.

Actions that can be taken to flight the piracy are simple:

  • More watermarking (to be able to detect and prosecute)
  • Continuous monitoring (need to react quickly)
  • More emphasis on cyber security
  • Better security mechanisms on streaming platforms (STBs are pretty secure nowadays)
  • Crackdown on credential sharing.
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