Developing Gold Medal-Worthy Protection Against Video Pirates

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Video piracy, or intellectual property theft, to be more exact, has long been a difficult problem to tackle. Even though we cannot determine the exact financial implications or how widespread the problem is, piracy is still a crime and has a real impact on the business of entertainment. With major sporting events like the Euros and Tokyo Olympics finally going ahead this summer, tackling the problem is high on the agenda for many rights distributors.

The truth is that video piracy in sports is a pervasive problem but also a lucrative business. In the UK alone, 2 million football fans claim to have watched an illegal stream of a match in 2020. Faced with the scale of the problem, many rights owners and distributors will be asking themselves how they can protect their assets. Fortunately, while pirates’ tactics have evolved over time, so too have the tools at our disposal to fight them. A zero trust approach to intellectual property theft coupled with good situational awareness is among some of the most promising developments having a positive impact. 

What Do the Pirates Have in Their Line-Up?

One of the most complex areas to consider when combating intellectual property theft is the variety of methods that criminals use to steal content in the first place. At one end of the spectrum is theft through simple link-sharing sites, which commercialize stolen live feeds with their own ad inventory. More technically advanced criminals will attack APIs, overwhelm digital rights management (DRM) servers with DDoS attacks, hack editing platforms or generate revenues through modded APIs. If there is a weakness in your workflow, the criminals will find it. 

This variety of attack profiles can be frustrating but also very damaging for sports distributors. Top-tier competitions, like the Euros and the Olympics, represent a huge investment in rights. If one distributor leaks somewhere in the ecosystem, it can be hugely damaging for everyone. For this reason, sports federations will often guide the minimum levels of protection required and make suggestions to help distributors think through all the points of potential vulnerability. The industry also receives clear guidance from respected industry bodies such as MovieLabs, AAPA, the MPAA and others. 

Devising the Right Tactics 

Distributors seeking to mitigate the impact of piracy during this summer’s packed sporting calendar have plenty of variables to consider. But like any form of cybercrime, if we understand the methods of theft and the means of distribution, we can put the right measures in place across the workflow to protect content. As recently advised by MovieLabs, one key facet to consider is adopting a zero trust approach as the basis for a concerted effort to deal with piracy. Zero trust is not a technology or a product. It is a strategic architectural approach to security that is enabled by technology. It assumes that every device, system, user or connection is already compromised. 

Adopting a zero trust approach means operating under the assumption that cyber-criminals already have a clear understanding of production and distribution workflows and can breach existing defenses. Therefore, this approach requires developing a new security strategy, one which will provide effective protection against known avenues of attack and include the ability to adapt to new threats. This latter capability is essential — cyber-criminals are constantly changing their tactics to steal content, and anti-piracy measures need to keep up to stand any chance of success. Tried and tested technologies such as digital rights management are important. However, in this highly sophisticated environment, they’re no longer enough. 

Video piracy has the potential to threaten the long-term viability of the sports media industry as we know it. The prospect of going head to head against cyber-criminals can be both technically and financially daunting. However, the costs of ignoring the issue are potentially far worse. Adopting a zero trust methodology as part of your anti-piracy strategy is critical to ensuring that this much-delayed summer of sports is a boon for the fans and distributors alike, not for cyber-criminals.

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