Steal This Show S04E18: ‘You’ll See This Message When It Is Too Late’

Steal This Show S04E18: ‘You’ll See This Message When It Is Too Late’

In this episode we meet Josephine Wolff, who wrote a new book on financial and economic cybercrime, You’ll See This Message When It Is Too Late.

We discuss two important case studies from the book. First, the massive financial fraud botnet GameOver Zeus, which innovated by using P2P to distribute its command and control infrastructure, and a network of money mules to route funds to its owners, making it extremely hard to detect.

Moving on to the case of PLA 61398, we discuss the Chinese deployment of hacking resources for economic advancement via China’s so-called APT or Advanced Persistent Threat Units. Wrapping up, we discuss the question of international law and order in the context of massive, distributed cyber operations that remain extremely hard to detect and police.

Steal This Show aims to release bi-weekly episodes featuring insiders discussing crypto, privacy, copyright and file-sharing developments. It complements our regular reporting by adding more room for opinion, commentary, and analysis.

Host: Jamie King

Guest: Josephine Wolff

If you enjoy this episode, consider becoming a patron and getting involved with the show. Check out Steal This Show’s Patreon campaign: support us and get all kinds of fantastic benefits!

Produced by Jamie King
Edited & Mixed by Lucas Marston
Original Music by David Triana
Web Production by Eric Barch

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File-Sharing Giant Openload Has its Domain Suspended (Updated)

File-Sharing Giant Openload Has its Domain Suspended (Updated)

With millions of regular visitors, file-hosting site Openload generates more traffic than popular streaming services such as Hulu or HBO Go.

While the site has plenty of legal uses it is also a thorn in the side of many copyright holders, due to the frequent appearance of pirated content.

This pirate stigma most recently resulted in a mention on the US Government’s list of “Notorious Markets”. 

While the site has been spared from any legal action, that we know of, it suffered a major setback this week. As of a few hours ago the site’s main Openload.co domain is no longer responsive.

Instead of the regular homepage featuring the browser uploader, users see an error message in their browser, explaining that the site’s IP-address can’t be found.

Openload is missing

The error message is the result of missing DNS entries, which is also apparent from the ‘serverHold’ status message in the domain’s Whois details.

According to ICANN, the serverHold domain status is uncommon and “usually enacted during legal disputes, non-payment, or when your domain is subject to deletion.”

This status is set by the domain registrar, which is Tucows in this case, and renders the domain inaccessible.

serverHold

It’s unclear why this action was taken. We’ve reached out to Tucows but the company didn’t immediately reply to a request for comment.

Interestingly, Malwarebytes currently blocks the Openload.co domain name because it may contain a Trojan. Whether that’s related to the broader domain issue is unknown.

Openload hasn’t made any public statement on the issue, as far as we know. However, it is worth noting that the site’s official status page is unreachable as well. The status page downtime is not tied to a domain problem but appears to be server related.

This isn’t the first time Openload has had a domain name suspended. The same happened in 2016, when domain registrar Namecheap presumably took action after “too many DMCA complaints.”

Openload was eventually able to regain control over the domain and Namecheap publicly admitted that its legal team “was too heavy handed,” adding that Openload should be fine as long as they properly respond to DMCA notices.

Openload is believed to have some backup domains. Oload.stream and Oload.life are working alternatives that serve the same content, it seems, but we were unable to confirm 100% that these are official. 

Update June 20: Openload regained control over its domain name. The ‘serverHold’ status was lifted after a day. There are no further details on the Openload.co website that explain what happened.

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Prolific Pirate Bay User Agrees to Pay $2,900 to Movie Outfits

Prolific Pirate Bay User Agrees to Pay $2,900 to Movie Outfits

Every year, thousands of people are sued in the United States for allegedly sharing pirated video, mostly through BitTorrent.

These efforts share a familiar pattern. After the film companies acquire a subpoena to obtain the personal details of an alleged pirate, they contact this person with a settlement request.

In 2017, movie companies used this strategy to identify the then 72-year-old Mr. Harding from Hawaii, whose Internet connection was used to share more than 1,000 torrents. 

The film companies reached out to the man and offered a hefty $3,900 settlement, which would increase to $4,900 if he failed to respond in time. However, Mr. Harding denied downloading the files, describing the pay-up-or-else demand as “absolutely absurd.”

The accusations eventually made the local press and after a careful review of the matter movie company attorney Kerry Culpepper decided to dismiss the case against the elderly man.

However, that didn’t mean that the downloads were completely disregarded. After digging into the matter, the movie companies learned that, while the offending IP-address was linked to Mr. Harding, the home in question was used by someone else. 

The movie companies ‘ UN4 Productions ‘ and ‘Millennium Funding’ eventually found out that the resident or tenant in question was Mr. Graham. This prompted the rightsholders to file a new federal lawsuit, targeting this man, who they believed was the true ‘pirate.’

This time the accusations were indeed lodged against a prolific downloader. In a declaration submitted to the court Mr. Graham, who is in his fifties, admits that he regularly used The Pirate Bay to download files.

“Since approximately 2016, I have been downloading torrent files of motion pictures from websites of the Pirate Bay at my residence. I believed that it was acceptable to do so because the websites are completely open with their objective to share files,” he states. 

According to the declaration, Mr. Graham often downloaded so many files that he doesn’t remember the names of many torrents. As such, he is not confident that he downloaded the movies “Boyka: Undisputed IV” and Mechanic: Resurrection,” which are listed in the complaint.

The account holder of the Internet connection, who was initially accused, was not aware of this activity.  Mr. Graham, meanwhile, apologized to the rightsholders and agreed not to use The Pirate Bay going forward. 

“I agree to stop using the Pirate Bay,” Mr. Graham writes.

While the man denies liability, he does admit to downloading copyrighted movies through The Pirate Bay and in a consent judgment, submitted to the court, he agrees to a $2,900 settlement to cover costs, fees, and damages. 

In addition, the stipulated consent judgment includes a permanent injunction prohibiting Mr. Graham from infringing the copyrights of the two movie companies going forward. 

A copy of the stipulated consent judgment is available here (pdf).

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After RIAA Targets DJ & Producer Site Mixstep, Site Shuts Down

After RIAA Targets DJ & Producer Site Mixstep, Site Shuts Down

In recent weeks the RIAA has really stepped on the gas in an effort to tackle sites offering allegedly-infringing content.

The music industry group’s current weapon-of-choice is the DMCA subpoena. These orders, which are easy to obtain and do not need to be scrutinized by a judge, give the RIAA significant discovery powers that help to identify the operators of online platforms.

The latest site to be targeted by the RIAA is Mixstep.co, an upload platform designed for audio works. Last week the powerful industry group told a Columbia federal court that the site was hosting content at a single URL which infringes one or more of its members’ copyrights.

The RIAA says the URL linked to the Ed Sheeran/Justin Bieber track “I Don’t Care” but the location was already inaccessible the morning after the subpoena was obtained. Nevertheless, the RIAA now wants to identify the operator of the site.

The message where the file used to be

The subpoena orders domain registry Namecheap to hand over the personal details of the platform’s domain owner, including name, physical address, IP address, telephone, email address, payment, account history, and other information.

TorrentFreak spoke with the operator of Mixstep who told us he wasn’t previously aware why the RIAA is targeting him. The site was never intended to host infringing content and was actually set up for the use of creators.

“We made this project for DJs and producers,” he told TF.

In common with many upload platforms – YouTube included – Mixstep has users who uploaded infringing content. However, the site has been working hard to take content down and has dealt severely with those who have abused the service.

“We already banned a lot of users who uploaded illegal files,” the operator added.

It’s not completely clear why the RIAA wants to identify the operator of the site but if its aim was to neutralize the platform, the music group has achieved that goal. With the service operated on a zero profit basis, its owner says it has run its course.

“I think it’s enough to fight with all these [users uploading infringing files] so we’re going to shut down our project very soon. Anyway, Mixstep was a no-profit project,” he said.

Visitors to the site now see the following message, so it may be ‘mission accomplished’ for the RIAA.

The end of the show

The RIAA’s letter to Cloudflare can be downloaded here (pdf)

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Namecheap ‘Suspends’ Domain of File-hosting Service Nofile.io

Namecheap ‘Suspends’ Domain of File-hosting Service Nofile.io

Nofile.io is a popular no-nonsense file-hosting service that’s been around for roughly two years.

Similar to other hosting services, people can use it to upload and share files. However, this week the site has been unreachable. 

Upon closer inspection, we found out that the downtime is the result of a domain name issue. It appears that the site’s registrar, Namecheap, has put the Nofile.io domain on “serverHold.”

According to ICANN, the serverHold domain status is uncommon and “usually enacted during legal disputes, non-payment, or when your domain is subject to deletion.”

This status is set by the domain registrar, Namecheap in this case, and informs the registry not to activate the DNS. As a result, the website in question will become inaccessible.

It’s unclear why Namecheap took this action. We reached out to the company earlier this week, but haven’t heard back.

serverHold

The suspension may be related to an earlier issue. As reported last month, the RIAA obtained a DMCA subpoena ordering Namecheap to hand over the personal details of the owner of the domain name.

“The website associated with this domain name offers files containing sound recordings which are owned by one or more of our member companies and have not been authorized for this kind of use, ” RIAA wrote at the time.

RIAA highlighted that a leaked track by rapper ‘Tyler, the Creator,’ titled ‘Earfquake,’ was shared on the site and requested the personal details of the domain owner from Namecheap.

While the registrar is not known to suspend domains based on these type of allegations, it could be that this inquiry that raised some red flags. For example, it may have revealed that the WHOIS information was false. That can be reason for a suspension.

Last week we reported on a similar issue, where a torrent site lost its domain name due to inaccurate WHOIS data.

Whether something similar happened here remains unconfirmed. However, unless the operator of Nofile.io resolves the matter with Namecheap, the site’s domain name will remain suspended.

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‘Pirating’ Cox Business Subscriber Can Remain Anonymous, Court Rules

‘Pirating’ Cox Business Subscriber Can Remain Anonymous, Court Rules

Copyright holders are increasingly taking Internet providers to court, accusing the companies of failing to terminate repeat copyright infringers. 

Up until recently, the alleged pirating subscribers have remained anonymous. However, in the case between several music labels and Cox Communications, this position changed. 

Without direction from the court, the ISP agreed to reveal the identities of thousands of business subscribers whose connections were repeatedly used to share infringing material. These personal details are not being made public, but names, addresses, and other info will be handed over to the labels. 

It’s not clear what the rightsholders intend to do with this information but it’s unlikely to be in the interests of the accused subscribers. This didn’t sit well with one business subscriber, which protested the stipulated order in court. 

The “John Doe” company, an unnamed non-profit that provides hospital and medical care facilities, is one of the 2,793 affected business subscribers. The organization didn’t deny the piracy allegations but told the court that the infringements were made over its unsecured network, which is accessible to visitors.

Before accessing this network all visitors had to agree to the terms of service, which specifically prohibited illegal downloading. Apparently, this wasn’t enough.

The company states that revealing its identity to the record labels isn’t going to change anything. There is no record of who accessed the network at the time of the infringements, so tracking down the culprits is impossible.

“Thus, disclosure of John Doe’s subscriber information will not lead to the discovery of the individual(s) who are alleged by Plaintiffs to have engaged in copyright infringement through the misuse of John Doe’s network in violation of the access agreement,” the company informed the court.

Instead, the company argued that disclosure will breach its privacy rights under the Cable Communications Privacy Act. It therefore filed a request to prevent its personal info from being handed over. 

The music labels and Cox didn’t respond to this objection and after a thorough review of the arguments, US Magistrate Judge John F. Anderson decided to grant the objection. This means that the company’s information can’t be shared with the labels.

“No response has been filed to this motion and the fourteen-day period for doing so has expired. Having reviewed the motion and supporting declaration, and there being no opposition, it is hereby ORDERED that the motion is granted, and defendant shall not be required to disclose John Doe’s subscriber information to the plaintiffs,” Judge Anderson writes.

It’s unclear why there was no response to the objection, but it’s possible that the music labels and Cox preferred not to draw any more attention to the matter. Sacrificing the details of one subscriber likely outweighs having an extensive review.

After all, there are still 2,792 business subscribers who didn’t object.

Without any further pleadings, it remains unclear what the music companies plan to do with the subscriber information. Perhaps more will become clear once the case progresses.

The order

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Sky Streaming Service Uses ‘Pirate’ Subtitles on Chernobyl Episode (updated)

Sky Streaming Service Uses ‘Pirate’ Subtitles on Chernobyl Episode (updated)

Every day, millions of people enjoy fan-made subtitles.

These files help foreigners to better understand English entertainment and provide the hearing impaired with a way to comprehend audio.

The subtitles are often used in combination with pirated files. While helpful to many, they are a thorn in the side for major copyright holders, who see them as yet another threat to their business.

As a result, fansub communities are increasingly portrayed as illegal operations. Several sites are now blocked by ISPs and site operators have been taken to court following copyright infringement allegations. 

Given this backdrop, it’s quite unusual to see one of the largest entertainment industry brands using these ‘pirate’ subtitles on its official streaming service. This is exactly what Comcast-owned Sky Switzerland is doing at the moment. 

Subscribers of the local Sky platform who watch the last episode of the hit series Chernobyl, with English subtitles enabled, see the following message appearing around the five-minute mark.

“- Synced and corrected by VitoSilans – www.Addic7ed.com.”

The message (screenshot by TF)

The message is part of the credits that are typically added to fan-made subtitles. In this case, it clearly indicates that they were sourced from Addic7ed.com, a well-known resource for these type of subtitles and one that is blocked by ISPs in Australia. 

Looking more closely at the official video and the Addic7ed subtitles, we see that the timing doesn’t match. This suggests that the subtitle has been synced separately to fit the Sky video. However, the opening ‘credits’ were not removed. 

Also, these subs generally have a closing credit too. These are not visible during the episode on Sky.ch.  

The Addic7ed team tells us that it doesn’t mind seeing their subs being used by major entertainment conglomerates. It has happened before and as long as it helps people to enjoy a movie or TV-show, everybody benefits.

“When we started the project we wished that content would be available to a larger audience by breaking the language barrier or providing English subtitles for hearing impaired people, which would otherwise not enjoy videos as much. If this means that others take our work, so be it,” Addic7ed informs TF.

“Professionals or not, our main objective was reached: more people enjoyed the show. Kudos to Sky for keeping the credits.”

Sky Switzerland hasn’t responded to our request for comment at the time of publication. Whether the Addic7ed credit was left in intentionally is highly doubtful though. It seems more likely that someone forgot to remove it.

In any case, the mention hasn’t gone unnoticed either. At least one person has alerted Sky via Twitter, but the company didn’t respond there either. 

Interestingly, this is not the first time ‘pirate’ subtitles have been used on a streaming service. In the past, Netflix was caught using “unauthorized” fansubs as well. In addition, American anime distributor Funimation previously used ‘pirate’ subs in their dubbing room.

Update: Sky Switzerland reached out to us after publication. The company informed us that they have a very high anti-piracy standard and that what happened is totally unacceptable. The ‘pirate’ subtitle was quickly removed.

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BREIN Criticizes Bullet-Proof Hosts, Forces Pirate Webcasters to Get Licenses

BREIN Criticizes Bullet-Proof Hosts, Forces Pirate Webcasters to Get Licenses

While millions of the world’s pirates are focused on sites offering movies, TV shows, music, videogames and software, many are enjoying unlicensed content without even knowing it.

There are tens of thousands of radio stations on the Internet, most of which require licensing to operate legally. However, many operate on a hobbyist basis, with official paperwork and sanctioning left as a mere afterthought.

For many, there are zero consequences for taking this approach but for several Netherlands-based Internet stations, that didn’t turn out to be the case.

Dutch anti-piracy outfit BREIN informs TorrentFreak that following information provided by one of its members SENA, it successfully targeted four Dutch radio stations, or webcasters as they’re sometimes known.

SENA helps artists and producers exploit neighboring rights and part of that effort involves webcasters/stations paying the group a license fee to operate. Once paid, stations are able to display the SENA logo to indicate they are above board. The four stations in question, all Netherlands-based according to BREIN, hadn’t paid the necessary fee.

“The radio streams of the channels are provided by a hosting provider based abroad that is not affiliated with Stichting Webcasting Nederland and does not otherwise have the required licenses,” BREIN said in a statement.

Following BREIN’s approach, three paid up. A fourth took the nuclear option and shut down. However, BREIN had other stations on its radar too, but they indicated their streaming host is the formal owner of their channels.

The host, which BREIN says operates under the IDFNV and Microglo brands, offers Shoutcast and IceCast server hosting, among other things. The anti-piracy outfit says that the company failed to respond to a demand for it to obtaining licensing for the stations or shut them down. That probably didn’t come as a surprise.

“A complicating factor is that host profiles itself as a ‘bullet-proof host’ and is based in the Seychelles,” BREIN explains.

“In other words, the host will never provide data and states that it has nothing to do with Dutch or EU regulations. The host wants to make himself and his customers invulnerable to enforcement actions.”

However, both sales portals for the host offer servers inside the EU and indeed the Netherlands, a “vulnerability” that BREIN may yet exploit. BREIN adds that licensors could also play a part, by refusing to do business with webcasters and stations that utilize such companies.

“Licensors could make it a condition that licensees do not use hosts that deliberately also host unauthorized channels. After all, such hosts earn money from illegality and should not be supported by the legal providers,” BREIN says.

This type of action is rarely publicized but BREIN chief Tim Kuik says his company has carried out this type of enforcement before.

“It is not our job to license but we will enforce on the request of our participating right holders,” Kuik concludes.

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Red-Hot Vetements Fashion Brand is Selling an $845 Pirate Bay Hoodie

Red-Hot Vetements Fashion Brand is Selling an $845 Pirate Bay Hoodie

The Pirate Bay is the most recognized pirate site on the Internet. It has endured the roughest of high seas for more than 15 years and is still going strong.

The site’s logo, pictured right, has been published on thousands of websites and for many, its familiar tape-and-crossbones logo is both iconic and rebellious.

Enter stage left storming fashion brand Vetements. Previously based in Paris, the “design collective” has been making waves all over the world and is currently listed as one of the world’s hottest brands, just a single place behind Versace in the latest Lyst Index.

Hoping to climb even further up the greasy pole that is high fashion, Vetements is now selling a Pirate Bay-themed hoodie that shamelessly rips off the site’s logo. Buyers can pick one up for the bargain price of $845.

An absolute giveaway

While the full ship emblem on the front isn’t an exact replica of the original, it’s so close as to make very little difference. Those squinting to read the text along the bottom are advised it reads “Vetements Free Downloads”, in case anyone doesn’t recognize this is a Pirate Bay-themed hoodie, of course.

The back of this stunning piece of high-fashion cloth is adorned with an alphabetically-sorted list of countries of the world. While that’s perhaps expected given The Pirate Bay’s reach, Sweden – the site’s birthplace – is completely absent.

No Sweden?

The big question here is whether someone in the setting department screwed up and left Sweden out, or is this one of those clever fashion things that’s designed to provoke conversation. The Pirate Bay can be found everywhere except Sweden? That works – on a couple of levels.

But of course, now we’re getting sucked in and this was probably Vetements’ plan all along. Keep in mind this is a company that sells a t-shirt with a DHL logo on the front for several hundred dollars. And people buy them in droves.

For at least one person responsible for the creation of The Pirate Bay, this act of fabric-based piracy is definitely not acceptable.

https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

While Marcin appears to make his position clear, he seems more irritated by the extortionate price than the fact that Vetements is attempting to profit from the site’s image. Either way, this can only lead to yet more publicity for the file-sharing movement and – sigh – Vetements.

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Fragmented Streaming Landscape Keeps Piracy Relevant, Research Suggests

Fragmented Streaming Landscape Keeps Piracy Relevant, Research Suggests

There is little doubt that, for many people, streaming services have become the standard for watching movies and TV-shows.

This is no surprise, since subscription-based streaming services are among the best and most convenient alternatives to piracy at this point.

There is a problem though. The whole appeal of the streaming model becomes diluted when there are too many ‘Netflixes.’

More choice wouldn’t be a bad thing if all these services offered a broad library of content. The problem, however, is that all have different ‘libraries’ and exclusive productions are becoming more and more common.

Since most households have a limited budget for online entertainment, consumers have to choose which services they want. This is a problem that keeps getting worse, especially now that Apple and Disney are planning to release their own streaming platforms soon.

The irony of this situation is that the platforms, which are supposed to make piracy obsolete, are in fact keeping it relevant. This has been argued anecdotally in the past, but research by piracy research firm MUSO among 1,000 UK adults, shows that this is indeed happening.

The vast majority of all surveyed consumers, 80.4%,  feel that they’re already paying too much for content streaming. At the same time, 64.2% of the people who took part in the survey are not willing to pay for any more streaming services this year.

Even more worrying is that more than half of all respondents, 50.8%, said they were likely or very likely to use unlicensed platforms to search for content that’s not available to them. In other words, they are considering to pirate video in order to get what they want.

“This research shows that people will inevitably seek it elsewhere via unlicensed platforms, but this does, however, create further opportunities for content owners to understand this audience with meaningful and valuable insights,” MUSO CEO Andy Chatterley notes.

“With most people only subscribing to only a couple of services, it’s going to be really interesting to see what happens with the launch of Disney+ and Apple TV+. Will consumers ditch an existing service for one of the new ones? Or will Apple struggle to crack the TV market again?”

While it’s easy to blame rightsholders and streaming platforms, this puzzle isn’t easy to solve.

Ideally, there would be a single platform where people can access everything they want, similar to pirate sites and services. The problem is, however, that this won’t bring in enough revenue, at least not at the subscription rates we have now.

That said, there has to be a better option than to keep adding more and more services and fragmenting the steaming landscape?

In any case, the flawed argument that people have no ‘excuse’ to pirate because there are plenty of legal alternatives is weakening every year. Yes, pretty much everything can be accessed legally, but people need deep pockets to do so.

It appears that the people who benefit the most from increased fragmentation are the operators of pirate sites and services. That’s probably not what Hollywood intended.

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