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Combat Piracy with Akamai Managed Content Protection

Harish Menon

Written by

Harish Menon

January 26, 2022

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“You wouldn’t steal a car. You wouldn’t steal a handbag. You wouldn’t steal a television. You wouldn’t steal a movie. Downloading pirated films is stealing.” Moviegoers in the early 2000s might remember the PSA that warned against downloading pirated content.

While pervasive, the quantity of pirated materials in those years pales to what the entertainment industry is seeing now, not to mention piracy across music, publishing, software, and more. Akamai has made it a priority to extensively research the attack surfaces and content targeted by content pirates, which are detailed in the release of today’s State of the Internet / Security report, “Pirates in the Outfield.” 

Better protect IP, reduce security risks

Many of these trends and our ongoing research made us acutely aware of the need to help our customers protect their content from pirates. That led us to develop Akamai Managed Content Protection (MCP) service, an offering for customers to better protect their intellectual property (IP) and reduce the security risks of piracy. To understand how this offering can protect companies and their customers, first we need to understand the overall piracy landscape

The “victimless crime” myth

Piracy has commonly been described as a “victimless crime,” but that’s far from the truth. The U.S. economy loses an average of $29 billion a year due to global piracy, according to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce’s Global Innovation Center. The television and film industries, which are among the most pirated, support 2.5 million jobs in the U.S. alone. Piracy claims victims in revenue and livelihoods, and the landscape is expanding.

Research in Akamai’s latest State of the Internet / Security report found that, between January and September 2021, global piracy demand (measured by visits to websites offering access to movies and television shows, either directly through a browser or mobile application, as well as torrent downloads) reached 3.7 billion unlicensed streams and downloads. Furthermore, 61.5% of consumers that pirated materials directly accessed them, while 28.6% actively searched for them. 

Where do we see piracy the most? 

Television is the most pirated industry, and streaming has made it easier for pirates to illegally provide access to premium content. Beyond making paying customers unhappy and the legal implications for content providers, piracy also exposes consumers to malicious content, ranging from phishing, malware, and exploits to botnets, ransomware attacks, and identity theft. Our engineers uncovered that over 90% of illicit streaming sites detected by our MCP service were found to contain this type of content, posing a real threat to users and streaming providers alike.

At the same time, live events are particularly vulnerable to piracy because of the high demand and real-time value of tuning in (e.g., no one wants to miss the outcome of a major sporting event).

Prevalent forms of piracy

In our experience, the most common forms of piracy include:

  • Link sharing and token harvesting: Mobile and desktop applications will monetize pirated events with their own ads and access them via compromised or recycled access tokens.

  • Stream ripping and re-streaming: Pirates will stream events via public social channels such as Twitch, YouTube, and Facebook. This happens despite digital rights management (DRM)/encryption and tokenization.

  • VPN/proxy: Pirates and users will bypass geo-restrictions to access content.

Achieving 360-degree awareness

To help businesses address the growing tide of piracy, we envision our MCP service as a first line of defense for broadcast providers as part of our Broadcast Operations Command Center (BOCC).

MCP was created to thwart piracy before it has a chance to make an impact, giving Akamai a unique capability to identify and mitigate broadcast layer piracy in near-real time. The service is versatile in that it can run in an automated mode or with human oversight. As it complements existing services across a media workflow, it can deliver outcomes based on external inputs or provide intelligence to be plugged into other tools and services — all while gathering intelligence on piracy attempts over long time frames. 

Combined, these elements enable organizations to capture, learn about, and adapt to piracy threats so they can better understand where pirates are exploiting their services and proactively stop them in their tracks.

Combat piracy threats with MCP

MCP allows organizations to better combat piracy threats through four key components: 

  • Monitoring: The monitoring component identifies regions serving traffic and provides real-time situational awareness of the streaming workflow and ecosystem.

  • Automatic detection: MCP outputs outlier fingerprints from the edge, evaluates threats automatically, and provides “confidence level scoring” capabilities through deep learning.

  • Real-time analysis: Customers who use the MCP service can expect programmatic L7 analysis of incoming requests in real time, along with managed service domain expertise and “eyes-on-glass” capabilities, which layer in support from piracy and broadcast experts in the BOCC.

  • Rapid mitigation: Conditional and rule-based mitigation of infringements within seconds of activation, complementing existing Akamai and customer protection layers to expand the protection umbrella.

Fostering legitimate viewing

In addition to the technical capabilities, MCP also provides the opportunity to convert users of piracy sites into paying subscribers. Terminating unauthorized access in near-real time pushes potential viewers of pirated content to pursue legal means of access, leading to happier, safer consumers. Also, the business intelligence collected by the service can help organizations understand consumption patterns to better identify the right content strategies.

As “Pirates in the Outfield” reveals, piracy is more pervasive than ever, and the techniques and technologies that pirates employ are constantly evolving. Organizations must evolve with them and be diligent in using solutions that block piracy and protect their IP. Managed Content Protection provides that capability for Akamai customers, and we’re continuously improving the offering to prepare them for evolving piracy challenges that lie ahead.

Find out more

Learn more about Akamai’s support for OTT video streams via the Akamai Broadcast Operations Command Center and the State of the Internet / Security report.



Harish Menon

Written by

Harish Menon

January 26, 2022