CLEVELAND — So many people now get their entertainment through streaming devices or apps, it's become a multi-billion dollar business. And while some of the prices are very reasonable, people are still trying to get them for free. But there's an old adage; "If you don't pay for something, you are the product."
Cyber-criminals are constantly looking for ways to get your personal data, and many of the new gizmos and gadgets we bring into our home, that we think make us more safe, are actually opening the door for bad guys.
"It's a serious issue and consumers will never know it's happening," says Tom Galvin with the Digital Citizens Alliance, a watchdog group. He says hackers are tapping into devices like high tech doorbells with security cameras and relying on our lack of awareness to sneak dangerous programs past our home firewalls every time we plug new devices in.
And he says it's even riskier if you buy black market devices or if you're downloading bad apps to get your entertainment for free. "And by doing so they've now let the hacker into their network," Galvin says, "and the malware will start to probe the network to get to other devices."
In the last five years, streaming has become the primary way that Americans consumer entertainment. That's led to an explosion of devices with KODI that can be found on eBay and other online markets. They offer free access to pay services, but of course there's a catch!
Galvin showed us palm-sized black boxes that look nearly identical to the legitimate streaming devices. "This device here," he says "is an Apple TV. And this other device is a piracy device. They look alike, but the difference in them is this: Apple cares a LOT about it's security and the apps on it. It vets them. This other device - the pirate device - it cares nothing about security and doesn't care about the apps."
A recent study by the Alliance found that people who use pirated devices are six times more likely to have reported malware in the past eighteen months. And it's estimated that seventy percent of the apps on the internet are un-vetted and that they do something other than what they say they do. That's got the attention of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
"There are all kinds of concerns with apps," says FBI Special Agent Vicki Anderson. "We're not saying that they are all necessarily bad, you just need to pay attention."
The FBI dedicates considerable resources including cyber squads and intelligence analysts to fight the problem. Just last year they indicted a North Korean national who infected fifty-seven thousand devices as part of what's believed to be a state government sponsored program to cause trouble in the United States.
Most people by now know not to click on email links that look suspicious...but don't think twice about downloading apps they know nothing about. "I think people think apps are safer, but they just need to be cautious about what they're doing," says SA Anderson.
Now, obviously you can avoid getting hacked by those black market devices... by not buying them.
As for malicious apps, if two of them look exactly the same, and one you have to buy while the other is free...you probably won't have the same protections.
Here are some safety tips:
The FBI has also set up an internet crime complaint center where you can report suspicious activity. To file a complaint, click here.