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Xtream-Codes: We Have Nothing To Do With Resurrected IPTV System Xtream UI

In September 2019, the pirate IPTV market was thrown into turmoil when the Guardia di Finanza (GdF), an Italian law enforcement agency under the authority of the Minister of Economy and Finance, targeted Xtream-Codes as part of a huge law enforcement operation.

Xtream-Codes, which was operated by a Bulgarian company, was not a pirate IPTV service. What the company provided was a software services package that allowed people to manage their own IPTV reselling services and customers. This did not deter the Italian authorities from describing Xtream-Codes as a pirate operation.

While in complex cases the devil is often in the detail and may yet reveal an element of wrongdoing (or otherwise), Xtream-Codes itself was a tool that helped people manage IPTV services and from a technical perspective, it did not matter whether those services were legal or illegal. In the same way that torrent clients have the ability to download and distribute infringing content, like Xtream-Codes they may also be put to legitimate uses that do not involve piracy.

Since the authorities are staying tight-lipped on the important details of the case as the investigation continues, information regarding potential intent or complicity (or otherwise) has yet to enter the public domain. However, for the second time in two months the former operators of Xtream-Codes have broken their silence to complain that behind the scenes, justice isn’t being done.

Xtream Codes Denies Being Part of Xtream UI

In the wake of the Xtream-Codes shutdown, hundreds of entities involved in the supply of IPTV that also relied on the company’s software were left without the necessary tools to do their work. That left an immediate gap in the market for replacement panels such as those offered by Streaminy, Fastocloud, Ezhometech, and the interestingly-named Xtream UI.

Xtream UI appeared in the wake of Xtream Codes’ demise and carries broadly the same features, having been based on the Xtream-Codes panel software. Given the name and history of the base tool, it now appears that authorities in Italy are making connections between the original and its apparent successor. That’s according to the former operators of Xtream-Codes who say the authorities’ assertions are wrong.

“Once again we are forced to issue a statement regarding the judicial events that unfairly involve us. It emerged that the investigating authorities are comparing the name of Xtream-Codes to that of another company, called Xtream UI, deducing that we are continuing to operate under the name of the latter,” the company said in an announcement this week.

“On this groundless and specious assertion it is necessary to be more than clear: XTREAM-CODES HAS NOTHING TO DO WITH XTREAM UI NOR WITH ANY OTHER COMPANY OR PRIVATE ENTITY WHO ILLEGALLY USES THE NAME OR THE XTREAM CODES SOFTWARE.”

In an effort to sever the links, the company has reportedly instructed its lawyers to take legal action to prevent Xtream UI from using its name moving forward. There is currently no mention of action against entities that rely on elements of Xtream-Codes’ software to provide a similar service.

Xtream-Codes: We’re Not Serving the IPTV Market

Last November, when the company first spoke in public after the raids in 2019, Xtream-Codes condemned its characterization by the authorities as a pirate service. It also explained how it had worked with “international judicial authorities” in order to “stop the phenomenon of piracy, to identify and stop those who illegally used our platform.”

However, that work did not extend to cooperation with the authorities in Italy, who saw no difference between Xtream-Codes and a number of customers who used the platform to infringe copyright. In November, Xtream-Codes said that there was never any attempt at collaboration to “intercept” around a dozen abusive users, a number that now appears to have grown.

“We are involved in an unfair trial for the mere fact that about 20 users out of 4000 are accused of illegally using our software without our knowledge, despite the lawfulness of the software and the company, on whose dividends we obviously paid taxes to the state of Bulgaria, where we are based,” the platform’s former operators explained.

“Since we suffered the forced closure of our company, we have been forced to exit the market, both because we were fully confident that the obvious conclusion that Xtream-Codes is totally unrelated to the work of some of its users would emerge in a short timeframe, and because materially our economic and mental resources must necessarily be used in this unfair process that involves us.”

Why Hasn’t the IPTV Market Collapsed?

The picture painted by the authorities at the time of the raids in 2019 was that Xtream-Codes was vital to the pirate IPTV market, providing the necessary backbone to make it function. However, while traffic did indeed collapse in a big way immediately after the systems were taken down, recovery wasn’t far away.

Indeed, pirate IPTV services in 2020 were still being described by many rightsholders as a major threat and as Xtream-Codes quite rightly points out, its demise at the hands of the authorities doesn’t appear to have achieved much.

“Beyond the serious injustice that emerges from this information, it should however be noted that according to the thesis of the investigators, Xtream-Codes should be the backbone of the illegal IPTV market. Yet, we cannot help but notice, also thanks to what the media reported, that more than a year after the closure of Xtream-Codes, the illegal IPTV market seems more flourishing than ever,” the company noted.

“Could it be that Xtream-Codes, as well as any other company offering software similar to ours, is not the cause of the spread of the illegal IPTV market? Could it be that the investigators are following a totally wrong path that irremediably involves our company which could be considered a European excellence at the time of closure?

“Time will give us the answer to these questions. Meanwhile, we remain at the disposal of the investigating authorities and remain confident in the work of the judiciary,” the company concludes.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Pirate IPTV Community Raises The Alarm Over Hacks and Extortion

Due to their nature, pirate IPTV service operators and resellers tend to operate in the shadows, cautiously guarding their own identities and those of their users.

Aside from the few cases where such entities find themselves targeted by legal action or even the police, exposure is a rare event. However, a couple of years ago a new threat emerged after several IPTV providers were targeted by a hacker.

High Profile Attacks Against Helix and PrimeStreams

Late 2019, we reported on a pair of attacks against two of the more recognizable IPTV brands on the market. Warning signs first appeared on the homepage of Helix Hosting, when the alleged hacker revealed that the provider had been given the option to pay a “small amount” in order to prevent all of his customers’ details from being leaked online.

On top, the hacker threatened to leak the personal details of at least one owner or staff member, along with their names, addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses. There was no question that this was a serious problem for Helix. But the hacker wasn’t happy with just a single target.

Just days later, PrimeStreams was under attack by the same person, who again demanded that a ransom be paid to prevent customer details from being leaked online. The amount was significant – $70k payable in bitcoin – but that was not the full extent of the attacks. Several other providers were targeted too, always with the same modus operandi but differing amounts.

TF previously received information on extortion demands down to around a single bitcoin, with the hacker appearing to tailor the amount based on the size of the provider or reseller’s customer base. What was clear, however, is that many attacks were going unreported in public, most probably due to the sensitive nature of the businesses being targeted.

New Warnings: More Hacks, More Extortion

With so many hacks appearing in a short space of time, those under attack began to suspect that a common vector was being exploited by the hacker. Very early on, at least one provider publicly suggested that billing software (provided by WHMCS Smarters and used by hundreds perhaps thousands of providers/sellers) could’ve been part of the problem.

A new announcement by a moderator of Reddit’s /r/IPTV community is now putting more meat on the bones that supports that theory while putting more worrying information into the public domain.

“Over the last couple years numerous IPTV providers were hacked by someone exploiting the WHMCS billing module. Some major providers paid up to $70k USD to the hacker and some of these exploits were covered on Torrent Freak. The hacker has probably hit at least 50 smaller IPTV providers, maybe more, that’s only the ones we know of, always asking for Bitcoin as a ransom,” the moderator reveals.

Also of interest is that the hacker reportedly caused damage to the sites in order to pile on more pressure to pay. But of course, those targeted didn’t have the luxury of seeking legal support or even protection from the police, so the extortion scheme continued and the pressure mounted for a while, before eventually tailing off.

Unfortunately, the hacker appears to have resumed his activities in recent months and members of the IPTV community are now pooling their resources to gather information on the individual and sound the alarm. The allegations coming out now are a concern, to say the least.

“He knows the IPTV business and has inside info that most wouldn’t,” the warning continues. “But here is the most important thing you should be aware of. He knows Smarters better than many. Ask yourself why.”

This theme, that the hacker could have some connection to Smarters, however obscure, continues with additional allegations that seem to suggest more than just a casual relationship.

“The [Reddit /r/iptv/] mod team has seen substantial evidence that points to this hacker being someone involved with Smarters, possibly on their staff, or related in some way to their operation. Seems to be a strong connection.”

“We are NOT accusing Smarters, but we urge you to use CAUTION if dealing with them especially if it involves server access. Don’t ever provide them passwords to your servers for any reason. He will know,” the warning adds.

WHMCS Smarters Responds to Allegations

Given the potential severity of the allegations, TorrentFreak contacted WHMCS Smarters for a response and a statement on whether the company would be prepared to carry out a security audit to check for any issues of concern.

Company owner Amanpreet Singh responded quickly, thanked us for bringing the matter to his attention, and assured us that he had discussed the matter with his team and had come up with several security recommendations.

– Always use a strong password and keep changing it after a few months
– Use the SSL (HTTPS): Always on HTTPS
– If you have WordPress installed at the front then ensure there are no unknown plugins
– Change your server Access Passwords once Smarters has finished the installation.
– File permissions should be accurate

In our initial contact, Singh told us that he wasn’t sure what more he could say, since he has no idea whether the allegations raised by the Reddit moderation team are true. In response, we again asked whether he would commit to carrying out a security audit within the company as part of an investigation.

“There is no chance of the hacker being involved with Smarters,” Singh informs TF.

“I have already discussed this with my team and there is nothing to be worried about at our end. My real brother and cousin brother and my one sister are working as team leaders and they are responsible for the installation and updating of billing panels.

“The second major thing is if we change the passwords then there is nothing to be worried about. I told my team to force the clients to change the password when the installation is done.”

Paying a Ransom Doesn’t Guarantee The Hacker Will Withdraw

Considering the very nature of blackmail, paying a ransom to a hacker may seem like a good idea at the time but when easily duplicated digital information is involved or attack vectors remain available, there’s no guarantee that a hacker will honor his or her side of the bargain. Indeed, according to the Reddit moderator (who has good connections in the IPTV community), paying up may not be the end of the story.

“Don’t pay the hacker if he hacks your site cuz it won’t do you any good. He has hit many people several times. Comes back for more, too. It’s no guarantee that he won’t leak your info if you pay him,” he adds.

“Don’t pay this asshole if he hits you. [By the way] he can hack the newest WHMCS version if you give Smarters any server passwords. You were warned.”

Finally, it’s claimed that members of the IPTV community have additional evidence up their collective sleeves but are holding back from publishing now, in order to protect sensitive information. However, they aren’t ruling out revealing that in the future, if the hacker persists.

In response to the report of additional information being available, Singh is offering his help, should IPTV providers need it.

“If they have particular evidence then I would ask [them] to share it with me then I can help [them] with it more,” he concludes.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Pirate IPTV Community Raises The Alarm Over Hacks and Extortion

Due to their nature, pirate IPTV service operators and resellers tend to operate in the shadows, cautiously guarding their own identities and those of their users.

Aside from the few cases where such entities find themselves targeted by legal action or even the police, exposure is a rare event. However, a couple of years ago a new threat emerged after several IPTV providers were targeted by a hacker.

High Profile Attacks Against Helix and PrimeStreams

Late 2019, we reported on a pair of attacks against two of the more recognizable IPTV brands on the market. Warning signs first appeared on the homepage of Helix Hosting, when the alleged hacker revealed that the provider had been given the option to pay a “small amount” in order to prevent all of his customers’ details from being leaked online.

On top, the hacker threatened to leak the personal details of at least one owner or staff member, along with their names, addresses, phone numbers and IP addresses. There was no question that this was a serious problem for Helix. But the hacker wasn’t happy with just a single target.

Just days later, PrimeStreams was under attack by the same person, who again demanded that a ransom be paid to prevent customer details from being leaked online. The amount was significant – $70k payable in bitcoin – but that was not the full extent of the attacks. Several other providers were targeted too, always with the same modus operandi but differing amounts.

TF previously received information on extortion demands down to around a single bitcoin, with the hacker appearing to tailor the amount based on the size of the provider or reseller’s customer base. What was clear, however, is that many attacks were going unreported in public, most probably due to the sensitive nature of the businesses being targeted.

New Warnings: More Hacks, More Extortion

With so many hacks appearing in a short space of time, those under attack began to suspect that a common vector was being exploited by the hacker. Very early on, at least one provider publicly suggested that billing software (provided by WHMCS Smarters and used by hundreds perhaps thousands of providers/sellers) could’ve been part of the problem.

A new announcement by a moderator of Reddit’s /r/IPTV community is now putting more meat on the bones that supports that theory while putting more worrying information into the public domain.

“Over the last couple years numerous IPTV providers were hacked by someone exploiting the WHMCS billing module. Some major providers paid up to $70k USD to the hacker and some of these exploits were covered on Torrent Freak. The hacker has probably hit at least 50 smaller IPTV providers, maybe more, that’s only the ones we know of, always asking for Bitcoin as a ransom,” the moderator reveals.

Also of interest is that the hacker reportedly caused damage to the sites in order to pile on more pressure to pay. But of course, those targeted didn’t have the luxury of seeking legal support or even protection from the police, so the extortion scheme continued and the pressure mounted for a while, before eventually tailing off.

Unfortunately, the hacker appears to have resumed his activities in recent months and members of the IPTV community are now pooling their resources to gather information on the individual and sound the alarm. The allegations coming out now are a concern, to say the least.

“He knows the IPTV business and has inside info that most wouldn’t,” the warning continues. “But here is the most important thing you should be aware of. He knows Smarters better than many. Ask yourself why.”

This theme, that the hacker could have some connection to Smarters, however obscure, continues with additional allegations that seem to suggest more than just a casual relationship.

“The [Reddit /r/iptv/] mod team has seen substantial evidence that points to this hacker being someone involved with Smarters, possibly on their staff, or related in some way to their operation. Seems to be a strong connection.”

“We are NOT accusing Smarters, but we urge you to use CAUTION if dealing with them especially if it involves server access. Don’t ever provide them passwords to your servers for any reason. He will know,” the warning adds.

WHMCS Smarters Responds to Allegations

Given the potential severity of the allegations, TorrentFreak contacted WHMCS Smarters for a response and a statement on whether the company would be prepared to carry out a security audit to check for any issues of concern.

Company owner Amanpreet Singh responded quickly, thanked us for bringing the matter to his attention, and assured us that he had discussed the matter with his team and had come up with several security recommendations.

– Always use a strong password and keep changing it after a few months
– Use the SSL (HTTPS): Always on HTTPS
– If you have WordPress installed at the front then ensure there are no unknown plugins
– Change your server Access Passwords once Smarters has finished the installation.
– File permissions should be accurate

In our initial contact, Singh told us that he wasn’t sure what more he could say, since he has no idea whether the allegations raised by the Reddit moderation team are true. In response, we again asked whether he would commit to carrying out a security audit within the company as part of an investigation.

“There is no chance of the hacker being involved with Smarters,” Singh informs TF.

“I have already discussed this with my team and there is nothing to be worried about at our end. My real brother and cousin brother and my one sister are working as team leaders and they are responsible for the installation and updating of billing panels.

“The second major thing is if we change the passwords then there is nothing to be worried about. I told my team to force the clients to change the password when the installation is done.”

Paying a Ransom Doesn’t Guarantee The Hacker Will Withdraw

Considering the very nature of blackmail, paying a ransom to a hacker may seem like a good idea at the time but when easily duplicated digital information is involved or attack vectors remain available, there’s no guarantee that a hacker will honor his or her side of the bargain. Indeed, according to the Reddit moderator (who has good connections in the IPTV community), paying up may not be the end of the story.

“Don’t pay the hacker if he hacks your site cuz it won’t do you any good. He has hit many people several times. Comes back for more, too. It’s no guarantee that he won’t leak your info if you pay him,” he adds.

“Don’t pay this asshole if he hits you. [By the way] he can hack the newest WHMCS version if you give Smarters any server passwords. You were warned.”

Finally, it’s claimed that members of the IPTV community have additional evidence up their collective sleeves but are holding back from publishing now, in order to protect sensitive information. However, they aren’t ruling out revealing that in the future, if the hacker persists.

In response to the report of additional information being available, Singh is offering his help, should IPTV providers need it.

“If they have particular evidence then I would ask [them] to share it with me then I can help [them] with it more,” he concludes.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Police Have a ‘Secret Weapon’ to Stop Fans Streaming Pirate TV For Free

As a publication entirely dedicated to reporting on copyright, piracy, torrent and streaming sites (plus all things closely related), here at TorrentFreak we aim to tell all ‘sides’ of the story.

We do not shy away from reports that show that piracy hurts sales and we have no problem publishing research projects that show completely the opposite.

It’s called balanced reporting and it hurts absolutely no one. Indeed, the whole idea is to present people with facts and allow them to make informed decisions. Generally, it’s all wrapped up in a desire not to treat our valued readers with contempt.

Yesterday we published a piece with ideas about how pirate IPTV might prove less popular with consumers during 2021. But there’s another element too, one that deserves a closer look.

Legal Basics

To clear a few things up before we begin, there’s no doubt that some piracy operations amount to organized crime. Large IPTV providers, with many staff and hundreds of thousands of customers generating millions in profit, could easily fall into that category. This isn’t a surprise to them, they know what they’re doing, and may or may not be ready to do the time. Their choice, their problem.

Also worthy of pointing out is that people who watch unlicensed streaming services are most probably committing an offense too under civil law in the EU and more specifically in the UK too, now that Brexit has been done. In some cases where they have clear intent, it’s also possible that they’re committing a crime too, i.e one punishable by the Crown.

So, let’s move on to the rant in hand.

Relying on the Tabloids to Send Messages is Irresponsible

British tabloids have a terrible record when it comes to reporting unbiased news. They regularly report in favor of specific political parties, ignore any positives presented by the ‘other side’, and always sensationalize the most mundane of topics while treating their readers as mindless morons.

But, arguably worse still, there are entities out there that seem happy to exploit this embarrassing blot on our society for their own ends. Anti-piracy groups have done it for some time but to see the authorities potentially stoking the fire too is not a great look and only detracts from their overall message, which is undoubtedly well-intentioned.

The ‘Kodi Box’ Cringefest

This tabloid feeding frenzy began when UK-based anti-piracy outfits were looking for media exposure. Not only for their own business promotion purposes, but also as part of entertainment company and broadcaster campaigns to drive awareness of the terrible things that could happen to so-called ‘Kodi Box’ owners if they were caught.

The problem, however, was that none of the journalists had a clue what they were writing about so simply spouted whatever they were told. Eventually, everyone in the country knew what ‘Kodi Boxes’ and similar devices could do, thanks to these ‘adverts’ in the mainstream press. It seems safe to say that this ill-conceived campaign failed to achieve its goals, unless those goals were to advise people on ways to avoid paying for content.

Tabloids Interest in Piracy Reignited

For many months the tabloids got bored with their sensational ‘Kodi Box’ reporting but then, fueled by press releases by the Federation Against Copyright Theft and Premier League, took an interest again. However, it wasn’t until the police got involved that their insatiable desire for ridiculous headlines and scare-pieces got the best of them and they started to appear all over again in 2020.

As reported here in September, police in the UK took down an illegal IPTV provider, noting quite correctly that the operators of such services face considerable legal implications. Of course they do, they’re running a criminal operation that probably involves all sorts of other offenses too, including money laundering.

However, it was the fact that the police were sending out emails to customers of that service, advising them that they too could be held criminally liable, that became the focus of the headlines. And boy did the tabloids deliver.

In response to the police claiming that mere subscribers of these services could get a five-year jail sentence, the tabloids went into overdrive with sensational headlines that were repeated again recently when another illegal service received similar treatment.

The first problem is that the tabloids are around to sell newspapers and generate clicks, not to supply sensible or measured information. The second is that the police in the UK should be only too aware of the tabloids’ track record for scandal and if we take that as being the case, they could’ve been more responsible with the information provided to them. Ultimately, everything hinged on a single paragraph.

“Persons whom subscribe to services like the service provided by GE Hosting also commit a criminal offense contrary to s.11 of the Fraud Act which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine, and consequently results in a criminal record,” the police announcement read.

Or in tabloid-speak, IPTV customers are running the risk of getting locked up behind bars until 2025. While technically accurate, this is obvious hyperbole. The big worry is that those formulating the press releases may have considered the tabloids’ predictable handling of the information and recognized it as a valuable tool for keeping the public in line.

Comparison With Similar Law Breaking Activities

If we take the law on possession of drugs, for example, we can see that possession of a Class B substance (such as cannabis) can also result in a five-year prison sentence and/or an unlimited fine. On the facts, possession of a small amount suitable for a few joints could mean a five-year stretch (at least if the tabloids decide to run with it) but in reality, police are able to issue a warning or an on-the-spot fine.

So do the police generally go around warning small-scale stoners via the tabloids that half a decade in jail awaits them for their crimes? Absolutely not. But for the relatively unknown offense of receiving a TV service without intending to pay for it, the opposite appears to be true.

To be clear, the fraudulent offense in question is similar to someone jumping over the wall of a football stadium without a ticket or making off from a restaurant without paying. The point is there are levels to crimes like fraud and subscribing to a pirate IPTV service is not something that is going to put someone behind bars for five years. Here’s just one example that shows how ludicrous that proposition is.

In June 2020, Daniel Aimson, who was serving a six-year sentence for running a cannabis farm, was handed an additional 12 months inside for running a pirate streaming operation. Not subscribing to one – operating one.

Unlike IPTV subscribers who, under Section 11 of the Fraud Act are being threatened with five years inside for obtaining a service with an intent to avoid payment, Daniel Aimson pleaded guilty to conspiracy to commit fraud, which could’ve carried a ten-year sentence.

Just to add more meat to the bones, at the time Aimson was shifting 1,640 illegal IPTV boxes, making at least £300,000 in illicit profits (none of which was declared to HMRC), and causing Sky an alleged £2.12 million in losses, he was a serving police officer with Greater Manchester Police.

Bottom Line – Be Honest and Don’t Trust The Tabloids

The point of this overly-long rant is simple. Knowingly subscribing to a pirate IPTV service with the intent of depriving a broadcaster is a crime in the UK but that information needs to be put into the public domain carefully. The police can’t be held responsible for how information gets used by the tabloids but there should be at least some duty of care when talking about the legal consequences.

The truth is that a simple subscriber to an IPTV service, absent of any seriously aggravating factors, is not going to prison in the current sentencing climate, let alone for five years. However, any conviction for fraud (no matter how small) has the potential to be a life-changing matter, especially when it comes to gaining or even keeping meaningful employment.

This latter fact cannot be disputed and it has the added bonus of being 100% accurate with zero elements of scaremongering. Even without the tabloid elements, those who place a value on their own quality of life should sit up and listen if given the facts.

What this approach doesn’t have is the propaganda factor that copyright holders and the tabloids absolutely thrive on. And that, unfortunately, could be the major drawback against it being adopted. The secret weapon in this war is the tabloids taking a grain of information and turning it into a scandal, and they don’t even have to be in on the secret or the operational details to do so.

They just do what they do best – insult readers’ intelligence on a daily basis. What the police and anti-piracy groups might consider moving forward is that they have the power to push them in the right direction when it comes to the news being delivered. It’s certainly worth a try and may even result in people taking the threats seriously, rather than dismissing them out of hand as scaremongering nonsense.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more. We have some good VPN deals here for the holidays.

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Pirate IPTV Won’t Be Stopped in 2021 But User Fatigue Could Be Crucial

During December, on the day world heavyweight champion Anthony Joshua was preparing to retain all three of his belts by defeating Bulgaria’s Kubrat Pulev at Wembley, someone looking to watch the fight cheaply asked which pirate IPTV service would be the best to choose.

From the discussions seen by TF, this person had already subscribed to a package with another provider. However, for reasons that aren’t entirely clear, after handing over money to that supplier and receiving the login details, all that appeared on the screen was…well…nothing. It was blank, no EPG, and certainly no picture.

Faced with a seller that had suddenly decided to stop responding to support questions by email, the person was directed to a Discord channel. With no experience of Discord, this additional hurdle for an individual with a busy schedule and a small child was an unneeded hassle. Nevertheless, after working out how to get Discord working and getting advice through the channel, support was forthcoming.

Initial advice suggested that his Internet service provider may be blocking the service. This is common in the UK so the customer was advised to sign up to a VPN, which in the vast majority of cases circumvents ISP blocking and allows access to the service. The increasingly frustrated user was provided with instructions to install the VPN on a Amazon Firestick or similar set-top device, but as the owner of straightforward smart TV, didn’t have the suggested hardware.

Reaching a point where he “couldn’t be bothered” to jump through any more hoops, the customer sought out a new IPTV provider, which according to online forums had performed well in the past. However, it transpired this service also required a VPN but was offering a workaround to exploit a VPN provider’s free trial.

Nevertheless, a Firestick or similar was still advised and several hours later, after obtaining one and installing the necessary software, the service was up and running, ready for the fight. As things turned out, everything ran without a hitch but the hoops jumped through to get there were certainly noted.

Messing around for hours on a Saturday in preparation for a 45-minute fight isn’t everyone’s idea of fun. Not to mention that it took not one but two IPTV subscriptions to get the desired result. Add in that the free VPN ‘trick’ no longer works and it’s not hard to see how some people (albeit not all) might be put off by the experience.

Indeed, if we switch around the circumstances a little and sprinkle on some creative license, this doesn’t sound a million miles away from the hoops that some legitimate providers require their customers to jump through in order to watch an event. If we add in all the of the pirate costs, presuming they aren’t to be spread over future viewing experiences, there aren’t many savings either.

Of course, more seasoned IPTV pirates would’ve already had their ducks in a row. They’ll have done all of the research, have a couple of providers to choose from, the necessary hardware already, plus a VPN kicking around that could be put to further use. But for the more casual or one-off type user, none of this represents a particularly streamlined or enjoyable experience.

This state of play is largely due to the disruption activities of copyright holders and the authorities. Where once it was simply a case of visiting a website, signing up, paying and watching, accessing an IPTV service today is a much more complicated affair.

More public services, with a website and the option to pay simply by PayPal, for example, are much rarer. Indeed, it is widely believed that these sellers and resellers are likely to attract negative attention much more quickly, and that certainly isn’t conducive to a long-term business relationship for anyone involved.

On the other hand, those with more secure operational setups, with contact only available through invite-only chat channels and payments accepted only via cryptocurrencies, may prove to be much more reliable and durable. However, these present a whole new set of barriers to entry, ones that are likely to put off novices, casual customers, and/or those with less time on their hands.

With the majority of users falling into these categories, it’s not hard to make the connection between various anti-piracy strategies, enforcement actions, and other disruption activities favored by the police, for example. All of these entities are under no illusions that piracy can be easily stopped. However, with strategies that are designed to disrupt in any number of ways, the aim is to create enough irritation and inconveniences among customers that cause costs to rise and valuable time to be expended.

Somewhere along the way, it’s possible that the pirate business proposition starts to feel less of a bargain. Couple that with reduced prices and more convenience for official offerings and the gap closes further still. None of this may be enough to make pirate IPTV a thing of the past but with competition in the form of disruption and more sensible pricing, the playing field could improve for rightsholders in 2021.

Until the next set of pirate innovations, of course.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more. We have some good VPN deals here for the holidays.

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Police “Seize” Pirate IPTV Platform, Prepare to Identify 50,000 Users

While rightsholders and authorities all around the world are working to disrupt pirate IPTV platforms, in 2020 Italian law enforcement entities have been more involved than most.

Every few weeks agencies including the Guardia di Finanza have announced fresh action to try and reduce the use of piracy-enabled set-top devices, often referred to by the term ‘pezzotto’.

New Legal Action Against 50,000-User IPTV Platform

According to an announcement by the Provincial Command of the Guardia di Finanza of Milan, an operation coordinated by the Public Prosecutor of Milan has resulted in the “preventative seizure” of an IPTV platform through which more than 50,000 users were accessing TV content without permission.

The name of the platform hasn’t been directly released by the authorities but a video claiming to show aspects of ‘Operation: The Net’ shows the URL Webnet.cam (currently down) apparently involved in IPTV.

Considering sports broadcasters are some of the entertainment companies hardest hit by the proliferation of piracy-enabled devices, it is no surprise that the action follows preliminary investigations carried out by Sky Italia and football league Serie A.

These entities filed complaints with the authorities, triggering an investigation by the Milan Economic-Financial Police Unit and the Computer Crimes Team of the local Public Prosecutor’s Office.

Large Pirate IPTV Operation Uncovered

“Subsequent investigations revealed the existence of an interconnected organization, operating in different regions of the national territory, dedicated to the sale and distribution of decoding devices suitable for allowing access to the IPTV encrypted service to enjoy television content, without payment of the applicable fees,” GdF’s statement reads.

GdF IPTV Seizure NoticeGdF IPTV Seized

According to the law enforcement entity, the investigation against the platform was made more complex due to the suspects’ use of VPNs to “anonymize communications”.

Nevertheless, three individuals have now been reported to the prosecutor’s office for breaches of Art. 171 of Italy’s Copyright Law, which for criminal infringements can mean fines and/or imprisonment.

Serie A Welcomes Action, Warns Subscribers

“We are extremely satisfied with the results we are achieving in synergy with the Public Prosecutor’s Office in the field of combating audiovisual piracy. The work carried out has completed an operation of great importance,” says Serie A CEO Luigi De Siervo.

According to Siervo, after identifying those at the top of the “criminal organization” with the assistance of anti-piracy company Digital Content Protection, attention is now being turned to the people who subscribed to the illegal service.

“It is a further step forward in our daily battle because thanks to the seizure of the database of these criminals, the final users are being identified who will, in turn, be reported and prosecuted with penalties ranging from 2,500 to 25,000 euros,” the Serie A chief warned.

Whether this threat will be carried out at scale will remain to be seen but Italy has already shown a willingness this year to go after pirate IPTV subscribers. In February, the Guardia di Finanza said it had reported 223 subscribers of pirate IPTV services to the judicial authorities.

This latest operation against the 50,000-subscriber platform follows on the heels of two others involving Italian authorities in recent months.

In September, the Guardia di Finanza said that 58 sites and 18 Telegram channels had been blocked for their involvement in pirate IPTV. Then last month, a massive law enforcement operation (“The Perfect Storm”) carried out across Europe reportedly shut down 5,500 servers used to stream pirated TV broadcasts, live sports, and movies to the public.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more. We have some good VPN deals here for the holidays.

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Pirate IPTV: UK Police Prepare to Send Warnings to 7,000 Users

As pirate IPTV providers and resellers continue to provide access to low-cost premium TV services, law enforcement agencies around the world are stepping up efforts to disrupt their activities.

Pirate IPTV platforms remain popular in the UK, where they are the preferred choice to access matches from the Premier League and other mainstream content at affordable prices. As a result, many individuals are taking advantage of the market and attracting thousands of subscribers but action in the UK last summer shows that’s not without risk.

Police Swoop On The Home Of Alleged Operator of IPTV Service

On Thursday, June 25, Lancashire Police executed a search warrant at a house on Buckley Grove in the seaside resort of Lytham St Annes. Carried out under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, a 28-year-old man was arrested on suspicion of being involved in the supply of pirate IPTV services and illegal TV streaming devices.

What was particularly notable about the case was the seizure of high-value assets, including a Range Rover Sport SVR V8 and an Audi A5 convertible. At the time, police confirmed they had also seized designer clothing, designer bags, and jewelry.

Cars Seized IPTV

TorrentFreak sources close to the investigation confirmed that a pair of Rolex watches, designer clothes, and exclusive trainers were among the items taken. We also understand that around £17,000 in bitcoin formed part of the seizure but none of these additional details have been officially reported or confirmed by the authorities.

Police Are Now Targeting Subscribers

In a new announcement this morning, police reference the arrest and seizures in the summer, noting that the man in question was released under investigation. Then, as now, police are still not naming the service in question but TorrentFreak can confirm it operated under the name North West IPTV.

At the time, reports in anti-piracy circles suggested that the service could have had as many as 32,000 subscribers but our information, supplied by a source familiar with the matter, previously downplayed that claim. Nevertheless, a substantial number of presumed customers of North West IPTV are now about to receive correspondence from the police.

7,000 Alleged Subscribers Will Receive Warnings

“More than 7000 residents, believed to have been using an illegal TV streaming service, are set to receive warning notices this week from Lancashire Police,” police said in a statement this morning.

“Our cyber-crime unit is issuing the warnings to subscribers of a service called IPTV which allows users to illegally stream premium channels at a reduced rate. Subscribers will receive the Cease and Desist Notices this week, via email, asking them to stop using the service immediately.”

The warnings, as yet unseen in public, will warn those who reportedly subscribed to the service that they are committing a crime that carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment and/or a fine.

Given the current sentencing standards in the UK it seems highly unlikely that a regular subscriber of such a service would receive a custodial sentence of any kind but given the involvement of the police, a criminal record is certainly possible. This, the police and copyright holders hope, will prove to be a sufficient deterrent for those considering a similar subscription in the future.

Evidence of Infringement

At the moment, Lancashire Police are not claiming to have any evidence of actual infringement or crimes carried out by any of those who allegedly purchased a subscription from North West IPTV or its resellers.

Instead, they appear to be relying upon contact information secured from the IPTV supplier’s customer database seized during the raid in the summer, which necessarily holds email addresses for correspondence purposes. Indeed, police also acknowledge that some customers may not even be aware that their purchase was illegal.

“People who subscribe to these services might not realize that they are illegal, but the simple fact is that they are,” says Olivia Dodding from Lancashire Police Cyber Crime Unit.

“What may cost you a relatively small fee, actually results in television producers and sports broadcasters losing millions of pounds which affects their ability to make and show sports events and entertainments series, which many of us enjoy watching.

“Anyone who subscribes to IPTV or any other steaming service [sic] should stop now to avoid facing prosecutions themselves.”

Similarities With Action Against GE Hosting

In late June, subscribers to pirate IPTV service Global / Global Entertainment were given an unwelcome surprise. Rather than seeing the normal array of content on their screens, they were instead greeted by a notice from a police force in the UK.

“This illegal stream has been seized By Norfolk and Sussex Police,” it began. “Watching illegal broadcasts is a crime. Your IP address has been recorded. You are instructed to cease and desist immediately from all illegal media streaming.”

Police Seize IPTV

At the time a 24-year-old man was arrested under section 44 of the Serious Crime Act and Section 11 of the Fraud Act under suspicion of obtaining services dishonestly and concealing/converting criminal property, i.e money laundering.

Progress in that investigation is unknown but in September it became clear that police were also interested in the service’s customers.

In emailed letters sent to alleged subscribers, police warned that viewers were committing an offense contrary to s.11 of the Fraud Act, which carries a maximum sentence of up to five years imprisonment, and/or a fine. This seems to be in line with the warning issued by Lancashire Police this morning.

Also, in common with the case handled by Norfolk and Sussex Police, Lancashire Police are warning that customers of North West (and potentially its resellers) will have their behaviors “monitored” by the authorities, to ensure they are complying with the emailed cease-and-desist.

Again, there is no indication of what that monitoring might entail but having the same email address or payment method turn up at another provider at some point in the future might be enough to trigger some kind of investigation.

Given the resources available to police in general it seems very unlikely that a wave of prosecutions will follow but given the aim is to disrupt and deter, it cannot be ruled out that a handful of individuals could face prosecution in the future, if they keep sticking their heads far enough above the parapet, in defiance of the warnings.

Finally, even in the face of a decision by the Crown Prosecution Service not to pursue a case against a small-time subscriber, the possibility that an entity such as the Premier League could pursue a private prosecution at their own cost is always real and a threat not to be discounted.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Pirate IPTV Provider Must Pay DISH $15.8m in Damages

When the stars align, there is good money to be made running a pirate IPTV service.

Given that suppliers, software, hardware, customers and payment processors all behave as expected, things can run relatively trouble-free. However, there’s always a risk that rightsholders will step in to disrupt or even shut down the party.

DISH Files Lawsuit Targeting Pirate IPTV Service

As it has done on numerous occasions in the past couple of years, back in January DISH filed a lawsuit in a US court in an effort to shut down a pirate IPTV service.

Owned by Robert Reich, an alleged resident of Riviera Beach, Florida, the business involved platforms operating under several brands including Channel Broadcasting Corporation of Belize Ltd, Channel Broadcasting Cable, CBC Cable, and CBC.

According to the DISH complaint, Reich is the owner and operator of the ‘CBC X-View Cable Service’ which does business at CBC.bz. DISH alleged that the service utilized official DISH subscriber accounts (many of which had Florida addresses) to ‘steal’ the company’s programming before retransmitting it via the Internet.

“Defendant sells subscriptions to the CBC pirate television service for $60 per month plus a $55 installation fee. To purchase a subscription, customers can contact CBC through a variety of means according to CBC’s website, including telephone, email, Facebook, and WhatsApp VOIP service,” the complaint alleged.

DISH went on to claim that Reich’s service was also being used in several hotels in Belize, including the Radisson Fort George, with DISH error messages on the establishments’ screens betraying that DISH was the source of the pirated video content.

DISH Tracked Reich Down in Belize

During April, DISH used a former police officer and process server to serve Reich in Belize, delivering an ex parte motion for a temporary restraining order and motion for preservation order, and an asset freeze granted previously by the court.

In a subsequent motion to quash, Reich said that he hadn’t been properly served but in a Florida court, Judge Rodney Smith dismissed the motion and sided with DISH. In May, the court noted the earlier temporary restraining order and acknowledged that the parties had met to agree the terms of a preliminary injunction to be formalized by the court.

With that order granted and severe restrictions placed on Reich’s assets, the court ordered the businessman to keep detailed records of his expenditures moving forward. The case rolled on but in October, the court was told that the parties were moving towards a settlement.

Stipulated Judgment and Permanent Injunction

Documents filed with the court this week revealed that a settlement had indeed been reached.

Rather than dealing with the matter outside court, DISH and partner NAGRASTAR asked the court to enter judgment under the Federal Communications Act, specifically 47 U.S.C. § 605(a) and 47 U.S.C. § 605(e)(4), which covers the sale of device codes (aka subscriptions) and piracy devices such as configured set-top boxes.

According to the filing, defendants Robert Reich, wife Carol Reich (who was named in an amended complaint), and their company Channel Broadcasting Corporation of Belize Limited have agreed to pay damages to DISH following their sale of more than 21,000 ‘access credentials’ (aka subscriptions) that utilized DISH content.

The court was happy to sign off on the arrangement.

“DISH is awarded statutory damages of $15,852,000.00 under the FCA, calculated at the parties’ agreed upon amount of $750.00 for each of the 21,136 access credentials sold and supported by Defendants to the CBC Service through which Defendants provided unauthorized access to DISH’s television programming,” Judge Rodney Smith writes in his order.

In addition to the substantial damages award, the defendants are now the subject of a permanent injunction that prevents them from receiving, retransmitting or copying any DISH content, or assisting others to do so.

They are also permanently restrained from operating any website that trafficks in any technology or service that might enable third-parties to access DISH programming without paying the broadcaster.

The related documents can be found here and here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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ACE & MPA Target Pirate IPTV Provider & Yet Again, VOD Will Be The Achilles’ Heel

While torrent sites still play an important role in the piracy landscape, Hollywood and major content distributors consider illegal streaming to be a key threat.

Of particular concern are pirate IPTV services that for just a small outlay per month, represent direct and credible competition for legitimate platforms. As a result, many IPTV services and sellers have been targeted around the world under various laws.

ACE/MPA Subpoena Reveals Interest IPTV Service

As we have previously reported, the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment together with the MPA regularly obtain DMCA subpoenas in the US that compel companies such as Cloudflare to give up the personal details of pirate site operators. Thus far, the overwhelming majority have been torrent and web-based streaming sites but this week there was a small but interesting deviation.

Who is Behind SentraTV?

As far as IPTV providers go, SentraTV seems a pretty insignificant player. Its website doesn’t attract large numbers of visitors and searches don’t reveal much interest on the broader Internet. So why, given the large number of big targets available to ACE and the MPA, are they demanding that Cloudflare unmasks its operator?

Due to their policy of not discussing ongoing investigations, we can only speculate on the motivation. However, there are some interesting factors, such as SentraTV providing an address in Delaware for correspondence. Indeed, this same address is used by numerous IPTV sellers, including PingIPTV, UpTickTV and Wave-TV, to name just three.

The websites of these services are obviously similar too, with what appear to be identical packages and pricing. Whether these are all the same service, operated by the same or different people, or have connections to the same suppliers, are things for ACE to find out. All that having been said, if ACE/MPA choose to pursue SentraTV in a US court, they will win the case.

VOD and 24/7 Channels Are The Achilles’ Heel

When ACE/MPA targeted and then shut down the large Vaders IPTV service, the fact that the provider offered thousands of live channels wasn’t the main focus.

Like other similar platforms, Vaders had a large VOD platform offering movies and TV shows, including so-called 24/7 channels dedicated to specific shows. With direct infringement easily provable, that ending up costing its operators $10m. After offering the same type of service, the owners of Crystal Clear Media were later handed a $40m bill.

Despite knowing about these cases (surely?), SentraTV still offers a large VOD service including dozens of 24/7 channels. For ACE/MPA it’s now an easy target ripe for a lawsuit that Hollywood can’t lose or, alternatively, a settlement that will involve handing over large sums of money plus detailed information about its business, including its dealings with customers and suppliers.

Of course, ACE/MPA are only at the subpoena stage but one can’t help think that without the easy target of VOD, the movie and TV companies might have picked a different target.

The DMCA subpoena can be found here and here (pdf)

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.

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Anti-Piracy Coalition Seeks Powerful New Tools To Tackle IPTV Piracy in the EU

While groups such as the Alliance For Creativity and Entertainment are mentioned frequently for their widespread anti-piracy activities, the Europe-based Audiovisual Anti-Piracy Alliance (AAPA) is also engaged in key work to reduce online infringement.

Counting broadcasting giants BT, Sky, Canal+, beIN, DAZN, and OSN among its members, AAPA also plays home to major sports companies including the Premier League, Serie A, LaLiga and DFL. Not to mention powerful anti-piracy technology companies such as Irdeto, Nagra, and Viaccess-Orca.

With a key interest in preventing streaming piracy, much of it consisting of live events, AAPA members have played a crucial role in many recent pirate IPTV investigations but in common with other organizations with similar goals, the group would like additional tools to make its job easier and more effective.

Rapid Growth in Streaming Piracy Demands a Strong Response

According to AAPA, its members are concerned by the rapid growth and availability of unlicensed content online and as a result, are seeking assistance from the European Union.

One of the group’s first targets is Europe’s planned Digital Services Act (DSA), which rightsholders hope will include strict “know your customer” rules compelling hosting companies, domain registrars, and advertisers, to more closely vet their prospective clients. But for the AAPA, this is only the beginning.

No Additional Liability Exceptions, ‘Duty of Care’

Given the nature of its members, AAPA majors on the need to introduce measures to mitigate the growth of pirate IPV operations which, according to the group, represent a “low risk, high return” business model that is being exploited during the coronavirus pandemic as people tend to stay at home.

As the availability of illicit content availability soars, AAPA says there has been a lack of quality and response rate from online intermediaries to takedown notices. As a result, the European Commission’s intention to lay down “more stringent” rules is encouraging but “in no event” should that lead to new or broader liability privileges, exemptions, or protection regimes already provided for by existing law.

In respect of the DSA, the AAPA is seeking better tools to deal with piracy of live content, which it says is underserved by the current framework. The AAPA says that most of its members’ content is finger-printed and/or watermarked so it is possible to swiftly identify it. That means it may be treated differently, outside current limits.

“A proper ‘duty of care’ should apply to the so-called ‘passive platforms’, without putting into question current exemptions applicable to online intermediaries in the e-commerce Directive, it adds.

Takedown/Staydown, Rapid Live TV Piracy Blocking

In addition to the Know Your Customer proposals, AAPA is seeking the adoption of harmonized “notice and action” procedures, including broader criteria to justify takedown requests, the ability to send multiple links for removal in one notice to avoid delays in processing, and an obligation among platforms and providers to supply clear contact information where requests can be sent.

AAPA is also seeking new powers when dealing with live content, which represents a large proportion of its members’ repertoires. The group says there should be an obligation to implement a system for expeditious removal of live pirated content, which should be removed immediately or in any event, no longer than 30 minutes after a complaint.

Disputes over whether content should be taken down “should not result in the removal of illegal or potentially illegal content being delayed”, the group adds.

In common with other rightsholders that are required to issue repeat takedown notices for what is essentially the same content, AAPA is calling for a takedown/staydown regime, meaning that once content has been removed following an official notice, it should not subsequently reappear on the same platform.

Dealing With Repeat Infringers

Taking a lead from the United States, AAPA is seeking measures from the EU designed to prevent people from repeatedly infringing copyrighted content. The group is therefore calling for service providers to have clear and published anti-policies that contain deterrent measures for dealing with repeat infringers, including by restricting and/or blocking access to users who have been reported for uploading and even downloading illegal content.

Incorporating an additional element of ‘know your customer’, AAPA asks the EU to require that online platforms and services implement “layers of verification” to user accounts (one suggestion is ‘user-fingerprinting’ technology, to prevent pirate services from creating multiple accounts to evade suspensions and blocking.

Measures to Tackle ‘Off-Platform’ Infringement

According to AAPA, there are problems with platforms like YouTube and Facebook that go beyond pirated content stored on their platforms. In addition, these services also contain material, such as tutorial videos or comment sections, that direct users to off-site resources that allow for the consumption of unlicensed content. In these cases the Copyright Directive doesn’t apply, AAPA warns, so additional action is required.

“Measures should be taken at EU level to increase liability and duty of care of online content sharing platforms in this respect, regardless of whether such online content sharing platforms are considered as active or passive hosting service providers.”

Broader, More Flexible Injunctions Valid at the EU Level

Blocking injunctions that require ISPs to restrict access to named pirate sites and more recently servers involved in the supply of pirate IPTV services have been gaining traction around Europe. However, the AAPA believes that these could be more effective if, in the future, they are not only valid across borders but also have the ability to be issued repertoire-wide.

The suggestion appears to be based on the theory that an injunction obtained in one country of the EU should then be enforceable across all 27 countries, with the applicants’ entire catalog of content protected as a result.

“[A] central repository/database could be set up for site blocking injunctions issued by member states at the EUIPO. The latter could verify the details of the injunctions and provide translations into all official EU languages. This site-blocking record could then be used as a reference by rightsholders to have ISPs implement the blocking in their local territories,” the AAPA writes.

Auditing of Online Platform/Services’ Anti-Piracy Tools

Finally, while platforms such as YouTube and Facebook have implemented their own anti-piracy systems (such as Content ID), the AAPA’s members don’t appear to be 100% convinced they can be trusted or operated without bias. As a result, the group is demanding audits to weed out any potential issues.

“[C]ontent recognition tools deployed by online platforms to detect illegally uploaded copyright content should be made transparent to an independent authority (at national or European level) and regularly audited to make sure they do not include pro-piracy bias and that they cover the full spectrum of uploaded content with the same conditions,” the AAPA concludes.

From: TF, for the latest news on copyright battles, piracy and more.