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Through Star Wars film, cybercriminals create fertile soil to distribute malware

(Image credit: Star Wars)

Cybercriminals have again created fertile soil through Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker film to distribute malware even before the official release on Thursday with fraudulent websites and malicious files of the film flooding the internet.

Online streaming, torrents and other methods of digital distribution often infringe upon content copyright, and yet they remain popular as a source of free content.

Kaspersky researchers found over 30 fraudulent websites and social media profiles disguised as official movie accounts (the actual number of these sites may be much higher) that supposedly distribute free copies of the latest film in the franchise. These websites collect unwary users’ credit card data, under the pretence of necessary registration on the portal.

Torrent-trackers and illegal streaming platforms pose a threat to users’ cyber-safety as they can host malicious files, masked behind the name of movie recordings and files. Given this tendency, Kaspersky studied how the world-famous sci-fi franchise’s name is being abused by cybercriminals to fool fans of the Rebel Alliance.

 “It is typical for fraudsters and cybercriminals to try to capitalise on popular topics, and ‘Star Wars’ is a good example of such a theme this month. As attackers manage to push malicious websites and content up in the search results, fans need to remain cautious at all times. We advise users to not fall for such scams and instead enjoy the end of the saga on the big screen,” Tatiana Sidorina, security researcher at Kaspersky, said.

Black SEO

The domains of websites used for gathering personal data and spreading malicious files usually copy the official name of the film and provide thorough descriptions and supporting content, thereby fooling users into believing that the website is in some way connected to the official film.

Such practice is called ‘black SEO’, which enables criminals to promote phishing websites high up in search engine results (such results often show up for search terms such as ‘name-of-the-film watch free’).

To further support the promotion of fraudulent websites, cybercriminals also set up Twitter and other social media accounts, where they distribute links to the content. Coupled with malicious files shared on torrents, this brings the criminals results.

So far, 83 users have been affected by 65 malicious files disguised as copies of the upcoming movie.

In 2019, Kaspersky detected 285,103 attempts to infect 37,772 users seeking to watch movies of the renowned space-opera series, signifying a 10% rise compared to last year. The number of unique files used to target the users amounted to 11,499, a 30% drop on last year.

The data shows that even years after the film’s premiere, a significant number of users will still seek to download malicious files in the hope of watching the famous space adventures for free.

Avoid falling prey to malicious programmes

  • Pay attention to the official movie release dates in theatres, on streaming services, TV, DVD, or other sources.
  • Don’t click on suspicious links, such as those promising an early view of a new film; check movie release dates in the cinema and keep track of them.
  • Look at the downloaded file extension. Even if you are going to download a video file from a source you consider trusted and legitimate, the file should have a .avi, .mkv or .mp4 extension among other video formats, definitely not .exe.
  • Check the website’s authenticity.
  • Do not visit websites allowing you to watch a movie until you are sure that they are legitimate and start with ‘https’.
  • Confirm that the website is genuine, by double-checking the format of the URL or the spelling of the company name, reading reviews about it and checking the domains’ registration data before starting downloads.