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Game of Thrones fever isn't quite in full pandemic mode yet, but that heightened state of fantastical obsessions will once again be upon us very soon. Season 8 will debut on HBO in mid-April, which likely means the season premiere will become one of the most pirated data files on the Internet. But beyond already being illegal and immoral, downloading Game of Thrones has been determined the most dangerous TV show to pirate due to the abundance of malware threats.
TV shows influenced something around 106.9 million visits to websites hosting illegal downloads, (far more than the 53.2 million visits for pirated film sites), and it appears a ton of the content that's out there can be highly damaging to those who unwittingly download it to their computers. Game of Thrones, which has often been noted for having the most illegally downloaded TV episodes, tops the list of shows that cybercriminals use to infect the largest number of machines. (Behind it are The Walking Dead, which was 2018's most downloaded series, and Arrow.)
In fact, Game of Thrones episodes made up 17% of all 2018 pirated downloads that were infected with malware. 17%! A total of around 20,934 users were attacked by the viruses from Game of Thrones, which is all the more incredible when one considers there wasn't a single bit of new Game of Thrones that aired in 2018. Those were all apparently just people trying to catch up ahead of the final season.
Scammers seem to understand that potential Game of Thrones fans will likely attempt to start the show by downloading the series premiere, "Winter Is Coming," to gauge their interests. The Kaspersky Lab study points out that that first episode is the one that is most actively utilized by criminals as bait. After two years of study, the Lab found 33 different types and 505 different families of cyber threats hidden within the file.
That information carries over to the reveal that the first and last episodes in each Game of Thrones season are easily the most dangerous of the bunch. That makes some sense, with premieres always being sought out after long hiatuses. But Game of Thrones has long been known to make its penultimate episodes the biggest and most explosive of the seasons while the finales tend to wrap things up in smaller-scale ways.
Overall, Kaspersky racked up 9,986 malware files that were tied to Game of Thrones episodes for download in 2018. It's worth noting, however, that the totals in 2018 were somewhat dramatically lower than they were the year before. For instance, 2017 saw 42,330 users hit with Thrones-tethered malware, and there were over 19,000 infected files accounted for.
Outside of Game of Thrones, one of the more interesting details pegs American Horror Story as the most effective cover for cybercriminals to hide malware. Each of the malware files hidden under that show hit an average of three unaware users. AHS wasn't listed in either the most popular TV show torrents or the top shows used to cover up malware, making its success rate impressive, if still frustrating.
Also interesting are the other top entires for shows that get infected the most. Game of Thrones and Walking Dead have long been global ratings monsters, so that's understandable. But next is Arrow, Suits and Vikings, three shows that do not draw nearly the same kinds of crowds as the previous two.
The soon-to-bow-out Arrow is barely getting over a million viewers for live episodes some nights, and Suits' most recent seasons were also hovering between 1 and 1.5 million people watching. Those three are among the most popular torrents, so it's a smart move for the scammers, I guess. Interestingly, The Flash isn't one of the top targeted shows, despite being the second most popular show torrent.
The bottom line here is: don't download things illegally, and you probably won't have to deal with malware. You can watch the Game of Thrones Season 8 premiere legally on HBO when it debuts on Sunday, April 14, at 9:00 p.m.