By Zsarlene B. Chua, Reporter

GAME OF THRONES is days away from the premiere of its final season (April 15 in the Philippines) and those who will miss the premiere will find themselves disappointed as Netflix isn’t carrying the series for people who want to catch up.

Desperate times might lead to desperate measures but Russian cybersecurity and anti-virus company Kaspersky Lab is warning people that their illegal search for certain shows online might not only violate anti-piracy laws but also put their mobile devices and computers at risk of getting malware.

Malware are software intentionally designed to cause damage to a computer, client, server, or computer network.

In a study published on April 1, Kaspersky Labs noted that “TV shows downloaded from illegitimate resources can be replaced with malware-carrying versions,” according to a press release.

Leading the list of the most popular shows which have compromised files is HBO’s Game of Thrones which topped the list for 2017 to 2018. In 2018 it accounted for 17% of all infected pirated content with 20,934 attacked users. Game of Thrones is followed by AMC’s The Walking Dead with 18,794 attacked users and The CW’s Arrow with 12,163.

This despite the fact that in 2018, no new episodes of Game of Thrones were released.

Although viewers now have access to a growing number of legal streaming sites, the Annual Piracy Report published by Muso, a technology company providing anti-piracy and market analytics, this year showed that the number of pirated content consumers is growing: the company registered 300 billion visits to pirate websites in 2017, a 1.6% increase from 2016.

The same study showed that the US had the greatest number of pirate website visitors (27.9 billion visits per year) followed by Russia (20.6 billion), and India (17 billion).

WebKontrol, a Russian anti-piracy company, noted in a 2019 report that “torrent websites are still leading in Russia in terms of volume of pirated content, followed by file-hosting and streaming services.”

The same report said that the share of links to illegal content posted on torrent websites grew 14% from 2018, overtaking illegal streaming websites.

TV shows remain the most popular product among users consuming copyright-infringing content, the Muso report said, with 106.9 billion visits last year, followed by music at 73.9 billion and films at 53.2 billion.

According the Kaspersky report, it is the first and final episodes, “which attract the most viewers,” are “likely to be at greatest risk of malicious spoofing,” said the release, noting that malware distributors opt to infect these episodes because “online fraudsters tend to exploit people’s loyalty and impatience [and] so may promise brand-new material for download that is in fact a cyberthreat.”

In fact, Game of Thrones’ first episode of Season 1, “Winter is Coming,” is said to be one of the “most actively used by cybercriminals.”

Among the malware that can infect one’s device by illegally streaming or downloading content is the Trojan.WinLNK.Agent, a malware that contains links for downloading malicious files designed to destroy, block, modify or copy data, as well as interfere with the operation of computers or computer networks.

The company warned that “it is highly likely there will be a spike in the amount of malware disguised as new episodes of the show” now that Game of Thrones is entering its final season.

“Keeping in mind that the final season of Game of Thrones starts this month, we would like to warn users that it is highly likely there will be a spike in the amount of malware disguised as new episodes of this show,” said Anton V. Ivanov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab said in the release.

In order to keep safe from threats like these, Kaspersky Labs advised users to “use only legitimate services with a proven reputation for producing and distributing TV content.”

The company also advised users to pay attention to the downloaded file extension and the websites’ authenticity (legitimate and secure websites start with “https”).

“Even if you are going to download TV show episodes from a source you consider trusted and legitimate, the file should have an .avi, .mkv or .mp4 extensions or any others, yet definitely not the .exe,” according to the press release.

Finally, “don’t click on suspicious links, such as those promising an early view of a new episode; check the [show’s] schedule and keep track of it.”