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This post is from the Arxan blog and has not been updated since the original publish date.

Last Updated Sep 08, 2015 — Application Security expert

Digital Piracy Flourishes as Never Before

Application Security

The revolutionary changes in the context of digitization and mobile computing have entirely changed our everyday media consumption. Online streaming services as well as mobile apps for smartphones and tablets complement or have replaced conventional television, movie nights, hi-fi systems or game consoles.

For the media industry, this trend opens up new opportunities in terms of customer acquisition -- yet also faces them with the challenge of protecting their products against increasing unauthorized use and piracy. It is a matter of fact that in the meantime digital copyright infringement has become a mass phenomenon. The illegal reproduction and distribution of copyrighted material on the web has assumed alarming proportions as the findings of different studies and researches show us quite plainly. The more popular the movies, TV series, games, apps or e-books, the greater the number of unauthorized releases that are illegally offered on the internet for download.

The worldwide piracy record was set by the popular US series Game of Thrones. The fantasy epic was illegally downloaded more than 8 million times within the last year and is therefore at the top on the inglorious charts of the worldwide most pirated TV series of the last year. The Football World Cup 2014 was also very popular with hackers. A report monitored 20 million illegal downloads during the competition. Also, our recent published State of Application Security Report shows that software and digital media piracy is on the rise. According to the research, between January 2012 and March 2015 14% of all movies, 20% of the television content, 14% of all e-books and digital magazines and 12% of the music titles were found pirated.

The damages and loss of sales that digital piracy entails are difficult to measure. The research in our Report shows the cost or un-monetized value of copyright infringing releases in 2014 is estimated to be more than $800 billion. The film industry suffered damages of $91 billion; and the music industry lost around $12 billion. The worst hit was taken by the software industry where the value of all released pirated copies adds up to $650 billion! It is true that piracy has many faces. It comprises the amateurish camera recordings shot discreetly from a cinema as well as internet-streamed content that has been cracked and then uploaded to an app store. Therefore, there is no absolute protection against copyright infringement and piracy! Nevertheless, owner and provider of digital media, games or software should do their very best to protect their content against hacking attacks and reverse engineering.  Implementing an effective Digital Rights Management (DRM) solution has been critical for content providers. DRM enables providers to bind digital content to certain carrier medium, to temporally restrict its use and limit its copying. This should prevent infringement and fraud. But in terms of user friendliness as well as security, most DRM solutions aren’t entirely effective yet.

Experienced hackers can easily crack common DRM systems, remove the copy protection or illegally reverse engineer the application.  Despite all DRM solutions, little is being done to stop piracy of software and applications. Above all, this applies to valuable applications that grant access to high value digital media such as High Definition and 4K over standard definition content.  What they need is content protection that follows the content and therefore is device agnostic. This is critically important as according to the 2015 Verizon Data Breach Investigations Report (DBIR) nearly 25% of breaches are attributable to memory scraping, a hacking technique that enables access to unprotected cryptographic keys and data. Though, it would be easy to protect cryptographic keys with White Box Cryptography. Furthermore, effective run time protection protects apps against tampering and malware intrusion. After all, pirated releases play an enabling role in spreading extremely harmful malware across a range of industries. This malware is an enormous cost to both businesses and consumers. Above all, it is critical that the security solution doesn’t lose sight of user-friendliness. In no case should it impair the application’s performance. Ultimately, everyone – the consumer as well as the provider of digital media – should get their money's worth.        

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