Site blocking must continue to evolve to remain relevant

March 9, 2018 markmulready

Pew Research’s recent study , found that 61% of young adults (18-29) using streaming services as their primary way to watch TV. Given that statistic you can see why site blocking is an important tool in the anti-piracy toolkit. But like the online pirates it aims to block, it’s critical that site blocking also adapts and evolves.

The good

As seen in my earlier blog , site blocking – the technical means by which ISPs disable consumer’s access to target sites – works! And there are regular headlines showing it’s becoming a go-to option.

August 2017, Village Roadshow and Foxtel – in two separate rulings – were granted an injunction to block 59 sites (127 domains) that were carrying pirate film and TV content. January 2018 saw the Motion Picture Association being granted approval to block websites from 9 Irish ISPs illegally streaming their content. Also in January, the Premier League (PL) were granted an injunction against Dutch hosting provider, Ecatel, to stop it providing any services that facilitate the illegal viewing of their football content.

The PL were instrumental in evolving the site blocking order. This ruling came for the last couple of months of the 2016/2017 season and was renewed for the 2018/2018 season. The game-changing element was that the ruling moved from shutting down websites to servers. This means that pre-loaded KODI boxes are now within scope. UEFA were granted a similar UK live site blocking order for their February to May 2018 Champions League and Europa League.

What’s positive about the UK’s live site blocking order is it demonstrates that the legal institution is prepared to be flexible and ensure that the law keeps pace with the evolving pirate landscape. For instance, PL’s order allows the targets to be updated weekly; ensuring that any new pirate sites which have appeared during the intervening period are included.

The bad

The speed at which new sites appear is one of ‘the bads’. Other examples of bad or rather limitations of the site blocking orders are:

  • Per geographical location – only preventing access to sites in that country. Unfortunately, piracy has no borders!
  • Commercial/business VPNs – access to the target site is still possible when using these.
  • Mobile – depending on the scope of the order, mobile providers with their own IP space may or may not be included.

Although there are moves in the right direction, more is required. With 5G on the horizon, illegal streaming of high quality content will only be made easier.

Avoiding the ugly

When it comes to tackling online piracy, there’s no one size fits all. The key is to work with a partner who offers a combination of latest technology, such as forensic watermarking and web crawlers that are complemented by detection, investigation and enforcement services. Proven expertise in technical and people investigation is critical in the discovery of who’s behind the pirate site – even if VPNs or encrypted traffic is being used.

Mark Mulready, VP Cybersecurity Services

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