Network Security

Study: Malware counts higher on computers whose users visited piracy sites

Each time a user doubles the amount of time he spends visiting illegal torrent and streaming websites, the malware count on his machine jumps another 20 percent, according to an academic paper released earlier this month.

The report, by Carnegie Mellon University researcher Rahul Telang, is an attempt at quantifying the impact of illegal content websites on cybersecurity, following a year-long study of 253 users' online activities throughout all of 2016.

Based on data collected by sensors, 174 out of the 253 studied users visited an illegal site at least once, and were found to have an average of 1.4 malware files on their machines, or 1.5 when factoring in adware. In contrast, users who did not use the illegal sites had an average of only 0.7 malware files on their devices -- although when factoring in adware, they had a considerably higher count of 1.4.

"Doubling the amount of time spent (a 100% increase) on infringing sites increases the number of malware count by almost 0.05 units," Telang wrote in his report. "While this number may look small, the mean number of malware count on a user machine is 0.24 per month. So a 0.05 increase translates to a 20 percent increase in malware count due to infringing alone."

Further extrapolating his results (albeit from a small sample size), Telang also determined that users who visited pirate sites were actually less likely to install anti-malware software as a precaution.

Bradley Barth

As director of multimedia content strategy at CyberRisk Alliance, Bradley Barth develops content for online conferences, webcasts, podcasts video/multimedia projects — often serving as moderator or host. For nearly six years, he wrote and reported for SC Media as deputy editor and, before that, senior reporter. He was previously a program executive with the tech-focused PR firm Voxus. Past journalistic experience includes stints as business editor at Executive Technology, a staff writer at New York Sportscene and a freelance journalist covering travel and entertainment. In his spare time, Bradley also writes screenplays.

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