Bellew vs Usyk: Free streams of fight spreading on Facebook and Twitter pose hacking risk
Cyber security experts tell The Independent how some links offering boxing fans a way to watch the fight live online may contain ransomware and other malware
Tony Bellew is set to step down a weight division to face Oleksandr Usyk in his next professional boxing bout, hoping to unseat the reigning champion to take the undisputed world cruiserweight title.
After two heavyweight victories over David Haye at heavyweight, Bellew will face Usyk in Manchester on Saturday, with the fight scheduled for 10pm.
Boxing fans will be able to watch the fight live on Sky Sports Box Office, however links to illegal live streams have already begun to spread online – a trend that cyber experts have warned could cause serious issues for those who visit them.
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As with other pay-per-view events, links to streams are spreading across Facebook, Twitter and other social media platforms in the build up to the fight, some of which are being shared by cyber criminals and hackers.
“Any major sports event, such as the upcoming Usyk vs Bellew boxing match, will prompt countless people to visit illegal live streaming websites as they look to avoid the £19.95 fee," Kecia Hoyt, senior threat research engineer at Fidelis CyberSecurity, told The Independent.
"This is something that hackers exploit for various different reasons, but one of the most common tactics is overlay ads or buttons to install malware. Indeed, hackers overlay a video with an ad that has a fake ‘close’ or ‘play’ button – and as soon as people try to close the ad or click the play button for a full view of the video, hackers will install malware onto their computer or device.
"For anyone watching the Usyk vs. Bellew boxing match this coming Saturday, we would strongly recommend avoiding live streaming sites – after all, the cost of risking your personal information could be far worse than the £19.95 fee.”
Stan Lowe, global chief information security officer at internet security firm Zscaler, agreed with this sentiment, saying that while the streams appear to offer a free way to watch the Bellew fight, viewers will be paying for it with their privacy and security.
"Recently we have been seeing an increase in websites that are offering to live stream major sporting events for free to consumers," Mr Lowe told The Independent.
"This, as with anything that is 'free', is often not, and in this case the 'payment' is increasingly in the form of crypto mining or malware software installation that is delivered as part of the plug-in that users are required to install to take advantage of this seemingly free service. Boxing fans should use caution when visiting these free streaming sites as they are increasingly being used to deliver unwanted and nefarious software."
Anti-piracy advocates have also warned that it is not just people hosting and sharing links to illegal live streams that are breaking the law.
“Streaming this weekend’s fight on social media, a piracy site, or using a device, box or stick connected to your TV is illegal. By tuning in through anything other than official, paid channels, viewers are breaking the law," Kieron Sharp, CEO of FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft), told The Independent.
"FACT is working with PIPCU (Police Intellectual Property Crime Unit) and the wider industry to crack down on illegal streaming and digital piracy, and ensuring that those who engage in this activity are held accountable for their actions.
"We welcome the government’s recent announcement on its plans to streamline the piracy prosecution process, hopefully resulting in more people being brought to justice for facilitating illegal streaming. While it is getting harder to watch live sport illegally, boxing fans must be vigilant regarding the sites they click on and videos they watch on social media. Watching the fight this way is breaking the law.”