Could a move online for international football create a new avenue for cybercrime?

Opinion by Dan Raywood

News emerged earlier this week that this weekend's World Cup qualifier is to be broadcast only on the internet and not on terrestrial or satellite/cable TV.

News emerged earlier this week that this weekend's World Cup qualifier is to be broadcast only on the internet and not on terrestrial or satellite/cable TV.

Among the disappointed fans who are unable to watch the national team will be the pub landlords, supermarket managers and pizza delivery establishments who will probably be left counting the loss of what would have been a major Saturday payoff.

While this decision, which spirals from the closure of the broadcaster Setanta and the rights being snapped up by Kentaro and the match only being shown online, it could be argued that this is a major breakthrough for online viewing of a major event.

After all, the inauguration of Barack Obama in January of this year occurred in the late afternoon in the UK, meaning many people watched it on the BBC or Sky News websites.

However this is a major sporting event and while we may be seeing a technological breakthrough in terms of digital streaming, I cannot imagine many people will have a positive opinion of this either before or after the event.

Now aside from the arguments about how unfair it is to not only pay a figure (that I have heard ranges from £4.99 to £12) to watch the game and not have the right to watch it on the TV, there are digital issues around this.

Damian Saunders, senior manager for the application delivery systems group at Citrix, claimed that the largest issue for this is in the viewer experience, as Kentaro has claimed that the match can be watched in a ‘good quality stream'. This makes assumptions about bandwidth and content delivery that may not be available to all viewers.

Saunders said: “Also, the cap of one million viewers already indicates a lack of elasticity in the infrastructure set aside on Saturday. When technologies and services exist that allow ‘cloud-bursting' of broadcast media, it seems that not only will this event fail to meet its potential commercially, but could also leave many fans disappointed.”

Saunders also pointed out that ‘the pay-per view factor will also create temptation for credit card fraudsters, putting fans personal details and finances at risk'. I expect Friday will see a barrage of spam emails with offers of ‘watch the England v Ukraine game online for £1 when you click here' and malicious links springing up over Friday night attempting to lure in frustrated viewers.

After all, the opportunity to jump on the bandwagon of a popular topic is an easy and effective way to spread malicious links to unsuspecting football fans. In theory, all it takes is a bit of knowledge of what is going on in the news, or the ability to monitor trending topics with effective search engine optimisation (SEO).

For example, the deaths this year of Michael Jackson and Patrick Swayze as well as videos of Erin Andrews, Serena Williams and Kanye West have all been exploited by cybercriminals with search engine results gained via clever optimisation.

Patrick Runald, security research manager at Websense, agreed with this theory, claiming that over the last few high profile events blackhat results have managed to appear on the first page of Google's results. Runald claimed that cybercriminals are often so good at this, and often do it better than companies who do professional SEO.

Runald said: “Some sites will say ‘you can watch it here for free', we have another big event that attracts users and blackhat SEO will exploit it. This is fully exploited as they will see Twitter trending topics and Google trends so they will know that it is popular. You will see it build as it approaches, I am confident that we will see it but we haven't seen anything yet.”

Also commenting was Rik Ferguson, senior security advisor at Trend Micro, who welcomed the decision to screen the match on the internet, claiming that it ‘was a chance to clear the channels and see some good stuff on TV'.

Ferguson said: “This is definitely a ‘good' target, in that it is one that can be exploited, and is one that if it is not targeted this time will be if this becomes a more common occurrence. The cybercriminals may not have realised that it is happening.”

The point that Ferguson makes is a relevant one because despite all of the coverage in the UK press at the beginning of the week, the national outcry has been muted in the last couple of days.

If England fans really do not take to this idea, then there is the potential to watch it in Odeon cinemas, as it announced that they will show the game. Whether they will allow cases of beer and giant packets of crisps to be consumed during the broadcast remains to be seen.

If this does become a regular occurrence though, it could lead to a new potential avenue for cybercrime in the future, and this could lead to a whole new branch of education of the humble terrace dweller or armchair fanatic.

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