Illegal torrents and streams of Game of Thrones come loaded with more malicious software than any other TV show on the planet, according to a new report.
The hit fantasy show's eighth and final season premieres this month and is expected to be watched by millions of people - many of them watching it illegally.
According to TorrentFreak, Game of Thrones has been the most torrented show on the planet for the last six years in a row.
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A recent report by security company Kaspersky into malware disguised as episodes of popular TV shows found HBO's adaptation of A Song of Ice and Fire the most likely to harm downloaders and streamers.
"Of all the TV series analysed, Game of Thrones had the greatest number of users attacked by malware of the same name. It tried to infect users 129,819 times, and the total number of Game of Thrones-themed malware files in our threat collection is 9986," Kaspersky said.
"This makes the show an unmatched leader in popularity not just among users but also among cybercriminals looking for the most effective way to distribute malware."
In 2018, Game of Thrones accounted for 17 percent of all infected pirated content with 20,934 attacked users, reports Kaspersky - even though there were no new episodes released in 2018.
The next most popular TV shows used to infect illegal downloaders' computers were The Walking Dead with 18,794 attacked users, and Arrow with 12,163.
How does watching TV shows illegally infect the viewer's computer?
Torrenting videos in formats such as MKV, MPEG-4, AVI and WMV can mean the file itself is injected with malicious code, despite a widespread belief this isn't possible, reports security company Opswat.
This would mean that simply by opening the harmless looking video file, malware is loaded onto the viewer's computer. Cybercriminals have also been known to disguise a malicious programme as a video file, or pack infected .rar files into a torrent folder that users may be fooled into thinking are necessary to play the video.
People who watch pirated Game of Thrones streams instead of downloading video files will likely be exposed to phishing attempts on the websites hosting them, as well as malicious ads that may link to malware distributors.
As such websites are serving illegal content, they generally have no problem with serving ads for any third party willing to pay - be they law-abiding advertisers or cybercriminals after new victims.
"We can see clearly that malware distributors exploit TV shows that are in high demand on pirated websites: these are usually actively promoted dramas or action series. The first and final episodes, attracting the most viewers, are likely to be at greatest risk of malicious spoofing," says Anton Ivanov, security researcher at Kaspersky Lab.
"Online fraudsters tend to exploit people's loyalty and impatience, so may promise brand new material for download that is in fact a cyberthreat. Keeping in mind that the final season of Game of Thrones starts this month, we would like to warn users that it is highly likely there will be a spike in the amount of malware disguised as new episodes of this show."
Game of Thrones can be legally streamed in New Zealand with a Neon subscription. The eighth season premieres on it on April 15.