Free movies are bait for malware traps

We get it—there’s a definite temptation to hop online and find a bootleg copy of a new movie for free. After all, going to the theater is expensive and heading to a file sharing site will cost you nothing…right?

Wrong! In reality, your bargain hunting could end up costing you big time.

Not only is it illegal, one visit to a file-sharing site is all it takes to infect your computer with malware. That malicious software could flood your computer with ads, take over or lock your machine (aka: ransomware), or even keep track of your keystrokes to steal your personal information.

Translation: that one “free” movie won’t be so free after all.

And if you think it won’t happen to you, think again

The Federal Trade Commission recently tried to download movies from five different sites, all offering the content for free. In all five cases they ended up with malware on their computer. Read that again: in ALL FIVE CASES.

If you’re thinking their sample was small, other research shows that odds are against you. A recent report found that consumers were 28 times more likely to get malware from a website with pirated content than from a mainstream website/real content provider.

Heck, even just visiting a website that has pirated content puts you at danger. Forty-five percent of the malware infections from these sites comes from “drive-by downloads” that you don’t even know are happening. The malware is invisibly put onto your machine simply by visiting that URL.

Also, don’t register!

Some of these free movie sites ask you to register before you can download. Entering in any personal information could be handing the scammer exactly what they’re searching for. And, don’t give them your credit card information either. These are internet pirates so you can’t really trust them with your financial information.

Whoops! I had no idea—now what do I do?

1. If you think your computer could be infected with malware the FTC recommends:

  • Stop shopping, banking, and doing other online activities that involve user names, passwords, or other sensitive information.
  • Update your security software, and then scan your computer for viruses and spyware. Delete anything it identifies as a problem. You may have to restart your computer for the changes to take effect. (Reminder: TDS’ Home Internet Security is an always-up-to-date solution to help guard against viruses, adware, spyware, and more.)
  • Check your browser to see if it has tools to delete malware or reset the browser to its original settings.
  • If your computer is covered by a warranty that offers free tech support, contact the manufacturer. Before you call, write down the model and serial number of your computer, the name of any software you’ve installed, and a short description of the problem.

2. If you gave out your credit card number, watch for signs of unusual activity and/or put a fraud alert on your account. Always better to be safe than sorry!

3. Don’t click on any links or sites promising free movies, shows, or games. Obvious, but patience is a great way to steer clear of malware and the hassles and security risks it brings.



About Missy Kellor

Missy works on the Corporate Communications team and reports stories to TDS employees and customers. This is right up her alley because she’s an extrovert and also a big fan of research (really, she’ll look up just about anything that strikes her interest). Missy is a native of Madison, Wis. with an undergraduate in Anthropology and a master’s degree in Life Sciences Journalism from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. Her interest in the Internet as a mass media shaped her work towards a PhD in Journalism and Mass Communications. She’s also worked as an editorial assistant, copywriter, and production artist. In her off hours, Missy is a crafter, Pinterest addict, reader, wife, and mom of two kids.



  1. Weekly tech news roundup | TDS Home - May 26, 2017

    […] say we didn’t warn you We’ve warned you before about the dangers of downloading “free” movies online. Here’s another way hackers are punishing you for doing it: malware hidden in subtitle files. […]

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