When something seems too good to be true, it usually is - in today's day and age, there's rarely such a thing as a free lunch. Even services that operate without an apparent catch, such as Google itself, gather data about you and your browsing habits over time.
However, as much as privacy-minded individuals may dislike Google's version of "free," it's probably still preferable to the much more sinister tactics some pirated content providers employ. As reported by Sophos, the Digital Citizens Alliance (DCA) -- an internet safety organization -- has found that many pirate-friendly, 'jailbroken' streaming devices are infested with malware.
These devices can apparently be snagged via eBay, Craigslist, or the "Dark Web" for between $75 and $100. Functionally speaking, they are identical or nearly-identical to many popular streaming devices on the market, such as Amazon's Fire TV Stick. The difference is, all the content contained within is completely free to watch. Shows, movies, and sports events are all on offer, sometimes before they even release to the (paying) general public.
Unfortunately, as we mentioned before, there's a pretty significant catch here. Malware was either present in the devices' pre-installed apps or snuck in later when researchers downloaded additional content.
Apparently, the malware in question performed illegal actions such as forwarding wi-fi network names and passwords to unknown third-parties and uploading "1.5 terabytes" of data to an attackers' servers without authorization. Some clever hackers even created fake versions of Netflix that can hijack user account details when accessed.
These attackers are not few in number, either - some of the researchers working on this report "infiltrated" various dark web chatrooms, and found lively discussions between many hackers who were discussing how to exploit those who use these compromised devices.
So, what's the solution here? Obviously, consumers should avoid buying allegedly jailbroken streaming devices from less-reputable sources. However, as Sophos notes, tackling this issue on a larger scale will require intervention from the likes of eBay and Craigslist - the sites will need to ban or otherwise restrict the sale of these devices to protect their users.