Why would someone simply give you free access to a brand-new blockbuster movie or an album download from a chart-topping artist?

 There are a lot of different reasons why someone might engage in piracy of copyrighted material and sadly, the internet has enabled a lot of people to distribute protected material to a mass audience. Rest assured though, no one is doing it for free. Even if they’re not charging you money for it, they’re getting something in return, either in the form of traffic to their website, advertising or affiliate link dollars or worse, by stealing your information.

Sites that offer “free” content are notorious for filling your computer with viruses and malware, and now, your Amazon Fire TV or Fire Stick may be at risk. Users who have “sideloaded” apps and other content to their connected televisions through their Amazon devices may have infections with malware that can take over their entire networks.

The term sideloading, which isn’t necessarily wrong or illegal, simply means adding content to a device without going through the device’s designated app store. Some early devices, like pre-Kindle e-readers, required users to add their own digital content with an included cable, much the same way that people might have moved digital photos from their cameras to their hard drives.

Sideloading a device that does have a platform and app store is tricky and could leave your network vulnerable. Amazon’s Fire TV and Fire Stick, for example, are intended to use the Amazon website to maintain a membership; sites like Netflix and YouTube are there for users to enjoy, but unauthorized third-party sites do not come with any kind of guarantee that the material is safe. Adding any apps that let you watch pirated shows is not only wrong, but it’s also a gateway to a virus.

One strain of malware in, particular, ADB.Miner, has already been found infecting Amazon devices through this kind of activity. This malware mines cryptocurrency, meaning it will hijack your computer or television in order to force it to waste precious energy and processing speed creating cryptocurrency for the criminal who installed it. This malware also can infect any other Android device running on that network; if you have an Android smartphone or tablet that’s connected to your home Wi-Fi, those might be at risk once ADB.Miner takes hold.

It’s tempting to blame the criminals who established the malware, but there’s an awkward truth that must be stated: anyone who downloads pirated content is a criminal too, no matter what their intentions were. Copyright laws exist not to just protect the financial interests of the actors, musicians or other “big name” people involved, but also to make sure that the janitor who empties the studio trashcans at night has a job. Make sure you’re doing the right thing by protecting yourself from a network infection and ensuring that content creators can continue producing great material for the public to enjoy.

Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.