Anyone involved in the piracy ecosystem could stake claim to being ‘in the scene’ but for those with a discerning interest in pirate matters, terminology is all important.
After decades of existence, The Scene has attained mythical status among pirates. It’s not a site, a place, a person, or a group. ‘The Scene’ is all of these things, combined in a virtual world to which few people ever gain access.
In basic terms, The Scene is a collection of both loose and tight-knit individuals and groups, using Internet networks as meeting places and storage vessels, in order to quickly leak as much pirated content as possible. From movies, TV shows and music, to software, eBooks and beyond. Almost anything digital is fair game for piracy at the most elite level.
These people – “Sceners” – are as protective of ‘their’ content as they are meticulous of their privacy but that doesn’t stop huge volumes of ‘their’ material leaking out onto the wider Internet. And occasionally – very occasionally – one of their members breaking ranks to tell people about it.
TorrentFreak recently made contact with one such individual who indicated a willingness to pull back the veil. However, verifying that ‘Sceners’ are who they say they are is inherently difficult. In part, we tackled this problem by agreeing for a pre-determined character string to be planted inside a Scene release.
With a fairly quick turnaround and as promised, the agreed characters appeared in a specific release. That the release had been made was confirmed by the standard accompanying text-based NFO file, which collectively are both widely and publicly available.
In respect of the group’s identity, we were asked to say that it has been active since 2018, but nothing more. We can confirm, however, that it already has dozens of releases thus far in 2019.
Our contact, who we will call “Source”, also claims to work with groups involved with so-called WEB releases, such as video content obtained and decrypted using sources including Netflix and Prime Video.
For security reasons, he wasn’t prepared to prove membership of that niche in the same fashion. However, the information he provided on those activities (to be covered in an upcoming part 2 of this article) is very interesting indeed. But first, an introduction to the basics, for those unfamiliar with how The Scene operates.
Basics of ‘The Scene’ – “Source’s” summary (in his own words)
- Topsites: Top-secret, highly protected FTP servers storing up to hundreds or thousands of terabytes of copyrighted material. Users have to be authorized to the topsite by pre-existing members, and the users can only connect from specific IP-ranges.
- Topsites usually always have an IRC channel where they announce the releases made on the specific topsite, alongside other things such as newly traded releases, requests and chat. These IRC chatrooms are encrypted using encryption tools on top of SSL.
- Topsites can either be home hosted or rented. Rented sites are avoided by members of The Scene who are higher up in the food chain, since those are generally riskier due to being located at hosting companies’ datacenters. Users of a topsite are usually one of the following:
- Traders / Racers
- Release Groups (Affiliates)
- Site Operator: User who owns or administrates a topsite
- Release Groups (Affiliates): A single or group of users, who work together to download/rip, prepare, pack and pre a release. These groups usually compete against each other to get a release out as fast as possible, beating other groups.
- Traders / Racers: A user who moves releases between topsites. For example: As soon as the group -XYZ releases an MP3 album on topsite -ASD, multiple traders instantly grab the new release and transfer it to their other topsites. When the release lands on the other topsites, traders there start sharing it further and further until every single topsite has the release. In some cases it only takes minutes for every single topsite to have the release in question.
Becoming a member of The Scene
Despite “Source’s” own group being relatively new, he says his history with The Scene dates back three years. Intrigued at the possibility of becoming a member but with no prior experience, he contacted a Scene group using an email address inside an NFO, offering his coding skills.
“I was able to convince the group to slowly adopt me into The Scene by providing them scripts and tools to make their job easier and faster, alongside other programming related tasks. The thing with Scene groups is that they don’t trust outsiders,” he explains.
Given that not granting access to the wrong people is fundamental to the security of The Scene, we asked how this “vetting” took place. “Source” explained that it was conducted over a period of time (around four months), with a particular Scene group carrying out its own investigations to ensure he wasn’t lying about himself or his abilities.
“The groups who vet new members also often try their best to dox the recruit, to make sure that the user is secure. If you’re able to be doxed (based on the info you give, your IP-addresses, anything really) you will lose your chances to join. The group won’t actually do anything with your personal info,” he adds, somewhat reassuringly.
Once the group was satisfied with his credentials, “Source” gained access to his very first topsite, which he describes as small and tight-knit. Topsites often use IRC (Internet Relay Chat) for communications so from there it was a matter of being patient while simultaneously attempting to gain the trust of others in the channel.
“Most Sceners are very cautious of new users, even after being vetted in, due to the risk of a user still being insecure, an undercover officer or generally unwanted in terms of behavior. Once you’ve been idling in the chats and such for months, you slowly start gaining some basic recognition and trust,” he says.
Once he’d gained access via the first topsite, “Source” says he decided to branch out on his own by creating his own Scene group and gathering content to release. From there he communicated with other users on the topsite in an effort to gain access to additional topsites as an affiliate.
As mentioned earlier, his own releases via his own group (the name of which we aren’t disclosing here) number in the dozens over the past several months alone. They are listed on publicly available ‘pre-databases‘ which archive information and NFO files which provide information related to Scene releases.
However, his own group isn’t the only string to the Source bow. Of particular interest is his involvement with so-called WEB releases, i.e pirate releases of originally protected video content obtained from platforms like Netflix and Prime Video.
“Content for WEB releases are obtained by downloading the source content. Whenever you stream a video online, you are downloading chunks of a video file to your computer. Sceners simply save that content and attempt to decrypt it for non-DRM playback later,” Source explains.
“Streams from these sites are protected by DRM. The most common, and hard to crack DRM is called Widevine. The way the Scene handles WEB-releases is by using specialized tools coded by The Scene, for The Scene.”
This is a particularly sensitive area, not least since Source says he’s acted as a programmer for multiple Scene groups making these releases. He’s understandably cautious so until next week (when we’ll continue with more detail specifically about WEB content) he leaves an early cautionary note for anyone considering joining The Scene.
“You can become Sceners with friends, but not friends with Sceners,” he concludes.