Sky Blocks Pirate Sites With Traffic Analysis and Google Cloud

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Sky is required to block pirates sites after the Premier League obtained an order from the High Court. While the ISP was a defendant in that case, it appears that as a broadcaster it's prepared to push the boat out to protect its own football subscription revenues. According to a new report, Sky is using Google Cloud to crunch 500 billion data records to continuously identify pirate sites.

During March 2017, the Premier League obtained a blocking injunction from the High Court which compelled ISPs including BT, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media to block ‘pirate’ football streams in real-time.

Due to its reported success, the Premier League applied for a second order which was handed down in July 2017. It ran from August 12, 2017 to May 13, 2018 and contained a renewal clause. The Premier League was successful in its latest application, obtaining a new order from the High Court last week.

This extension applies to BT, EE, Plusnet, Sky, TalkTalk and Virgin Media, with all of the ISPs required to work with the Premier League to stop pirate content from reaching their subscribers. While all will do so, it’s clear that some are a little keener than others.

Sky, BT, and Virgin are all football broadcasters in their own right, so have a vested interest in complying with the High Court order. How they go about that has never been revealed in public but a new report from ComputerWorldUK shows how much effort Sky are prepared to put in.

Speaking during Google Cloud Next in San Francisco this week, Mohamed Hammady, CTO at Sky UK revealed that his company spends close to $8 billion a year on content, with broadcasting rights of the Premier League ($1.6 billion) representing the “crown jewel” of its sports spending.

To protect that investment (while complying with the Premier League’s High Court order), Sky has turned to Google Cloud technology.

Hammady said that the team at Sky collected its NetFlow traffic information as a means of “sampling the traffic on our core network.” This sampling produced 500 billion data records in a year, a volume best handled by the professionals.

“Using BigQuery and an in-house algorithm – which cost $10,000 (£7,500) to develop – we are now able to continuously study traffic patterns with an always up to date list of suspect pirate sites,” Hammady said as quoted by CWUK. “Once they have been confirmed as illegal they are shut down.

Hammady said running a query on Google Cloud takes Sky less than 30 seconds and costs the company just 23 cents, a good deal according to the Sky CTO.

“The result is a phenomenal reduction in pirate sites in the UK,” he said.

While the High Court order was obtained by the Premier League and Sky was a defendant in that case, it’s clear that rather than opponents, these content companies are working hand-in-hand to reduce piracy.

Also, from the little we know, it seems that Sky is also happy to obtain data from the network traffic generated by its customers in order to target pirate sites.

It’s a somewhat unusual situation to hear discussed in public, given that most ISPs prefer to be seen as content agnostic “dumb pipes” that seek no control (or awareness) of what their customers might be doing online.

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