‘Transnational’ Pirate IPTV Operation Targeted By Italian Law Enforcement

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A major operation across Italy has targeted a pirate IPTV network said to have generated profits of several million euros per month. Police conducted searches in numerous cities, targeting 21 suspects said to form part of a transnational criminal group. While anti-piracy groups are welcoming this significant action, details absent from official reports raise some important questions.

polizia-postalePirate IPTV services are a major cause for concern among broadcasters globally. In Italy, illegal streaming has grown in relevance to become part of a nationwide conversation.

Fueled by a national passion for top-tier football matches, viewable only by those who can afford a subscription, pirate IPTV services and other illegal streaming platforms found fertile ground in Italy.

New law passed during the summer, which increased penalties for piracy while supporting a new automated blocking system, sent the clearest possible message. Regardless of cost, fans will find money for legal subscriptions, but only when illicit access no longer exists.

Police Announce Major Action Against IPTV Operation

Law enforcement agencies shared information with the press on Tuesday revealing a “vast operation” against audiovisual piracy in Italy. State Police, on the orders of the Anti-Mafia Directorate at the Public Prosecutor’s Office in Catania, executed nationwide search and seizure actions against members of a “transnational criminal organization.”

Investigations directed by the Prosecutor’s Office in Catania, and initiated by the Catania Cyber ​​Security Operations Center in coordination with the Postal Police of Rome, are said to have confirmed the existence of a criminal organization involved in the illicit supply of premium TV and on-demand video.

By offering illegal access to content owned by Sky, Mediaset, Amazon Prime, and Netflix, Postal Police say the group generated profits (not turnover) of several million euros per month.

The operation revealed yesterday targeted 21 suspected members of the organization active in Catania, Messina, Siracusa, Cosenza, Alessandria, Napoli, Salerno, Reggio Emilia, Pisa, Lucca, and Livorno e Bari. The Prosecutor’s Office accuses these individuals of various offenses, including transnational criminal association, damage/corruption of information (anyone who destroys, deteriorates, erases, alters or suppresses data or computer programs), unauthorized access to an IT system, and computer fraud.

IPTV Piracy Pyramid

Police say the organization was found to be organized in a ‘hierarchical manner’ with members fulfilling “distinct and very precise” roles. Promotors of the service were stationed throughout Italy and abroad.

“In order to evade investigations, the suspects made use of encrypted messaging applications, fictitious identities and false documents; the latter were also used for the registration of telephone accounts, credit cards, television subscriptions and server rental,” an announcement from the Postal Police reads.

“The presence on various social platforms of channels, groups, accounts, forums, blogs and profiles, were found to advertise the sale, on the national territory, of streams, panels and monthly subscriptions for the illegal viewing of audiovisual content which can also be used through numerous illegal ‘live streaming’ sites.”

Broadcasters, Anti-Piracy Groups, Welcome the Action

Broadcaster Sky Italia congratulated Italy’s Postal Police on a “new and important” anti-piracy operation.

“The police have our full support in their law enforcement activity, which over the years has become increasingly valuable to guarantee legality, to protect all those who legitimately use their favorite content,” said CEO Andrea Duilio.

“Countering this criminal phenomenon is a commitment that involves us all and now, thanks to the new anti-piracy law, we can do it even more effectively.”

Federico Bagnoli Rossi, President of anti-piracy group FAPAV, also welcomed a “very important” operation, describing it as a “hard blow towards those criminal mentalities that manage illegal IPTV and illicit live streaming platforms, whose revenues finance criminal acts of various types.”

What Wasn’t Announced

For reasons that aren’t immediately clear, press releases issued by various police forces made no mention of any arrests Tuesday. The only thing reported in respect of the 21 people allegedly targeted is that they’re currently under investigation. For comparison, a Postal Police statement following an unrelated operation clearly reported 28 arrests in that matter.

Among the information that was made available to the public, police noted that the group used false documents to rent servers. Other than that, however, there are no reports of servers or any other devices being seized. While it’s possible that for operational reasons details are being withheld, based on the available information it seems more likely that the 21 ‘under investigation’ are subscription sellers and/or resellers, rather than those actually running a pirate IPTV service.

“Inhibiting the Flow of Illegal Streams”

Claims that the authorities were reportedly able to block or “inhibit the flow” of illegal streams are further detailed in a La Sicilia report. The publication says that officers of the Postal Police were able to “seize 13 control panels” servicing “over 50 thousand users”. This appears to be a reference to reseller panels and would explain how police were able to disconnect subscribers serviced through those interfaces.

Finally, it’s worth highlighting how the group’s earnings are being reported. La Sicilia reports that given the vast audience serviced by the platform, this “guaranteed ‘six-figure’ earnings to the managers of the illegal online piracy network.” In a statement issued by the Postal Police, it’s alleged that the group generated profits (not turnover) of “several million euros per month.”

However, a separate statement published on the website of the State Police (Polizia di Stato) claims an even bigger amount. According to that report, the group generated monthly profits of tens of millions of euros.


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