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The UK’s National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) launched a new awareness campaign today hoping to educate kids on the risks of using the internet. The government’s decision to call the campaign “CyberFlix” is utterly bewildering. Not only does the campaign now share the same name as one of the most recognized movie piracy apps, but the first few pages of Google results only return piracy-related results, at least some of which lead to malware.
To reduce the chances of being tracked, profiled, spammed with malicious ads, infected with malware or subjected to ransomware, no device in this building accesses the internet without stringent filtering.
With network tools and browser plugins doing some of the heavy lifting, WireGuard VPN connections help to keep the dangers at bay. In today’s online environment, every little helps and on this network, a little amounts to millions of URLs blocked every year.
A new government initiative launched today on the website of the National Cyber Security Centre (NCSC) sounded interesting; at least until the website started delivering broken and insecure HTTP pages in an apparent protest against an encrypted connection.
Having to reduce network security to read what the NCSC had to say about staying safe online wasn’t a great start. Worringly, things only went downhill from there.
Campaign to Raise Kids’ Awareness of Online Harms
The new awareness campaign targets pre-teens and young teenagers and is designed to raise awareness of some of the risks they’re likely to encounter when using the web.
A key feature is described as an “interactive video learning resource” which amounts to short video clips of a longer story, punctuated by multiple choice questions relating to decisions for staying safe online. For the strictly over 18s, think Black Mirror’s ‘Bandersnatch‘ but on a much tighter budget.
“Young people are growing up in an increasingly digital world, exposing them to both the opportunities and risks of the internet,” the NCSC campaign website notes.
“CyberFlix highlights some of the most common cyber scams and malicious activity that a pre-teen and teenage internet user might come across and empowers them to make choices to keep themselves more secure online.”
Hard to Believe Nobody Googled “CyberFlix”
For people who never go online, the word ‘CyberFlix’ probably means very little. For a few million others who love movies and TV shows but would rather not pay for them, CyberFlix means watching movies and TV shows but not having to pay for them.
The CyberFlix app for Android devices is a reported clone of Terrarium TV, which shut down in 2018 under legal pressure widely attributed to Hollywood. Given its similarities, CyberFlix became a favorite among pirates and as this complaint shows, also a prime target for enforcement groups including the Alliance for Creativity and Entertainment.
The problem for the online harms campaign is that when people seek it out by its chosen name, search engines turn up pages and pages of results that link to various CyberFlix-branded apps, most of which are completely dedicated to piracy.
If the CyberFlix campaign generates enough interest in its own right, it might be able to improve its position in search results. As things stand the bizarre choice of name means that wherever it ends up, the campaign is likely to be surrounded by piracy apps when people attempt to find it using a search engine.
Given the nature of the campaign and the fact that the government is behind it, this apparent blunder is all the more extraordinary.
Reducing Online Harms…
The entertainment industries claim apps like CyberFlix often contain malware and malicious advertising, perhaps the most common online harms encountered by the majority of all internet users. However, determining whether a piracy app is actually malicious isn’t always straightforward since many are able to pass virus/malware scans.
That may mean they’re clean but there are no guarantees, especially for apps with CyberFlix branding. There isn’t just one version of the app, many modified versions are available online, most likely under the control of different people.
For example, if people in the UK search for ‘CyberFlix’ today (looking for a campaign that reduces their exposure to online harms, perhaps), the item at the very top of Google’s results is a website where visitors can download and receive advice about a particular CyberFlix variant:
The advice doesn’t mention the third option (not installing the app at all) but in this case the Android APK (installation) file passes most malware checks. It also communicates with a server in Germany along with other CyberFlix variants. The same server also has connections to other apps, with the majority flagged for some type of malware issue. For whatever reason (probably some of these), Google isn’t happy with it either.
In summary, CyberFlix is a) a popular piracy app and b) a government campaign to help kids avoid trouble online. Got it.
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