The dangers of counterfeit IPTV boxes

The dangers of counterfeit IPTV boxes

Watch Commander Gary Wood gives an overview of the potential dangers associated with poorly constructed ‘TV Boxes’

IPTV boxes are small, physical boxes or USB sticks that the user plugs into their TV. They then connect to the internet either via a hard-wired LAN cable or Wi-Fi which allows them to ‘stream’ content onto their TV. The majority of these boxes or sticks are perfectly legal and used legitimately however they can be used to illegally stream programs such as sports, movies and other content and are sometimes referred to as ‘Kodi boxes’ or Android TV boxes. Sellers of these devices will often describe them as ‘fully or pre-loaded’ which means they have specific apps and programs pre-installed to facilitate this illegal streaming of content. These devices can be found in domestic premises but also within commercial and business premises. In reality - Kodi (formerly XBMC) is in fact software. It is a free and open source that allows people to play and stream video content. In its current and original form, it is legal to download, install and use for legitimate streaming purposes.

The legal issue arises when users adapt these boxes to stream TV, films or sport without paying the appropriate subscription.

Illegal streaming devices are generally found for sale on the internet, online marketplaces and social media found on the internet; on dedicated websites, online marketplaces and social media.

Watch Commander Wood said ‘Within my fire safety related role at SBRC I also sit on the SAITG working group. The Scottish Anti Illicit Trade Group works with SBRC and other external partners to reduce the scale, impact and cost of illicit trade across the country. By educating our communities in the dangers of illicit or counterfeit goods we can protect ourselves from potential harm, reduce the demand for these products and help in the fight against Organised Criminal Groups’

IPTV boxes of sub-standard construction can be a potential fire or electrocution hazard with a number of reports of the boxes overheating and melting in use. Testing by FACT (Federation Against Copyright Theft) and Electrical Safety First on the most popular devices available found that 100% failed to meet national electrical safety regulations. None of the illicit streaming devices test purchased had been supplied, designed or manufactured in accordance with the principal elements of the safety objectives given in Schedule 1 of the Electrical Equipment (Safety) Regulations 1994. (4)

Watch Commander Wood continued ‘One report of a device which resulted in potentially becoming a substantial fire hazard describes how the box melted during use. The failure of this device (damaged caused) was the fact that there was no heat sync on the main processor chip causing it to overheat. By overheating the case deformed forcing the heat distribution plate to drop onto the circuit board and continue to heat/melt the casing as can be seen in the photo below. This could have had serious consequences had it not been discovered by persons within the property’

The IPO – Intellectual Property Office estimates that over one million of these illegal boxes are in circulation in the UK which in terms of fire safety could represent a significant risk to the public. It is impossible to tell from the outside whether a TV box is electrically safe. To stay safe, once the consumer receives any electrical product, they should be aware of the following:

■ Markings — look for the manufacturer’s brand name or logo, model and batch mark number. Check there is a CE mark and the output voltage and current ratings marked on the charge match the electrical device. Unfortunately, however a ‘CE’ mark is no absolute guarantee of safe, quality construction. Some IPTV boxes with ‘CE’ marks have them but it actually stands for ‘China Export’, see the image below for details.

■ Pin plugs — check they plug in easily to the socket and there is at least 9.5mm between the edge of the pins and the edge of the charger.

■ Warnings and instructions — ensure the device has all the necessary instructions for use and adequate warnings.

UK and European law is clear on the illegality of selling and using modified fully-loaded IPTV boxes. A number of sellers of these boxes have recently been sentenced and in April the European Court of Justice ruled that using one of these devices to watch or stream copyrighted content is breaking the law.

Watch Commander Wood said ‘Of course many genuine TV boxes and sticks constructed to an appropriate standard are perfectly safe to use to stream legally purchased content within the home. Some tips to ensure produced heat from these devices is limited in use can be found below’

 Always purchase from a reputable retailer whether that be online or from a shop

✓ Remove the protective film from the top of the TV box

✓ Make sure there's at least 5cm clearance above, and to the sides, of the box

✓ Don't cover or put anything on top of it

✓ Keep away from combustibles and soft furnishings, such as cushions and rugs

✓ Don't put the box on top of any other electrical items

✓ Keep out of direct sunlight

✓ Keep away from other electrical devices or sources of heat, such as external power packs

✓ Never leave switched on overnight or unattended

Also consider using an HDMI extension cable to plug your stick into your TV rather than plug it directly into the slot at the rear of the TV where there is generally already lots of heat present. This will keep the stick away from radiated and conducted heat. Unplug them when not is use and never leave them on and running unattended.

IPTV boxes could also put you at risk of a cyber-attack. Hackers may have the ability to take control of devices that are hooked up to these boxes and potentially steal your personal information and data.

If you’re looking to purchase an IPTV box or stick to use legally, never buy one that is unbranded or has been modified in any way. Make sure you buy from a reputable retailer and follow the manufacturer’s instructions.

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