The security strategy for protecting live-streamed eSports content

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By Bo Ferm

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In our last blog post, we discussed how eSports services can leverage DRM and multi-DRM solutions to protect streaming asset value and ultimately the service and revenue generated from gaming events. Multi-DRM content protection is a foundational element for preventing eSports content piracy, particularly since content theft can damage both ROI and the brand. 

The quality of experience (QoE) for viewers depends on several factors, of which latency is a critical one. Latency, also referred to as “glass-to-glass” latency, is the time it takes for a single frame of video to travel from camera to display. This delay can vary widely, from a few milliseconds to several minutes, but it is most critical for live-streamed content.

Latency issues affecting live-streamed content can be exacerbated when using multi-DRM services. These problems can be overcome by optimizing the content protection approach to focus on eliminating DRM-related  potential causes of latency. 

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Intertrust ExpressPlay enables low-latency streaming by adhering to the MPEG-DASH Industry Forum’s Content Protection Information Exchange (CPIX) standard and leveraging the tight integration of ExpressPlay DRM with third-party encoders/packagers. The CPIX standard offers further advantages: it applies to both HLS and DASH streaming protocols and removes the reliance on proprietary DRM APIs by allowing protected content to be streamed to all devices utilizing a common API structure.

Another major cause of live-streaming latency is the way DRM licenses are issued at the session startup in order to authorize users. There are two kinds of licenses: Non-persistent licenses, which terminate after each session, create speed issues that can be avoided by using persistent licenses, which allow continuous playback over the license’s duration. 

Even with the use of persistent licenses, there can still be delays during initial delivery depending on the license delivery mechanism. By utilizing proxy-based license delivery instead of token-based, the user’s video player can obtain the necessary DRM license directly from the ExpressPlay service rather than needing two roundtrip communications. This system, where acquisition is player-initiated upon detecting the absence of a key, also simplifies more complex use cases, such as key rotation.

Understanding how to combat content piracy

Monitoring content piracy gives eSports content producers and distributors a clearer idea of how their assets are being affected by theft, which allows them to better plan their anti-piracy actions. With a successful monitoring program, eSports content producers can optimize their responses and create a comprehensive identification program for follow-up anti-piracy actions, such as output disruption, disablement, and legal action.

Forensic watermarking, achieved by inserting unique and indiscernible digital coding into each stream, allows content producers and distributors to identify which user a pirated stream is associated with. Protecting live streaming assets, maximizing revenue, and maintaining production control depend on the ability of live-streamed Sports content providers to affect or disable pirated streams once they’re identified. 

Both the content monitoring and identification processes that are essential for countering content pirates can be performed through the ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. Since it’s cloud-deployed and scales with a “pay-for-what-you-need” pricing policy, this security solution delivers the same low TCO for its advanced piracy protection.

Effective piracy monitoring

The monitoring element of ExpressPlay’s content security solution is achieved through the use of digital fingerprinting alongside tools that crawl the web for streams. The digital fingerprinting process stores  unique descriptors that help identify which distributor has been licensed to use specific content. When combined with the web crawlers locating all possible content, an automated process identifies if a particular piece of content has been licensed to that distributor. If it hasn’t, then it is identified as stolen and the legitimate distributor is alerted.

An effective live-stream protection solution

With the effects that piracy has on revenue and reputation, it’s unsurprising that creators and distributors of live-streamed eSports content want to deploy more effective counter-measures. Following the example of traditional sports, where watermarking has achieved excellent results in reducing piracy, live-streamed eSports content providers have started to deploy the ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. 

Since this solution allows rights holders to affect a stream within a short period of piracy being detected, it significantly reduces the watchability of pirated streams and their attractiveness to viewers.

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ExpressPlay’s watermarking service offers key advantages in achieving its purpose, such as:

  • No loss of watermark or content quality as it passes through its lifecycle.
  • No need to decrypt and re-encrypt content to deploy watermarking.
  • Counter-measures prevent pirates from detecting and nullifying watermarks.
  • Removes the requirement for comparison with original unmarked video as marks can be extracted directly, leading to immediate piracy identification.

Applications used for viewing and engaging with live-streamed eSports content are another key attack vector for pirates and cybercriminals with malicious motives. There are a number of techniques that can be deployed to combat tampering, cloning, reverse engineering, and other attacks, either before the app is published or by retroactively taking steps to protect an existing app. The purpose of deploying app hardening counter-measures is to make the attack process as difficult and frustrating as possible for hackers while taking care not to negatively affect app functionality. We will cover this topic in more detail in a future blog post.

Conclusion

It is clear that the negative impacts of piracy and live-streamed eSports content theft present a very significant risk to the ROI of producers and distributors. Actions to counter these threats begin by understanding exactly what they are and how they can be effectively protected against without incurring major costs in terms of time and resources.

The solution is deploying a proven, turnkey multi-DRM service that provides easy-to-use content protection in addition to anti-piracy solutions and theft monitoring. The ExpressPlay Media Security Suite has already proven its worth globally in the field of live-streaming traditional sports as well as protecting other streaming services.

Apart from providing low-cost content protection for valuable assets, the ExpressPlay solution also removes the burden from eSports providers of providing or developing security solutions. This is perfect for both emerging and established operators that do not want to be burdened by large up-front investments to develop in-house solutions, further exacerbated by the required maintenance and development in response to evolving piracy attack methods. 

As live-streamed eSports content providers become more popular and revenues increase, they’re also becoming bigger targets for attackers looking to steal a slice of that revenue or hack customer data. This threatens the eSports business model directly and also endangers their reputation and customer trust. To counteract this, the best solution is to deploy the ExpressPlay Media Security Suite. To find out more about the effects of content piracy on the world of eSports content and how ExpressPlay can help, download our whitepaper.

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About Bo Ferm

Bo Ferm is engaged in product marketing activities for Intertrust ExpressPlay. He is a versatile technology professional with 30+ years of successful B2B positions in Europe, North America and South East Asia. He has worked extensively with broadcasting and streaming technologies, with the past 15 years dedicated to media security in various forms.