The 2018 Tour de France has reached the mountains, with the sixteenth stage taking the riders from Bagnères de Luchon. More cycling fans than ever are expected to tune into free live streaming sites to watch the race online, though experts warn many of them will be putting themselves at risk.
Sky rider Geraint Thomas will be hoping to hang on to the yellow jersey he claimed with a stunning ride through the Alpes on Wednesday, while team mate and reigning Tour de France champion Chris Froome will be hoping to gain some seconds back on his GC rival.
For many cycling fans around the world, however, live feeds of the 106th edition of the famous race will not be so accessible. As a result, they may turn to illegal streaming services that broadcast pirated footage.
A proliferation of websites hosting links to illegal streams of the race has prompted cyber security experts to warn how criminals are attempting to capitalise on the popularity of road cycling's marquee event.
Chris Hodson from the cyber security firm Zscaler told The Independent: “Live streaming the Tour de France has never been easier with the huge range of websites and apps that enable fans to view the race anytime, anywhere. What’s worrying is that a lot of fans will turn to illegal streaming sites to catch up on the action."
He added: “For cybercriminals, this is big business and provides a huge opportunity for them to host sites that enable them to steal information and, ultimately, make money... It’s important that Tour de France fans only use official services when watching the race. By turning to illegal sites, they may get to see who’s wearing the yellow jersey, but it’ll likely be at too high a price.”
Research from Sport Industry Group last year revealed that more than half of young people watch illegal streams of live sports online, revealing a major issue for legitimate sports broadcasters.
The risks of watching sports this way include identity theft through stealing personal details, as well as harmful malware that infects devices used to watch live streams.
"The Tour de France, like any major sporting event, is going to be a big ticket event for illegal streaming sites. However, people using these sites should know that it's also a big ticket event for cyber criminals looking to take advantage of people viewing the tour illegally," Richard Walters, chief security strategist at cloud security firm CensorNet, told The Independent.
"Cybercriminals know these unlicensed sites have little legal recourse against hackers, and take advantage by lacing web pages and videos with malicious links and malware... When you use these websites, you are putting your device and potentially your entire network at risk. This means that if you're using an illegal site at work, you could well be putting the whole company at risk."
Steve Mulhearn, director of enhanced technologies at Fortinet, added: “Due to the nature of the Tour de France the race can be streamed 24/7, and the temptation for people to check in throughout the day to see who’s in the lead using corporate devices poses a different type of threat than with the World Cup for example. Cycling fans should make sure that they are always taking smart steps to protect themselves and their corporation, especially when an unknown streaming provider is offering access to the race so readily."
Illegal streaming sites can also be used as a platform by hackers to launch crypto-mining attacks, which involve hijacking the processing power of the smartphone, tablet or laptop used to visit the site in order to secretly mine cryptocurrency.
Joep Gommers, CEO of cyber security firm EclecticIQ, previously warned that such sites tend to be riddled with malicious software.
He told The Independent: "The machines of users visiting those sites are mostly attacked in the form of drive-by-downloads, which means that malware is downloaded when visiting a website, completely without the user’s knowledge. Currently, a very common type of malware is cryptomining."
Cycling fans hoping to watch the Tour de France live are therefore advised to avoid visiting any sites that may host illegal streams.