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These software codecs are probably OK, although you should always be cautious when an application is asking you to install something.

I've finally gotten into the habit of really reading the install information on programs so I don't end up with unwanted toolbars in my browsers. I've also taken to monitoring my add-ons and extensions to root out unwanted junk. With that in mind, I recently bought a Toshiba laptop to use for bringing video to my TV via the internet. I love being able to access my Netflix account this way and I wanted more. So, I purchased a program called SatelliteDirect to give me access to something like 3500 channels streamed over the net. It was modestly priced and the streams are of varying quality. I'm still getting acquainted with it. One thing I have noticed is that many of the channels allege that I'm missing a plug-in to enable viewing their content. You've helped make me suspicious of these kinds of claims and I'm concerned that I may be getting something annoying, unwanted, or even dangerous from a security standpoint. Am I right to be concerned here? Or can I load these plug-ins safely?

In this excerpt from Answercast #56, I look at the possibility of getting malware from a TV streaming service.

Worried about plugins

Well, you're certainly right to be cautious. You should always be cautious whenever software is asking you to install a plug-in, or whatever.

My guess is that what they're asking to install here is not really what we would call a plug-in, but rather a codec. A codec (which is short for coder/decoder) is the software that is used to interpret any of the hundreds of the different file formats that are used to encode video and audio.

Video coder/decoder

So, in the case of watching the video, that's the software that receives the stream from wherever you're getting it and understands how to unencrypt it (decode it, whatever) and turn it into an image that you can see on your screen.

The problem is that there are many, many, many different codecs around and in fact, many, many different file formats. As a result, not all video streams use exactly the same format. The net result of that is that some require codecs that you may not have. As a result, it may ask you install a codec.

Bit torrent malware

Now, here's the problem. Unfortunately, codecs have been used as a vector to download malicious software on to people's machines.

Now, the difference here (one of the reasons that this may not be as bad as we might be concerned about) is that most often, when videos are being downloaded illegally (using things like BitTorrent), it's those that often have this additional character of having malicious codecs, fooling you into installing codecs that turn out to be malicious.

Professional services

With this particular service, SatelliteDirect... To be honest, I'm not familiar with them at all. I've no idea if they're legitimate or what kind of scenario they're providing here.

The chances are probably, probably fairly low that they're going to throw a malicious codec at you, simply because that would be bad for their business model. I mean, word would get around and people would stop using their service, the service that you're paying for. So my suspicion is that there's probably not a problem here.

However, that doesn't mean that we should not be cautious.

Accept the risk

Here's what I recommend you do. If the channels that you're interested in require a codec and it's important enough for you to take this risk, then backup first.

I mean literally:

  • Back up right then and there to make sure you've got a snapshot of your machine immediately prior to installing that codec.

  • Save that.

  • Install the codec.

  • See what happens.

If it works, great. You get on with your life and all is good. If that codec causes a problem of any sort, restore that backup. In other words, it will be as if that codec had never been installed.

My guess is you're not gonna have too much of a problem.

Video services

In all honesty, my biggest concern with your question really has nothing to do with the codecs that might get installed... I mean, that's something to be cautious of for sure.

My experience with these types of services (that claim to give people lots and lots and lots of video streams from around the planet) is that the video streams that you end up getting are actually not the ones people want.

I mean, here in the United States, people want the network stations, and the cable stations, and the premium stations, and those are the kinds of things that are not available in these kinds of services. You end up with public television from around the world or public access channels from around the world. It tends to be pretty boring TV.

So, I'm really happy for you if you've actually found somewhere in those 3500 channels, something worth watching! My experience (and what I've heard from other people) is that literally - it's a case of 3500 channels and there is nothing worth watching.

So, good luck to you. Do be cautious, but you're probably OK. Just whenever you get into a position where you're about to make what might be a dangerous choice, backup first.

Article C5855 - September 26, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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3 Comments
Gary Graziano
September 27, 2012 11:58 AM

Thanks Leo! Sensible advice, as always. I was mainly interested in SatelliteDirect as a means to widen my NFL menu by picking up additional regional network affiliates. Also, I'm growing to resent the satellite/cable oligopoly that wants to get you to subscribe monthly.

It works to a certain extent; I'm still learning and playing with it. You can observe that streams vary quite wildly in quality. It will probably end up being worth the modest cost, as long as I don't end up with malware!

Dan
September 28, 2012 10:29 AM

I did a quick search on the internet for reviews from that company, and was surprised by all the excellent reviews - until I looked at the URLs and saw they were mostly all the company's sites - or were trying to sell the product. I did find this one that tells it like it is. Doesn't look like you are going to get what is advertised. http://www.squidoo.com/satellitedirectreview

snert
September 28, 2012 11:36 AM

You might want to investigate free K-Lite Codec Pack 930 Full from Major Geeks. Their downloads are malware free.

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