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Taking a Peek at the Technology Behind Streaming

Taking a Peek at the Technology Behind Streaming

Let’s face it: with so (so) many streaming platforms now available for us to binge a trendy show or revisit a favorite movie on, technology and entertainment have become inexorably linked. When you really think about it, the technology that makes these streaming services possible is truly impressive. Let’s go over this technology together.

The Internet Isn’t Used to Stream Media

Quelle surprise, right? It’s a safe bet that the average subscriber assumes that the provider streams the media they are requesting over the Internet. After all, you need an Internet connection in order for it to work, so it must be using that network connection to deliver it, right?

Actually, about 85 percent of internet bandwidth is streaming video. That’s a lot of data to send across the internet, to the point where it would be wildly expensive to host these services in the traditional sense and expect it to work effectively for millions of users every day.

These capabilities are actually the result of lots of time and money invested by these streaming services in order to create a functioning infrastructure. Consider how these streaming services function. You log in, go through the catalog the service has made available, and select a title, and your content starts playing on the device of your choosing. The process responsible for this capability is known as over-the-top (OTT) streaming.

OTT streaming delivers content to the device the user wishes, using five steps:

  • Video Ingestion - This is how content is added to the streaming platform, something these services all do to keep their users engaged.
  • Transcoding - In order for a given device to play the content a service delivers, the code needs to be altered to match the device’s platform specifications.
  • Management - Effectively, which users get which content. As these services often offer different subscriptions with different benefits and streaming quality levels, it is important to differentiate who is eligible for these various tiers.
  • Delivery - A CDN (or Content Delivery Network) is the hardware and software that creates the service, with each of the various platforms using regionalized data centers. While some of the larger players have their own data centers, most platforms use third-party CDNs to help manage their costs. In some cases, Netflix actually sends an entire server with their media library on it to local ISPs so the video content can be delivered to users as effectively as possible.
  • Playback - In other words, how cleanly the content is presented to the user. With today’s technology, the entire process typically happens within a few seconds.

Don’t Assume a Streaming Service’s Security

These streaming services are businesses, and so the security of their subscribers’ information is of paramount importance… especially now that 70 percent of businesses are making investments into video and audio streaming. This popularity makes it so that a hacker could make excellent money by finding vulnerabilities in the content distribution process. Combine that with the frequency of shared passwords, and cybersecurity professionals have a lot on their plate concerning cybersecurity.

Furthermore, these companies are also subject to many cybersecurity attempts, with the iffy security practices of their customers not helping matters much. Streaming services regularly have to deal with things like:

  • Phishing Attacks - Phishing is a huge problem, and with so many options for streaming media and the rising demand, criminals use lookalike websites to steal financial information.
  • Credential Stuffing - People have the unfortunate habit of reusing access credentials across their assorted logins. If a cybercriminal has a list that they know works on one service, they’re apt to try them on another.
  • Brute Force Attacks - Alternatively, some hackers have software that eventually overcomes login requirements by simply attempting every possible login combination until one works or the system crashes.
  • Man-in-the-Middle - Some cybercriminals simply wait to intercept access credentials as they’re sent from the user’s endpoint to the streaming service for authentication. Using a VPN to shield your data as it transmits is a good strategy to avoid this, as is using multi-factor authentication wherever possible.

Considering that streaming is one of the most utilized, and fastest-growing, services in existence today, the technology behind it is clearly important to consider. What are your thoughts? Leave them (along with any recommendations for things to stream next) in the comments.

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Sunday, September 19 2021

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