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?
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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.
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
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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.