Swatting

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Swatting is the act of tricking an emergency service (via such means as hoaxing a 9-1-1 dispatcher) into dispatching an emergency response based on the false report of an ongoing critical incident. Episodes range from large to small — from the deployment of bomb squads, SWAT units and other police units and the concurrent evacuations of schools and businesses, to a single fabricated police report meant to discredit an individual as a prank or personal vendetta. While it is a misdemeanor or a felony in the U.S. in and of itself to report any untruth to law enforcement, swatting can cause massive disruption to the civil order and the public peace by the hoaxed deployment of police and other civic resources such as ambulances and fire departments. The term derives from SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics), a highly specialized type of police unit.

History and current status[edit]

Swatting has its origins in prank calls to emergency services. Increasing sophistication of the techniques employed and the objectives, notably attempts to direct response units of particular types, and in particular attempts to cause SWAT teams to be dispatched to particular locations, spawned the term swatting. The term was used by the FBI as far back as 2008.[1]

In 2009, phreaker Matthew Weigman pleaded guilty to charges of conspiracy including "involvement in a swatting conspiracy" and attempting to retaliate against a witness.[2] He was sentenced to over 11 years in federal prison.[3]

In 2013, a number of U.S. celebrities became the victims of swatting pranks, including Sean Combs.[4] In the past, there have been swatting incidents at the homes of Ashton Kutcher, Tom Cruise, Chris Brown, Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber and Clint Eastwood.[5] A law in the state of California will make it possible for authorities to require pranksters to bear the "full cost" of the response which can range up to $10,000;[5] the author of the bill, state senator Ted Lieu, was himself a swatting victim in April 2011.[6]

In May 2014, a 16-year-old in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, was arrested for having made thirty fraudulent emergency calls across North America,[7] leading to sixty charges "including uttering death threats, conveying false information with intent to alarm, public mischief and mischief to property."[8][9]

On 27 August 2014, YouTube user Jordan Mathewson, known online as Kootra, live streamed a game of Counter-Strike: Global Offensive on Twitch. A viewer called 911 claiming that there was a shooting in the building with hostages. A SWAT team raided the office that Mathewson's gaming company, The Creatures LLC, was operating out of. Mathewson was thrown to the ground and searched as officers searched the room. The events were broadcast live on the internet, until law enforcement set the camera lens-down on Mathewson's desk.[10] Videos of the swatting went viral, gaining over three million views on YouTube and being reported on news programs all over the world.

On 11 September 2014, Bukkit programmer Wesley "Wolvereness" Wolfe was the victim of a swatting incident. An unidentified Skype caller told police that Wolfe had shot his parents and was on a killing spree. Wolfe believed he was targeted in retaliation to his issuing of a DMCA takedown of CraftBukkit from the Bukkit repository. [11][12]

On 6 November 2014, the home of an unnamed executive with Bungie, a developer of the Halo franchise and the recently released Destiny, was raided by local police after a call, purported to be from someone inside the house, said that there was a hostage situation at the residence.[13] The caller had demanded a ransom of $20,000 and claimed they had planted explosives in the yard.[13] After 45 minutes, police determined the call originated from a computer and not from the residence; they further stated that the perpetrator of the hoax could face a fine and one year in jail if apprehended.[13]

On 3 January 2015, twenty Portland police officers were sent to the former home of Grace Lynn. She stated this was the culmination of four months of online harassment from GamerGate supporters after she stopped supporting them,[14][15] though The Verge reported that the swatting was likely the work of trolls unaffiliated with GamerGate.[16] Lynn said that she was alerted to the incident because she had proactively checked for on-line harassment daily, and she had defused the situation by contacting police.[17]

On 15 January 2015 in Sentinel, Oklahoma, Washita County dispatchers received 911 calls from someone who identified himself as Dallas Horton and told dispatchers he had placed a bomb in a local preschool. Washita County Sheriff's Deputies and Sentinel Police Chief Louis Ross made forced entry into Horton's residence. Ross, who was wearing a bulletproof vest, was shot several times by Horton. Further investigation revealed that the calls did not originate from the home and led Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation agents to believe Horton was unaware that it was law enforcement officers making entry. James Edward Holly confessed to investigators that he made the calls with two "nonfunctioning" phones because he was angry with Horton. [18]

Techniques[edit]

Caller ID spoofing, social engineering, TTY, prank calls and phone phreaking techniques may be variously combined. 911 systems (including telephony and human operators) have been tricked by calls placed from cities hundreds of miles away or even from other countries.[19] The caller typically places a 911 call using a spoofed phone number with the goal of tricking emergency authorities into responding to an address with a SWAT team to an emergency that doesn't exist.

Government response[edit]

CNN interviewed political commentator Erick Erickson to discuss an incident in which he had been the victim of swatting. A caller to 911 gave Erickson's address as his own and claimed:

I just shot my wife, so.... I don't think I could come down there.... She's dead, now.... I'm looking at her.... I'm going to shoot someone else, soon.

—911 caller[20]

That incident prompted Florida's 24th congressional district Representative Sandy Adams to push for a Justice Department investigation.[21]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Don’t Make the Call: The New Phenomenon of ‘Swatting’". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 4 February 2008. 
  2. ^ Matthew Weigman Guilty Plea Press Release, U.S. Department of Justice, 29 January 2009, retrieved 10 July 2009
  3. ^ Blind Hacker Sentenced to 11 Years in Prison, Kevin Poulsen, Wired News, 29 June 2009, retrieved 10 July 2009
  4. ^ "Diddy the latest swatting prank". 3 News NZ. 
  5. ^ a b Jeff Black, Staff Writer, NBC News, 11 September 2013, California governor signs bill to crack down on celebrity 'swatting', Accessed 11 September 2013
  6. ^ http://www.dailybreeze.com/general-news/20130419/sen-ted-lieu-author-of-anti-swatting-bill-becomes-a-swatting-victim
  7. ^ "FBI — Canadian Law Enforcement Officers Arrest Canadian Resident Suspected in Series of ‘Swatting’ Incidents Throughout North America". Federal Bureau of Investigation. 
  8. ^ Kehler, Therese (5 August 2014). "'Swatting' leads to 60 charges against Ottawa boy". Ottawa Citizen. 
  9. ^ http://krebsonsecurity.com/2014/05/teen-arrested-for-30-swattings-bomb-threats/
  10. ^ "Suburban Denver ‘swatting’ incident caught on gamer’s camera". New York Daily News. 27 August 2014. 
  11. ^ "'Minecraft' CraftBukkit Mod Developer Becomes Victim of Swatting". 
  12. ^ "Video game developer, police run afoul of "swatting" hoax". 
  13. ^ a b c Brian Crecente (7 November 2014). "Destiny developer startled awake by police, sheriff's helicopter after faked 911 call". polygon.com. Vox Media Group. Retrieved 7 November 2014. 
  14. ^ Silverstein, Jason (4 January 2015). "'I am afraid for my safety': California woman has 20 police sent to former home in Portland as part of Gamergate harassment campaign". Daily News (New York). 
  15. ^ "Gamergate: Woman blames online harassers for hoax that sent 20 Portland cops to her former home". OregonLive.com. 
  16. ^ Robertson, Adi (4 January 2015). "'About 20' police officers sent to Gamergate critic's former home after fake hostage threat". The Verge. Retrieved 5 January 2015. 
  17. ^ "Prank call sends close to 20 police officers to Southwest Portland home". OregonLive.com. 
  18. ^ "Court document reveals more about Sentinel, OK, bomb threat". NewsOK.com. 22 January 2015. Retrieved 16 February 2015. 
  19. ^ Prentice, George (13 April 2013). "UPDATE: Meridian Teen Charged With Conspiracy With Australian Youth To Make Bomb Threats To Schools, Businesses | citydesk". Boiseweekly.com. Retrieved 6 September 2013. 
  20. ^ Shirek, Jon. "9-1-1 hoax snares conservative blogger". WXIA-TV Atlanta, Pacific and Southern Company, Inc. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 
  21. ^ "PICKET: FLA Congresswoman leads 85 member effort demanding Swat-ting investigation from DOJ". Washington Times. 10 June 2012. Retrieved 11 June 2012. 

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