Swatting cyber awareness

“How could this happen to me? What is going on? How is this even possible? Why me out of everyone else? Where did they get it from?” These are the questions one would ask when they are a victim of “swatting.”

Swatting is widely known by the gaming community but isn’t limited to gaming. It has caused significant financial burden, unnecessary fear, and unfortunate deaths. Swatting is the action or practice of making a hoax call to the emergency services in an attempt to bring about the dispatch of a large number of armed police officers to a particular address. Most commonly known by gamers and streamers, but doxing is, “the act of obtaining and broadcasting the address and details of an individual with intent to harass or endanger them,” and is linked to swatting. Techniques used to deceive local authorities are caller ID spoofing, social engineering, TTY (teletypewriter), prank calls, and phone breaking techniques. Swatters can obtain information through IP addresses, unsecure Wi-Fi, live streams, phishing, website spoofing, click-jacking, etc.

In 2014 there was a notorious swatter from Canada that went by the name “Obnoxious.” He would surf the website Twitch, which is a platform where you can watch people play video games, and find his victims. Over time he would continually harass his victims online, and even called in bomb threats on schools of some. Oftentimes he would do something simple like a Distributed Denial of Service attack which essentially slows your internet connection to a crawl by overloading your network with authentication requests.

This is still illegal, but relatively harmless in the end. When Obnoxious focused his attention on someone, he would sent the full force of a SWAT team to their home to prevent a fictitious crime from happening. In reality the person getting swatted is just playing a video game doing nothing wrong. The individual known as Obnoxious was later arrested and identified as a 16-year-old boy that was charged with 46 counts of criminal harassment, public mischief, and extorsion. He was found guilty of 23 of these charges. He was released from prison in March 2017 after he turned 18.

In some cases, this has proven to cause serious physical harm. On Jan. 15, 2015 in Oklahoma, dispatchers received a 911 call from James Edward Holly who posed as Dallas Horton and told the dispatchers that he had placed a bomb in a local preschool. The local and county police departments forced entry into the real Mr. Horton’s home where he thought his home was being broken into where he shot an officer, not knowing what was going on. Upon further investigation the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation became aware that the calls did not originate from Mr. Horton’s home. Later on, James Edward Holly came forward to confess to the investigators that he was the one that made the calls because he was angry with Horton. Holly was arrested on a complaint of making a false bomb threat, and it is unclear whether or not Horton will face charges for shooting an officer.

All this is pretty scary, and rightfully so. How can you protect yourself from these swatting attempts? Many cities now have a program that you can opt-into a registry where it will gather your information and inform officers to be cautious if they receive a threatening call from that phone number. Other laws that were passed made the originating caller responsible for the damages that were caused by the police force entering the home and anything that happens inside the house. A cheaper way to protect yourself is by using a Virtual Private Network. That way when someone tries to get your location from your IP address it will tell the hacker that you are in a different location than you actually are. Another simple and effective way to minimize your exposure online, not only in the video game world but also in all of your internet usage, is to never share your personal information. All of these steps are very simple yet highly effective ways to ensure that you and your family are being #CyberSafe!

In conclusion, swatting can happen to anyone at any time and can be emotionally and physically damaging for the victim. Using these simple practices is a safe and cheap deterrent against the threat. Don’t be a victim due to negligence. The cost of protecting your network is nothing compared to the cost of losing a loved one or damages to your home. Secure and protect your home network, research your vulnerabilities, defend your home, and enjoy a safe cyber environment.

Always be sure to Own IT. Secure IT. Protect IT.