The Perils of “Swatting”

Posted: March 18, 2013 in Policing, Technology & Crime
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What do Ashton Kutcher, Justin Bieber, and Clint Eastwood all have in common? Not much, you say?

Actually, they’ve each been the victim of a dangerous new hacking “prank” called “Swatting.” Hackers call the police – apparently from the target’s phone number – and report a serious crime in progress, such as an armed home invasion. As might be expected, the police respond with overwhelming force in these cases, sometimes using a SWAT team, and kick in the target’s door to investigate.

In one recent Swatting case, journalist Brian Krebs was accosted on his front porch by armed officers, guns drawn, who had been called to the house on report of a burglary in progress. There was no crime occurring, as Krebs had been in the process of preparing for a dinner party, and he hadn’t been the one to call the police in the first place.

It’s not always celebrities or journalists who are the targets, however. There have been a number of incidents around the country targeted at private citizens, including some recent incidents in Elk Grove, California.

The dangers of this phenomenon are obvious, but solutions less so. In the Krebs case above, officers did attempt to call his home number while responding. Had he been able to answer the phone, Krebs might have headed off the whole incident, but even that’s not certain. Swatting is already illegal, but some lawmakers are proposing even stiffer penalties for this particular brand of false reporting.

If you’re a SWAT officer, what are your thoughts on this, and, if you’ve been a victim, what was your experience?

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