An Overview of Swatting
Picture this; you’re having a relaxed Sunday and are planning a family day out. Suddenly, your doorbell rang. When you open the door, you find an armed SWAT team ready to take action.
This is what swatting looks like in real life.
Theoretically, the swatting definition refers to a harassment and pranking technique, mostly planned by the gaming community members. When they plan a swatting incident, they make a call or drop an email to emergency services reporting a fake incident/problem.
The prank is so well fabricated that professionals will find it real and provide assistance immediately.
Personal making such bogus calls are known as swatters. While swatters find swatting calls as a fun element, it might end up in a disaster, such as emergency services being available where they are needed badly.
History has records of when law enforcement services have shot an innocent just because of a swatting call. In recent years, there is a sudden spike in swatting incidents in and around the US. This is why strict measures have been imposed on swatters.
What Methods Can Be Used for Swatting?
Swatters are cunning and use multiple methods to plan a swatting attack. Next, we will delve deeper into the dark world of swatting and discusses the various methods that swatters use very often.
Perhaps the most widely used swatting technique is hacking, wherein swatters try to hack the victim’s phone number or email ID to steal the identity or report an emergency. With hacking, swatters become successful in making a forged call look real.
It is hackers’ first choice to fool victims as they plan a cyber-attack. It’s also used for swatting.
In this process, multiple methods are used to acquire confidential data. They act like legitimate sources or individuals to lure the victims. The most common example of social engineering is sending emails with text like ‘complete KYC to continue using banking services’ or ‘click here to use your contact number’.
The technique aims to panic the target so that s/he take instant action and link on malicious codes or links. As the victim does that, cyberpunks steal crucial information.
It involves disguising a communication source and modifying it and making it look like it belongs to a different source. Mostly, swatters use VoIP services to hide the original location as these phone numbers are not linked to any specified location.
How Does Swatting Work?
The primary action that happens to plan a swatting act is to gain access to personal data. To make it happen, here is how a swatter moves ahead.
- Access to location services
Swatters exploit the location service access that most internet users allow to their devices to learn about the location details of the target. With location services, swatter learns about the address details of the target.
Doxing or Document Tracing and hackers use this process to obtain leaked personal data about the victim. Swatters use it to find their target. With doxing, it’s easy to find out social media details, available banking details, and public demographic data.
Swatters track the IP address of the victim to learn about their personal stuff and even their online behavior. They try to learn about the devices their victim uses and the way he communicates over the internet.
Swatters make people’s habit of overusing information over social media work in their favor.
- Attack on Melina Abdullah
LA Police, on a bogus request, surrounded the famous Black Lives Matter activist Melina in August 2020. Later, it was found that a swatter had made a false report.
- Barriss-Finch case
In 2017, Tyler Barriss made a false report against Andrew Finch and claimed that Finch wanted to kill his family. As a result, emergency services killed Finch.
Have a look at some key swatting statistics.
- FBI report confirms that swatting incidents are on the rise. In 2018, nearly 3,000 cases were reported.
- Celebrities remain the prime target of this attack. Notable figures like Miley Cyrus, Justin Bieber, and Ashton Kutcher have been its victims.
- Dealing with swatting calls is a costly affair as its dispersal can cost several thousand dollars.
What Happens to Swatters? Consequences
Depending upon the jurisdiction and the seriousness of the swatting, swatters might have to face serious consequences that include:
- Criminal charges against the swatter
As it involves false reporting that further leads to unnecessary engagement emergencies and law enforcement services, swatters are charged with criminal offenses such as cyberstalking and harassment.
- Social condemnation
One indirect consequence of swatting is social outcast and humiliation. In many cases, pranksters even end up losing employment.
- Paying off compensation
If the victim is badly injured or has faced any property damage because of a swatting incident, the swatter will be liable to pay the target compensation. The amount is decided after considering multiple factors.
How to Prevent Swatting?
Sweating calls are more than a simple prank. They can cause harm to society and nations. Hence, its prevention and control are the priority. Let’s discuss a few viable preventive measures that people can adopt at individual levels and control the spread of swatting incidents.
2FA is a smart move to make to control unauthorized access. When two login methods are combined, swatters will find it tough to access a specific database or account illegally.
One can prevent a swatting incident up to a great extent by simply adopting stringent privacy settings. Allow access only to crucial apps, activate notifications when there is a login from unverified devices, set up access privileges, and control the access.
Switch Up Your Passwords
Use strong passwords, and make sure you’re not using one password for many of your accounts. Keep different passwords for different accounts, and update these passwords at regular intervals without fail.
Make sure you’re not forwarding sensitive data to any random person or source. Check the authenticity of the source before you hand over important details. Don’t disclose too much personal data on open social media platforms.
Swatting should be taken seriously, and adopt quality preventive measures to keep it contained. If not controlled, frequent swatting incidents have huge potential to impact the operations of emergency and law enforcement services. Small yet significant efforts like using strong passwords, 2FA, and stringent privacy settings are of great help in failing swatter efforts.