Tag Archives: Swatting

Swatting is on the Rise

Swatting, the very illegal and sometimes deadly practice of making a prank call to 911 in attempt to get SWAT police to storm a building is apparently on the rise.  The premise is often that someone is holding a hostage or threatening to murder someone which puts the cops in a no win situation.  If they don’t treat it seriously and someone is being threatened they get in trouble.  If they do treat it seriously and it is a fake, the police can do a lot of damage and, in some cases, kill people.  That happened recently when the victim, who it turns out was not even the person who was supposed to be SWATted came out of his house when the police arrived and the police shot and killed him.  The guy who did it was caught and prosecuted and is serving 20 years at least.

One of the challenges is that the police in almost every city in the country are NOT trained to figure out which 911 calls are real and which ones are hoaxes.  In the case of the Kansas man above who was killed, the caller was smart enough to evade the 911 call recording and tracking mechanisms by calling the non-emergency police number.

According to the NY Times, this is a problem on both coasts with police being called to multiple executives homes over the last few months.

Corporate security at some tech companies are working on dealing with the threat, but we should remember that the police in Kansas went to the “wrong” house (it was the house they were told to go to, but it was not the house the SWATter wanted them to go to).

Seattle is the only city in the country where the police have created a high risk register where executives can register their family members so the cops can attempt to reach someone to try and figure out if it is a hoax or not.

We don’t really know how frequent this is happening because unless things go horribly wrong, the police try and keep things quiet.  In addition, the victims also don’t talk about it because that would only bring attention to them.

Information for this post came from CNet.

Recent SWATting events include one in Victorville that ended well when the cops figured out it was a fake and another one in Washington that targeted the author of a book.

SWATting has been around for years;  the FBI even put out an alert in 2013, but the frequency has been increasing enough that it is a threat to public safety.

 

 

The Swatters have Moved on to the Next Thing

Swatting is the practice of phoning in fake 911 calls about life threatening situations and having SWAT respond to random houses, scaring the crap out of the occupants and often times doing thousands of dollars of damage, which the municipality has to pay for using tax dollars.

Earlier this year a gamer swatted what he thought was another gamer that he was upset with, but he had the wrong address and when SWAT arrived, they shot and killed the homeowner.  The officers did not face any charges and 25 year old Tyler Barriss pleaded guilty and will be sentenced to at least 20 years in jail.

Not satisfied at making small amounts of chaos and killing small numbers of innocent people, authorities today were faced with hundreds of bomb threat emails directed at schools, businesses and government buildings.   While no one was killed by police responding today, a large amount of police resources were wasted and police were likely diverted from responding to other incidents.

Some police departments, like New York, treated the bomb threats as hoaxes, but that could backfire badly if next time any of the bombs are real.

Some buildings were evacuated like city hall in Aurora, Illinois, the News & Observer in Raleigh, North Carolina, a suburban Atlanta courthouse and businesses in Detroit.

In the Denver area, Columbine High School, the site of one of the first mass school shootings (in 1999) and the genesis of a total shift in police response tactics to active shooter incidents, went into lockdown as sheriffs and bomb squad techs looked for bombs.  That bomb threat was phoned in rather than sent by email.

Today’s events will likely give swatters more ideas and put police in more no win situations.

The FBI has mobilized a national investigation.

As a target of a swatting incident, the best advice is to remain calm and do as instructed by the police.  Let them sort it out and deal with the fallout later.  Since the police have no way to know if the threat is real and who the “bad guys” are, they, unfortunately, sometimes make mistakes.

In this case, building owners, in cooperation with police, sheriffs and other law enforcement agencies had to make decisions.  Those decisions, if wrong, have the potential for catastrophic consequences.  

It is interesting that different law enforcement agencies had different responses – from evacuation to shelter in place to ignoring the threat completely. 

Since swatting has been around for several years and continues to be a problem for law enforcement, I suspect that this new version of mass swatting will continue that trend.

Police are not saying if they think today’s events are the work of one person or group of people or many, but I doubt that even if they arrest and prosecute a few people that it will discourage other crazies from trying it.

What is unprecedented in today’s activities is the scale – going from coast to coast and encompassing schools, religious institutions, government buildings and private businesses – over a hundred in all.

It seems likely that if this becomes popular that it is inevitable that people will die in the chaos.

Unfortunately, there is not much that you can do preemptively to avoid these situations.  In the case of the Kansas man who was shot and killed by police, the emergency call was eventually traced to a phone in Los Angeles, but that took days to figure out.  When police get a 911 call, they have to react in seconds.

It is likely that police and sheriff’s dispatchers are looking at options after today, but I do not see many good options.

Information for this post came from the AP and The FBI.

 

 

Kansas Man Killed by Police in Swatting Prank

UPDATE: A 25 year Los Angeles resident, Tyler Barriss, has been arrested by police.  Barriss has served time in California for making threats.  As a repeat offender and possibly being charged by both state and federal authorities, this idiot’s game is likely “game over” for the rest of his life.

Swatting, the practice of calling in a fake 911 call telling police that there is a kidnapping in progress or man with a gun has become all too common over the last few years.

This week an unarmed man was shot by police who had been told by the prankster that the man had shot his father and was holding his mother and brother hostage.

The man later died at a local hospital.

The practice of swatting has become too popular – hundreds of cases a year.  My guess is that Wichita being a relatively small city (under 400,000) probably has not had to deal with this issue.  SWAT in all but the very largest cities is under-trained and unfortunately,  can wind up in situations like this.  While the officer has been suspended, it is very unlikely that he will face any disciplinary action.  In the mean time, the family is left to deal with this crisis.

In this case the gamer who initiated the prank basically admitted it on Twitter just before he changed his Twitter handle.  I assume the police have his identity and IP addresses or will very soon (I assume Twitter will cooperate fully – having customers die because of something that happened on their platform is very bad for business).

The prankster admitted to the prank but disavowed responsibility in a tweet after the man was shot – see below.

Krebs on Security was able to capture several weeks worth of tweets and in a direct message conversation, the man admitted to making money doing this and also fake bomb threats.  I am sure that Brian will be turning over those messages along with the DM conversation that he had with the prankster to investigators.

This is one of those situations where the police have a wealth of information regarding the person who committed this crime.  In another case of swatting, a man in Maryland is facing 20 years in prison.

The issue here, is, besides that someone died needlessly, that there is no security in the 911 system or in Caller ID.  Both were designed decades ago with zero thought to security.    The odds of this problem being fixed any time soon (it would cost billions to fix) are about zero.

The best we can hope to do is educate the police.  And train them.  I hate to say this, but it appears that the officer who shot the man panicked.  The man never produced a gun and never pointed anything, apparently, at the police.  He was unarmed according to the Wichita Police Chief.

With regard to the guy who phoned in the false report – I hope he rots in jail for a very long time.  I have zero sympathy for him.

Whether the family of the dead man sues the police department is unknown, but if I were taking bets, I predict the City of Wichita will be writing a settlement check with a lot of zeros to make this go away.  Taxpayer dollars at work as most cities are self insured.  As an example, Denver, Colorado has written checks to the tune of tens of millions of dollars over the wrongful actions of police over the last few years.

Information for this post came from Krebs on Security.