Swatting is a harassment method where people call law enforcement to an area with false information. The caller elicits a SWAT response by indicating a violent emergency. The name of this technique comes from false alarming SWAT teams.
Swatting can lead to death for both police officers and targets of harassment.
What Are The Aims Of Swatting?
Swatters, a name for those participating in the activity, often believe this is a harmless joke. However, perpetrators can expect extensive prison sentences in response to this crime.
On the other hand, there are malevolent swatters too. These people try to gather personal data about their targets by using social engineering and doxing tactics.
How Swatting Happens
Basically, swatting is an act of disturbing people. In order to swat someone, their physical address needs to be known. When the physical address is known, swatters make a fake call to emergency services. Generally, they pretend like a victim at the specific address and ask for help. Since these people have acting skills, they are able to make authorities believe that they are actually in danger. As a result, the address is visited by law enforcement. You can imagine how bothering is getting visited by police officers for no reason.
Below, we will provide some tips and tricks you can use to protect yourself against swatting. We will also provide you information on whether you fall into a high-risk swatting category.
Six Tips To Protect Yourself From Swatting
#1: Do not Overshare Personal Details
We all live in an oversharing society. It is a dangerous habit to follow, regardless of most of this oversharing coming from excitement.
Many social media users have no problem sharing unnecessary information with the web. Commonly, this includes the following:
Even if you do not share all of this information with the public, you share it with your preferred social media provider. Given that data leaks occur, it is common for this information to be on darknet databases.
Photos can also contain an unreal amount of metadata, including location data and photograph time. With this, dutiful hackers can quickly pinpoint where you live and call in a 911 emergency.
Control the level of information you provide to social sites. Provide your city at the most, but ideally, limit this to the state. Avoid feeding your address or financial information in almost all cases. There is nothing you need to buy using social media.
When sharing photos, be sure you have settings ready to remove metadata. Uncheck location data in your smartphone camera settings:
Better yet, delete your social media pages and stop sharing with the web. If you don’t use these platforms much, there is no reason to keep them.
#2: Remove Sensitive Information From the Web
So you’ve decided against oversharing information from the web. However, dutiful hackers and pranksters might not give up so easily.
At this point, it is time for you to perform a personal security audit. This process includes keeping a list of all the accounts you’ve ever had, removing personal data from each of them.
For example, you might have an old Facebook profile you no longer use.
This profile is an excellent way to expose yourself to the internet. Most because it contains details like the following:
Your current (or former) address
This data isn’t limited to social media; there are likely numerous websites you’ve forgotten about that contain old personal information. Hackers use this information to steal data from you.
With enough work using that data, they can pinpoint your location. So removing it is a must to remain secure online.
You can also use anonymous social sites. Here are a few examples:
Alongside changing your password and tracking leaks, having multiple methods to verify your identity can help. Setting up two-factor authentication (2FA) enables you to set up a localized device to verify your identity. So if someone manages to get your password in a data leak, users will need your device to access online accounts.
Numerous large corporations like Google and Microsoft have authenticators.
Alternatively, you can set up your phone number to receive texts. However, there are cases and apps where accessing your Google (or Apple) account can reveal text codes.
Having multiple forms of authentication (MFA) is your best bet. So, set up your text, authenticators, and email authentication across all boards. If the service you want to use does not offer MFA options, you might have second thoughts about using them.
#5: Use a VPN
Regardless of your best efforts, your traffic and connection logs can leave a breadcrumb trail for industrious hackers. Those who want your information can take it from the sites you use that might not have the high-security standards you do.
For more protection, consider implementing a VPN to encrypt your data. Encryption scrambles your connection and traffic logs to leave nothing behind for hackers. So even if they were to use social manipulation on customer service agents to get access to your accounts, they would have no data from which to do it with.
Download FastVPN to ensure you get military-grade encryption on your device. Combine this with all the factors on this list, and you will have a pretty secure online identity.
#6: Join an Anti-Swatting Agency
If you fear that you are a swatting target, offenders will go to extreme lengths to get things done. In this case, you can report this to your local PD to address your concerns.
Multiple police forces have established an anti-swatting agency to note at-risk targets. This notation will inform swat teams from entering your home before tragedy happens; it gives them a second to reconsider before arriving at your home.
Seattle is one of the first cities to establish an official agency to submit this information. While most local PDs have yet to join, there is no harm in identifying yourself as a target.
Who are The High-Risk Victims of Swatting?
While anyone can be a target, many swatting victims fall into one of four categories:
Online Gamers and Live Streamers
Online gaming communities and live streamers are the biggest targets of swatting. They are huge targets because “pranksters” see their results immediately.
There are numerous cases of Twitch streamers having a target on their back by online bullies. It often leaves them shaken and injured.
Here are a video of some Twitch Streamers getting swatted.
Notable target celebrities like Justin Bieber and Rihanna have been targeted by swatters before. In one famous example, a 12-year old was sentenced to two years in juvenile detention for swatting Ashton Kutcher ad Justin Bieber.
For these people, just existing in high-profile careers turns them into a target.
Regardless of what side of the fence you are on, you can become a target. Conservative bloggers like Patrick Frey and BLM (Black Lives Matter) leaders like Melina Abdullah have been swatting victims.
Those who introduced anti-swatting legislation have also been targets. These targets are likely to dissuade people from fighting illegal activity.
Journalists reporting on the news in “unwanted ways” have also been swatting targets. Regardless of what political ideals you hold, “pranking” them in this matter is not acceptable.
In 2020, the CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, was swatted from an online attacker who called in a fake hostage situation. Other tech executives have been targets of this activity.
Regardless, it is clear that high-profile individuals are often the target of swatting. Typically, swatting happens in cases where someone disagrees with the position or stance of the victim. Otherwise, some kids do it because they see it as a prank, not understanding the consequences.
Who Does The Swatting?
Swatters typically fall in one of four groups:
Pranksters. Kids (or adults) who call in false reports out of humor.
Politically motivated groups. Some swatters include politically motivated individuals who use fear tactics to dissuade people from performing politically motivated actions.
Online gaming community members. Members of online gaming communities, particularly live streaming communities, use data to swat gamers for personal reasons.
People with a grudge. Swatting can happen to anyone with enough information and a grudge to settle.
Modern swatters often are tech-savvy individuals who have enough knowledge to hide. These people use proxies, VPNs, and anonymous services to hide their IP and location.
They often use free, online, anonymous calling services to make the call. Some might even go as far as to use a voice mask to conceal their identity.
Sometimes, swatters are hired by people using anonymous payments via bitcoin. You can find illegal hackers and services like this through enough browsing on the dark web.
How Do Swatters Gather Information?
Swatters gather information through the following practices:
Personal knowledge. Often, swatters include people that have intimate knowledge of the victim. Friends and family members cannot be ruled out in cases where swatting has occurred. The first question to victims often includes people angry or frustrated with them.
Public knowledge. Phone books and yellow pages still contain information on local addresses. You might still be listed in your local yellow pages if you have a LAN line. This is an easy method for people to swat others with little effort.
Hacking (doxing). It is less common for people to hijack accounts for swatting. Often, swatters use easily accessible public information. Hacking is more common with people stealing credit card details. Still, you can hack your way into finding someone’s address. Doxing is what happens when a hacker posts this information publicly.
Normal conversation. Livestreamers and gamers often have discussions about where they live and work. This typical conversation has a nefarious background purpose. Whether you do it one-on-one or to thousands of people, be careful about what you say.
Social engineering. Typically, social engineers target banks and use various techniques to get customer agents to share this information unwittingly. Often, they make multiple calls to get customer data, including addresses.
Background details. Even in scenarios where you don’t share this information, be careful where your facecam is pointed. Background details might reveal more than you might know, including windows to the neighborhood that others might be familiar with.
Social media. Facebook and Instagram both love you to share photos of where you frequent. They also like you to share details about your city, eventually giving people an idea of how to pinpoint you.
What Do the Police Do To Prevent Swatting?
Police officers have a few ways to prevent this from happening. The one tool in their arsenal is knowledge. If you believe you are at risk of swatting, report your concerns to the local PD.
Suggest the idea of establishing an anti-swatting registry. You can also reach out to politicians, live streamers, political journalists, and other people who are likely to be victims.
There is power in numbers by trying and sticking with local people. At this time, there is no collective online solution for handling swatting beyond harsh punishments.
Conclusion – Can Swatting Affect Me?
Unless you are an influencer, politician, political journalist, or activist, you are not likely to be affected. Most regular people have nothing to fear, but jaded friends can do crazy things if desperate. So while it isn’t expected, it isn’t impossible.
Regardless, following many of the tips above are good examples of online security. So be careful what you put out there. While your enemies might not swat you, someone could steal your information.
To ensure you are 100% secure while online, download FastVPN. A VPN is only one aspect of online security, but protecting your history and data is vital to remain safe online.