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Swatting: Roots, Implications
 and Ways to Combat

Swatting: Roots, Implications and Ways to Combat

Posted by Albert Stepanyan

Albert Stepanyan

President and CEO at Scylla AI

The digital age has brought about numerous advancements in technology, including the growth of online gaming communities. However, it has also seen the rise of malicious activities such as hacking and swatting. Both have roots in the gaming world but have evolved, affecting individuals and communities beyond gamers. In this article, let’s delve into the implications of swatting, exploring how innovative technologies can help combat the issue, enabling to mitigate risks and facilitate swift and effective communication with law enforcement and on-site personnel.

Hacking and swatting within gaming communities

Hacking, in the context of gaming, initially referred to the modification of hardware or software to achieve outcomes not intended by the original developers. This included creating cheats, mods, or bypassing system restrictions. What started as a hobby or a way to extend the capabilities of games evolved into more malicious activities like stealing in-game items or currency, and even compromising accounts to steal personal information. That has led to creating a lack of trust and fairness in competitive play and made developers and gaming platforms invest heavily in security measures to protect users.

Swatting involves making a hoax call to emergency services, typically reporting a serious but fabricated incident, with the intention of having a SWAT team dispatched to a particular address. This dangerous prank originated within the online gaming community. The practice of swatting can be traced back to the mid-2000s, where disputes within online games led to individuals seeking revenge by swatting their opponents.

The anonymous nature of online gaming platforms plays a crucial role in facilitating swatting. Players who hide behind screen names and avatars often feel emboldened to engage in behavior they wouldn't consider in real life, including harassment and threats. This anonymity makes it difficult for authorities to quickly trace the origin of swatting calls, further complicating efforts to combat the issue.

TOP swatting incidents in the history of online gaming

On December 28, 2017, a fatal swatting incident occurred in Wichita, Kansas, United States. During an online dispute between Casey Viner and Shane Gaskill regarding the video game Call of Duty: WWII.

Jordan Mathewson (2014): Popular YouTuber "Kootra" was swatted during a live stream of his gaming session.

Fortnite World Cup Champion Bugha (2019): Swatting targeted Kyle "Bugha" Giersdorf, the winner of the Fortnite World Cup, during a live stream.

Daniel “Keemstar” Keem (2015): Swatting targeted the popular YouTuber and host of "DramaAlert" during one of his live streams.

Streamer House (2018): A swatting incident occurred at the Streamer House, a residence where several Twitch streamers lived.

Joshua Peters (2014): Swatting targeted Joshua Peters, a Twitch streamer, during one of his broadcasts.

Jake Paul (2018): YouTuber and social media personality Jake Paul was swatted at his Team 10 house in Los Angeles.

TwitchCon (2018): Swatting threats were made against TwitchCon, a convention for Twitch streamers and their communities.

MrBeast (2019): Swatting targeted Jimmy "MrBeast" Donaldson, a popular YouTuber known for his philanthropic activities, during a charity livestream.

The implications of swatting

Each swatting incident can cost anywhere from $10,000 to $100,000, depending on the scale of the response and resources utilized, such as police units, SWAT teams, and bomb squads. Collectively, these incidents accumulate millions of dollars in annual expenses, not only from direct deployment costs but also from broader economic repercussions, including resource diversion from genuine emergencies. Furthermore, swatting imposes financial burdens on the legal system, necessitating costly court proceedings, investigations, and potential incarceration expenses. Indirect costs, such as psychological trauma to victims and erosion of public trust in emergency services, further contribute to the overall economic strain caused by swatting, highlighting the multifaceted impacts of this malicious activity.

More importantly, swatting diverts critical emergency response resources away from legitimate emergencies. For example, a single swatting call can engage 20 to 30 law enforcement officers, including specialized units such as SWAT teams, for several hours. At the same time, the skepticism or hesitation caused by frequent false alarms could potentially delay emergency responses to actual crises, indirectly contributing to higher morbidity and mortality rates in other incidents.

We can’t but mention the negative impact of swatting on public. Communities affected by swatting incidents report increased levels of anxiety and fear, affecting the overall sense of security. This can indirectly influence local businesses, school attendance, and community activities.

Combating swatting

Swatting presents a multifaceted challenge with wide-ranging implications for public safety, the integrity of emergency services, and financial resources. The direct and indirect costs associated with these incidents highlight the need for comprehensive strategies to prevent swatting, including legal, technological, and community-based approaches.

Identifying a swatting call

Recognizing the indicators of a swatting call can be crucial for dispatchers and receptionists to prevent unnecessary panic and risk. Here are nine simple signs that a call might be a swatting attempt:

1. The uniqueness of the Call: It is often the only call reporting an extreme emergency like an active shooter, which is unusual since such incidents typically generate multiple calls to 911. 2. Caller ID Anomalies: The incoming phone number may appear spoofed, blocked, or otherwise incorrect, raising immediate suspicions. 3. Choice of Line: The call comes through a non-emergency or non-recorded line, which is not standard protocol for genuine emergencies. 4. Inconsistencies: There's a noticeable discrepancy between the caller's tone, the background noise, and the severity of the reported situation. 5. Lack of Specific Details: The caller struggles to provide basic details such as their full name, phone number, or exact location. They might rely on generic descriptions of locations easily found online. 6. Pronunciation Errors: Mispronouncing local city, street, or building names can be a giveaway, especially if the caller has a thick accent, suggesting they're not from the area. 7. Weapon Terminology: Swatters might use specific names or terms for weapons that sound more like they're from a video game than real life, such as referring to an "AR-15 assault rifle." 8. Background Sounds: Sounds of gunshots or explosions that seem inconsistent or artificially inserted into the call's background. 9. Threatening Claims: The caller might claim to be armed, suicidal, or willing to engage law enforcement, aiming to escalate the perceived threat level.

Awareness and training on these indicators can help dispatch and reception personnel more effectively assess the credibility of emergency calls, potentially averting the dangerous consequences of a swatting incident.

A fusion of cybersecurity and physical threat detection

In the fight against swatting, an effective defense strategy necessitates a blend of cybersecurity measures and physical threat detection technologies. This holistic approach leverages the strengths of cutting-edge Cyber tools in harmony with visual weapon detection AI to provide Law Enforcement with critical information. This synergy helps in discerning real threats from hoaxes, thereby preventing unwarranted responses to swatting calls.

AI-powered visual weapon detection stands at the forefront of our integrated defense mechanism against swatting. Utilizing advanced deep learning algorithms, this technology rapidly scans surveillance camera feeds, promptly detecting weapons of different types, including knives, and triggering instant alerts to security teams or law enforcement, so that they can swiftly respond to legitimate threats. Through continuous learning, the AI algorithm refines its ability to accurately differentiate between real weapons and harmless objects, reducing false alarms and enhancing overall accuracy.

Parallel to physical threat detection, Cybersecurity technologies form the digital bulwark against swatting. First, make sure that all communications are encrypted. That will substantially reduce the risk of malicious actors intercepting sensitive information. Robust encryption methods will also protect stored personal information from being harvested and exploited by swatters. Stringent access controls and authentication procedures are critical to prevent unauthorized individuals from gaining access to critical data.

By integrating these technologies, a formidable defense mechanism emerges that not only protects against digital incursions but also mitigates physical threats associated with swatting.

Final Takeaway

This dual-layered defense is increasingly vital in today’s landscape, where the boundaries between virtual and physical safety are blurred. Through ongoing innovation and the collaborative effort of cybersecurity professionals and law enforcement agencies, we aim to significantly diminish the menace of swatting. This collaborative approach ensures a safer environment by equipping law enforcement with the necessary insights to differentiate between genuine and hoax calls, ultimately enhancing response efficiency and public safety.

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