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Swatting Goes Into Politics — as Congresswoman Greene Discovered

Swatting — calling the police and pretending that a violent incident is taking place at a given address — can kill the victim

This has been a summer to remember for U.S. Congresswoman Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia). She was “swatted” twice.

Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Georgia)

The first false report that brought the police to her home was Wednesday, August 23:

According to the first Rome PD report, five officers responded to a call on Wednesday during the initial attempted swatting. The caller claimed that a man had been “shot five times in a bathtub” at Greene’s home, and there was a woman and possibly children still in potential danger.

On the way to Greene’s house, police realized who the homeowner was, but “due to the nature of the call,” police “formed up” at a nearby intersection and made a “tactical approach.” Rome PD provided Ars with no further details about the approach.

Because they suspected the call might possibly have been a hoax, they decided to ring Greene’s doorbell. The doorbell woke her, and she took a few minutes to answer. Police waited for her to answer the door and did not attempt to forcefully enter the residence.

When Greene answered, she confirmed the hoax and asked police to search the residence to do a wellness check for her safety.

Ashley Belanger, “Two swatting attempts on Marjorie Taylor Greene used bog-standard tech” at Ars Technica (August 25, 2022)

The caller’s identity would not prove easy to track because a synthetic voice was used.

And then, the very next night:

The 911 dispatch for Rome/Floyd County then “received a second call from the suspect who was using a computer generated voice stating that he/she was upset about Mrs. Greene’s political view on transgender youth rights,” Burnett said.

Melissa Alonso, “Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene again targeted in ‘swatting’ incident, police say” at CNN (August 25, 2022)

Yes, swatting — calling the police and pretending that a violent incident is taking place at a given address — can kill the victim. It killed Andrew Thomas Finch, 28, of Wichita, Kansas, in 2017. It’s pretty scary even if it doesn’t kill:

HERCULES — Two days after Christmas, police officers raced to a house in this quiet suburb after receiving a call from a distraught young man saying he heard gunshots, his mother scream and that he was hiding in his closet.

“They’re coming! They’re coming!” he whispered to a dispatcher, before a scream was heard and the call went dead, according to Hercules police and dispatch records.

Unbeknownst to Hercules and Pinole police as they drew their rifles on a confused and scared family, the call was made up, a textbook example of the troubling trend of “swatting,” where someone calls 911 to report a dire situation occurring at another address, ostensibly to exact revenge on someone, or simply to prank unsuspecting citizens or celebrities. The next day, Dec. 28, a stunningly similar swatting call led to the death of an innocent Kansas man, Andrew Finch.

Matthias Gaffni, “East Bay family furious after ‘swatting’ incident from fake 911 call” at Mercury News (January 5, 2018)

Tyler Barriss of Los Angeles, California, is serving a twenty-year sentence for the fatal Wichita swat.

Update: Former White House strategist Steve Bannon’s Washington D.C. home was apparently swatted Thursday night for a second time this summer. (Fox News, September 1, 2022)

New technologies make swatting easier in several ways. Rapid connectivity allows the swatter to quickly summon a firestorm on an unsuspecting target, using computer-generated voices, etc., to conceal identity.

Although the offence is called swatting, the emergency services responders may not be — technically — a SWAT (Special Weapons and Tactics) team. But they are usually armed and trained to respond to violent confrontations. The victim, who has no idea what is happening, risks responding in such a way as to get shot, either with real bullets or rubber ones (which can cause serious injuries).

CloudFlare, which specializes in addressing internet- and AI-based threats, offers some thoughts on swatting and swat prevention:

Swatting is often hard for law enforcement to address, since many swatters use sophisticated techniques to hide their identity. Swatters disguise themselves using techniques like caller ID spoofing, where they utilize software to make it appear as though they are a local caller when they could be anywhere in the world.

What is swatting? How to prevent swatting” at CloudFlare

It started in the frenzied computer gaming world but has since affected celebrities like Miley Cyrus (twice), Rihanna, and Justin Bieber, among others. Then there was journalist Brian Krebs:

Brian Krebs, a journalist who specializes in reporting on cyber security and exposing cybercriminals, has been swatted multiple times by attackers around the world, including one particularly nefarious attack where a hacker arranged to have heroin delivered to Krebs’ home right before the police response team arrive in an attempt to frame him for drug charges. Several of the swatters who targeted Krebs have since been arrested on cyber crime charges.

The targeting of Congresswoman Greene’s house could signal a move by swatters into political territory. She was lucky that police recognized her address and proceeded with caution. Probably, in future, first responders will continue to show caution when evaluating anonymous claims about mayhem at the home of a well-publicized figure. But it remains a risk for ordinary people who are much less likely to be written up — unless they are killed.

Seattle police respond to a swatting call

You may also wish to read: The true cause of cybersecurity failure and how to fix it. Hint: The cause and fix are not what you think. David A. Kruger, a member of the Forbes Technology Council, says it’s getting worse: We’re in a hole so stop digging! Get back to root cause analysis.

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Swatting Goes Into Politics — as Congresswoman Greene Discovered