Sydney teen arrested as hacking hoaxster sends SWAT team to his house

Filed Under: Featured, Security threats

SWAT team image courtesy of ShutterstockA teenager from Sydney, Australia, was arrested on Wednesday morning after a hoax message led 20 police officers in bulletproof vests to an address in the suburb of Arncliffe.

Having been told that residents were tied up inside the home, and that shots had been fired, the officers swooped on the address at 4.40 am.

Mathew McGrath, 18, surrendered immediately and was taken to Kogarah police station where he was questioned and subsequently released without charge, having told officers that he did not make the prank call.

It now appears that McGrath may have fallen victim to a form of hoax known as 'swatting' in which a prankster attempts to convince law enforcement that a major incident is occuring at another person's address.

Unlike the hoaxes of yesteryear, a swatter tends to take advantage of modern technology, using methods such as hacking into a victim's computer and using it to make a call to police via Skype or similar, or using a program to send out a spoof text message from the victims' phone.

Local police officers certainly seem to believe that could be a possibility in the case of McGrath, whose three computers and mobile phone have been taken in for forensic examination. A spokesperson for the local force said:

At this stage of inquiries the matter is being investigated as a public mischief incident.

This incident is believed to be the first of its kind in Australia but swatting is no stranger to the US, which has seen many high-profile celebrities targeted recently.

In 2013, SWAT teams turned up at the homes of Justin Bieber, Chris Brown, Sean Combs, Tom Cruise, Miley Cyrus and Clint Eastwood, to name but a few.

But, as Mathew McGrath now knows, it is not just famous actors and singers that attract the attention of hackers and crazies. Last year security journalist Brian Krebs was also targeted.

While the majority of swatting calls are made to exact revenge or 'for fun', the consequences for all involved are potentially dire, said Kevin Kolby, an assistant special agent with the FBI:

It's only a matter of time before somebody gets seriously injured as a result of one of these incidents.

There have already been close calls. A police officer was injured in a car accident during an emergency response that turned out to be a swatting incident, and some unsuspecting victims - caught off guard when SWAT teams suddenly arrived on their doorstep - have suffered mild heart attacks.

It can also only be a matter of time before a US home owner with a fondness for the Second Amendment becomes overly startled by a large number of people smashing through their door in the middle of the night.

Image of SWAT team courtesy of Shutterstock.

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12 Responses to Sydney teen arrested as hacking hoaxster sends SWAT team to his house

  1. Andy · 143 days ago

    "It can also only be a matter of time before a US home owner with a fondness for the Second Amendment becomes overly startled by a large number of people smashing through their door in the middle of the night."

    Wow, way to insult 80,000,000 U.S. gun owners. You're woefully clueless about how swatting attacks are carried out in the U.S. and how police respond to the call. We don't just show up and start kicking in doors, that's not how it works. We never did it that way and we never will. Oh wait, an IT cop is reading this blog...

    You should do some research into the TTY system in the U.S. and why it's ripe for abuse by swatters. Hacked Skype accounts have little to nothing to do with swatting since skype does not conform to the E911 standards

  2. Sarge · 143 days ago

    I own firearms strictly for self-protection. I know how to use them, but I'm not trigger happy. And I do not have "a fondness for the Second Amendment". I don't recognize that the state has any moral right to "grant" me any freedoms or rights. I have a natural right to defend myself and my family by meeting lethal force with equal force, where necessary. But I take responsibility for that right, and I use my judgment.

    I'm not sure why it's useful to drag the Second Amendment into this. Judging by the behavior of some cops (but thankfully, not most of them), it's just as likely that a "suspicious move" or failure of a hearing-impaired or otherwise disabled homeowner to instantly comply with a SWAT team's orders could result in serious injury or fatality, through no fault of his/her own.

    Anyhow, I get your point, and I don't disagree with it. I don't doubt that there are BOTH gun owners AND police who are just itching for an excuse to let loose with some hot lead. Swatting is a problem waiting to turn into a disaster.

  3. Milbot · 143 days ago

    You mean "sends TOU to his house" in the title, yeah? We don't have SWAT in Australia.

    I know you've probably used the word SWAT to fit in with the term swatting, but as an Australian reader it is annoying to have our specialists called something they're not.

    Also, general duties police would have likely turned up first only calling the TOU in if there was a hostage situation or the suspect refused to surrender, but please don't let facts get in the way of a sensationalised story.

  4. ChuckuFarley · 143 days ago

    Really, Naked Security? You just had to attack gun owners in this piece? I thought your reporters were better than this pedantic tactic. Lee Munson, stay with reporting security issues. Stay out of politics, it's a good way to turn off readers in a hurry.

    • Beenchuckedtoomanytimes · 142 days ago

      Hah Hah he said reporters....... These are bloggers my good man, bloggers, not reporters.

  5. Foxpup · 143 days ago

    "It can also only be a matter of time before a US home owner with a fondness for the Second Amendment becomes overly startled by a large number of people smashing through their door in the middle of the night."

    Too late.

    "In December of last year, members of the Burleson County, Texas SWAT team executed a pre-dawn, no-knock warrant by breaking through the door of Henry Goedrich Magee’s mobile home. Believing criminals to have broken in, Magee picked up a rifle positioned near his bedroom door and fired, killing county Sheriff’s Deputy Adam Sowders. ...the Grand Jury refused to indict Magee for capital murder, deciding there was not enough evidence to prove that Magee knew the intruders to be police officers."

  6. Snow Spotter · 142 days ago

    Rather than arresting these idiots and then having a lengthy court battle which leads to them getting acquitted owing to their age, give them something they would remember without putting them through a trial. Something like a full body frisking including a cavity search and have their equipment confiscated and wiped clean before returning it back to them. This will make them think twice before trying to pull of a stunt. I know the suggestion is controversial but there needs to be something done for all those who mimic the law of the land by being under age.

  7. Mick · 142 days ago

    I couldn't see any 'attack' on US gun owners on this page; I think you are being a little over-sensitive and jumping to conclusions. I don't see a problem with a well-balanced person owning a gun or even having a cellar full of automatic weapons, so long as they are in fact well-balanced, and not the type who are overly sensitive, jump to conclusions and are not paranoid. Thankfully, none of the 80,000,000 gun owners in the US fall into these categories.

  8. 1776 · 142 days ago

    "It can also only be a matter of time before a US home owner with a fondness for the Second Amendment becomes overly startled by a large number of people smashing through their door in the middle of the night."

    Without fondness for the 2nd, you sir, will lose your 1st.

    • ejhonda · 142 days ago

      Slippery slope much? But then again, it seems most US gun owners are more about that loss of misinterpreted 2nd amendment right than the loss of life.

      • Stace · 141 days ago

        As a gun owner, I say you're wrong since I am very concerned about loss of life: mine and my families. If someone busts in my house, yea you'll be met by a gun. I'm five foot tall and a 110 lbs, a gun evens up the odds for me.

  9. Jim · 142 days ago

    I'll agree that the firearms issue really didn't need to be in this article. On the other hand, even as a card-carrying NRA member, I understand there's a HUGE danger with these "pranks".

    Anytime you have a dozen people with loaded and safety-off guns descend on a location, there's a very real risk of serious problems. The fact that the peace officers are extremely well-trained is probably the only thing that's kept some victim from being shot.

    The opposite side of the coin is that the homeowner could end up shooting or attacking a peace officer (and probably wind up dead as a result).

    It's a powderkeg with a short fuse and sparks all over the place. And all because of a "prank"? Throw the book at the prankster, and make sure news of it is plastered all over the media. It's GOT to stop.

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About the author

Lee Munson is the founder of Security FAQs, a social media manager with BH Consulting and a blogger with a huge passion for information security.