Earlier this month, a crowd of 30 gamers having fun at a PlayStation tournament in a New Jersey video game shop suddenly found themselves handcuffed, staring at shotguns and machine guns, and being told by law enforcement to
Shut the F up and get the F down and don't be F-ing stupid.
That was one of a string of recent swatting incidents in New Jersey that’s spurred a lawmaker to propose stiffening the penalties for the crime.
As of this weekend, Assemblyman Paul Moriarty, sponsor of the anti-swatting bill that would increase penalties for the crime, has first-hand experience of it.
On Saturday, Moriarty was ordered out of his house to find himself facing guns and cops in flak jackets.
Moriarty told NJ.com that he was at home, working on his tax return, when he got a call from police dispatch, asking if everything was OK at his house.
He said everything was fine and asked why they were concerned. That’s when the caller told him that police had received a report of a shooting at his house.
Then, the dispatcher asked Moriarty to describe what he was wearing and to step outside.
This is what happened next, he told NJ.com:
I look out my front door. There's six cop cars. They have the street closed off. They have helmets, flak jackets and rifles. I walk out and walk towards them. They motion me to keep walking towards them. The minute I walked out the door, I was still on the phone with the dispatch person, I said 'I think I've just been swatted.' It just then occurred to me what happened.
Swatting is the practice of making bogus emergency calls, as a prank or as revenge, with the hopes of getting armed law enforcement or other emergency responders to descend on a victim.
Its origins are in prank calls to emergency services, but in the past few years swatting has become more embedded in the gamer community, with critics of GamerGate, gamers who live-stream on Twitch.TV, and others falling victim.
Moriarty’s bill, introduced in November, would increase penalties for “false public alarm” – also known as swatting – by upgrading the crime from third degree to second degree, boosting the current 3-5 years potential prison time to 5-10 years, and increasing the fine to a maximum of $150,000.
Following the video game store swatting, Moriarty told NJ.com that the penalties for this crime have got to be strengthened:
Under current law, somebody could end up only serving probation. If you are calling out the SWAT team, and they show up, guns blazing, at some innocent person's home, and they end up having to break the door down, I think you should go to jail for that. You're putting lots of people in danger.
Now, he’s thinking that whoever sent the cops to his door must have been inspired by reading his words:
I'm thinking someone read about the bill and some sick, evil person thought it would be funny to send the police to my house on one of these false reports.
He’s not the first person to try to fight swatting via legislation, and he’s not the first such legislator to get swatted himself.
California State Senator Ted Lieu, who was swatted in 2011, sponsored a law that would enable authorities to require perpetrators to bear the “full cost” of emergency services response, which can range up to $10,000.
Image of SWAT team (4131372991) by Oregon Department of Transportation – SWAT team.Uploaded by Smallman12q. Licensed under CC BY 2.0 via Wikimedia Commons.
18 comments on “US lawmaker who’s pushing anti-swatting bill gets swatted”
What is missing from this story is the follow-up by the police afterwards. It shouldn’t be hard to track-down the responsible party… so what happened?
It’s not all that easy to track down those responsible. Callers typically spoof their caller IDs. The call could have come from hundreds of miles away, or even from another country. If it were easy to track them down, we’d see a lot less of the crime!
Take, for example, the 16-year-old who allegedly swatted security journalist Brian Krebs. It took over a year—14 months—to track him down, and even that was facilitated by the kid having taunted Krebs online and not covering his tracks. https://nakedsecurity.sophos.com/2014/05/13/16-year-old-canadian-boy-arrested-for-over-30-swattings-bomb-threats/
So hang tight. If the person responsible for swatting Moriarty brags about it in some venue, and does so in a way that leaves clues as to his/her identity, that would help law enforcement quite a bit. We’ll likely report on it when/if they do track him/her down, with or without such shabby opsec.
Stay tuned! But don’t hold your breath!
Is there an easy way (in SOME cases) to determine if it’s a false alarm?:
Keep the perpetrator on the phone by stringing out the conversation.
At the same time, have another person call the number the swatter is apparently calling from. If it’s a real call, 911 will get one of these:
a busy signal,
voicemail (overflow from the person who is calling),
a PBX or receptionist overflow, or
the other call will experience an interruption.
If none of those happen, it’s likely a spoofed number.
It’s about as easy as tracking down hackers, which means it is very difficult. These incidents can sometimes be initiated by people living in foreign countries, using spoofed IPs and originating phone numbers, hiding behind anonymizers/TOR/compromised computers, etc. They usually aren’t stupid.
I believe that the person found responsible should be sent to jail. If the SWAT team should happen to bust in the door, and the home owner is armed and responds thinking it is a home invasion and is killed that person IS responsible for the death of that home owner! Send them to jail and or charge them with murder.
Except it’s more common for the Swatter to call in from over seas.
what do people get really hurt about. Their pocketbook. The fine should be the cost of sending out the swat team, and punitive damages.(not the full tripling, maybe doubling)
We’re missing it, folks! Swatting will continue until the grossly over-the-top militaristic response by law enforcement is demanded to be stopped. The swatters are pushing the buttons of little boys with dangerous toys. Any new laws should make it a criminal offense for a law enforcement unit not to follow proper protocol when responding to an unsubstantiated call.
The punishment for this crime could be higher, however that is only going to be a deterrent for the minority of people. Anybody putting in what is really a minimal amount of effort can easily hide their identity from being caught, they know it is easy to hide and that the authorities don’t have the skills/budget to track them down. Increasing the resources for police to track down online swatters, trolls and bullies would have the biggest impact on stopping these crimes.
This was handled much better than the Twich.tv incident. I replied on that article, that raising the penalty isn’t the answer… and I still believe that to be true.
It may be part of the answer and I don’t disagree with increasing the penalty for committing this crime.
This is a multi-layered problem which should be tackled from several angles.
1) Increasing the penalty. This adds a deterrent for those who may be “on-the-fence” about committing such a crime. It also removes the guilty, as a threat to society, for a longer period of time.
2) Police training/reaction. Contacting the victim/target separate from the emergency call goes a long way here.
3) Educate the masses. How to respond if the police do contact you.
-*Police* – “Sir/Maam, is everything ok?”
-*Victim/target* – “I didn’t order a pizza!
If no answer or suspicious: treat as a threat
(lame example, but it is just to illustrate a point)
It isn’t 100%.. nothing ever will be (hey, even the Minority Report was fallible!)
You can’t place the burden on the criminal alone. That is to say, you can’t expect someone, who is intent on committing a crime, to not commit a crime just because the penalty is higher. They aren’t expecting to get caught anyway.
You can’t place the burden on the Police. They are going into an unknown situation, with potentially fatal consequences for making the wrong decision.
You can’t blame the victim/target. They don’t know until the door gets bashed in (or in this case, a phone call).
I am willing to put money on the fact that Mr. Moriarty got a phone call because of his public visibility and probable interactions with local government.
If it was John T. Smith, local garbage man.. this story may have unfolded differently.
Therein lies… What can be done?
For me? Not much. I’m not in the public eye, in any way. I’m just a Cyber Guy.
For someone broadcasting on YouTube, Twitch, Vine, or persons like Mr. Moriarty? Can’t they set up a registry with the local PD? Would that not be beneficial to both parties (especially), as well as everyone within the taxed area? (Because SOMEONE pays for emergency response.. and the taxpayers foot that bill, one way or another)
Sort of like:
Potential reason for being SWATed:
Online Persona: (Must provide proof)
Again, not 100%, but like security in general, it is a form of defense in depth.
There is no simple solution.. I mean.. we could let them install security cams to monitor the inside of our homes right? And then we deal with potential leaks/hacks, misuse/abuse, blah blah blah…
I’m nowhere near having the_right_ answer. I’m not sure there is one.. aside from choosing not to commit a crime in the first place. I strongly feel that this issue needs to be tackled from more than one direction, for the safety of the public, police, and victims (be it of SWATing or a true crime in progress).
You have to give them credit for the fact that the Assemblyman Paul Moriarty’s last name is the Arch Rival in a lot of Sherlock Holmes Adventures! lol
I just thought I’d bring a little humor to the terrible actions that the SWAT teams and Police inflict when following up on these responsible parties. Yes the responsible should be given some form of punishment.
Unbelievable that it’s so easy to trigger a militarised police response. The problem isn’t the act of swatting. The problem is the prevalence of SWAT teams, and their ask-no-questions, let’s-roll attitude.
The SWAT team is given orders, not the full picture. The responsibility here seems to lie with dispatch. No caller ID or foreign number is about as easy as a tip-off gets that the call’s a fake.
Apparently the dispatchers are the only people who still pick up blocked or foreign calls. Which is fine, but come on, a simple challenge question about that peculiarity should be the first order of business before sending in police with military equipment on no-knock raids.
Unfortunately the phone system is so non-secure that it’s trivial to spoof any source number you want.
The entire system is supposed to be protected but once inside the gates the assumption is that everyone is trustworthy. That means that once a hacker has gotten inside the global telephony system anywhere, they can pretty much act with impunity.
Given that not even the people who operate the systems are trustworthy.
There have been a number of billing scams uncovered where rogue telcos hijacked unassigned numbering ranges belonging to foreign countries and put sex lines on them – usually in collusion with one or more telcos in other locations around the world.
There’s no crosschecking of source data, so faking the origin of calls (Not just CLI, but also the ANI billing data) is trivial too. SWATters use a number of services to take advantage of the holes in the systems.
The blame for allowing this lies with the telcos. The terminating telco gets 1/3 of call revenue (on average). The originating telco bills the caller (or supposed caller) and locking down security would cost more than paying people off when fraud is uncovered – but how many people noisily dispute massive bills for calls made to sex lines when the threat is implied of publicity for doing so?
We seem to be in a nightmare scenario here — the combination of this so-called “prank”, plus the wave of apparent over-reactions (fatal shootings) we’ve seen from some police forces over the last year or two, scares the s**t out of me.
Hopefully we’ll see this legislation passed … I agree with Rusty, above, that it needs taken much more seriously. Ideally, I’d like to see things develop to the point where prosecutors can invoke “judicial notice” (i.e., acceptance as fact by the court without the need for proof) that swatting inherently includes willful intent to attempt to kill, with appropriate penalties.
I want to know why it’s so easy to get a SWAT team at someones door? They should be required to put a bit more research into where they “SWAT” before they do so. You know, As an industry that understands the pain of False Positives we should really be pushing for the reform of Police strategy and not the making the hard to catch bad guys get bigger sentence.
What a waste of tax payer money, How much does it cost to mobilize a SWAT Team to somewhere?
Gotta at least be in the thousands.
Ugh, Is common sense used anywhere anymore?
Actually, it’s because they have to. SWAT teams are protected by armor, etc. They’re only called in when the nature of the call indicates that it’s a life-threatening situation. For example, an armed husband beating up his wife or terrorism situation.
In the days before SWAT teams existed, local beat cops would answer these calls, and they were considered the most dangerous kinds of calls. THAT is what SWAT teams are for: to defuse dangerous situations, using people specifically trained at making those kinds of decisions.
I don’t like that we have to have military-style police, but I don’t see any alternative.
SWATting is attempted murder by proxy. Pure and simple.
It should be investigated and prosecuted as such.
USA Police overreaction is another issue, but the effect can be the same anywhere in the world, even Merrie England.