FBI warns of Swatting Attacks

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) issued a notice, to warn users of smart home devices with cameras and voice capabilities to use complex, unique passwords and enable two-factor authentication to help protect against “swatting” attacks.

Smart home device manufacturers recently notified law enforcement that criminals have been using stolen e-mail passwords to access smart devices with cameras and voice capabilities and carry out swatting attacks.

What is Swatting Attack?

“Swatting attacks” consist of hoax calls made to emergency services, typically reporting an immediate threat to human life, to trigger an immediate response from law enforcement and the S.W.A.T. team to a specific location.

Unfortunately, the risk for the people associated with these operations is high, due to the confusion on the part of homeowners or responding officers.

In several cases, these actions have effected in health-related or violent consequences and pull limited resources away from valid emergencies.

According to the FBI, Swatting may be motivated by revenge, used as a form of harassment, or used as a prank.

“Offenders often use spoofing technology to anonymize their phone numbers to make it appear to first responders as if the emergency call is coming from the victim’s phone number. This enhances their credibility when communicating with dispatchers”, said the FBI.

How Swatting Attack is carried out?

The threat actors probably takes the advantage of the customer’s who re-use their email passwords for their smart device.

The criminals use stolen email passwords to log into a smart device and hijack features, including live-stream camera and device speakers. They then call emergency services to report a crime at the victims’ residence.

As law enforcement responds to the residence, the criminal watches the live stream footage and engages with the responding police through the camera and speakers. In some cases, the offender also live streams the incident on shared online community platforms.

Protection and Defense

Users of smart home devices with cameras and voice capabilities are advised of the following guidelines to maximize security.

  • Users should practise good cyber hygiene by ensuring they have strong, complex passwords or passphrases for their online accounts, and should not duplicate the use of passwords between different online accounts. Users should update their passwords regularly.
  • Users should enable two-factor authentication for all their online accounts and devices accessible through the internet. The user’s second factor for two-factor authentication should be a mobile number and not a secondary e-mail account.

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