“Swatting” – Are You A Potential Victim?

imageIn both Canada and the United States, calling 911 (999 in the UK), will put the caller in contact with emergency services including – Police – Fire – Ambulance. In fact, where I live, all these services are dispatched in response to a 911 call.

Luckily, even if the call is interrupted, emergency personnel with access to Automatic Number Identification, coupled with an Automatic Location Identification (ALI) database, can still dispatch emergency response units to the location generated by the system.

In other words, the location from which the emergency call originated is known, and not subject to mistake. Or is it?

Imagine opening your front door – only to be greeted by this.


Not very likely to happen to you, you’re thinking. Perhaps not – but it does happen to innocent victims and, more to the point, it’s happening with increased frequency. The culprits?  Evil lowlifes who misuse call spoofing technology.

Phone phreaking has a long history – those of us who’ve been around since the 1970s should remember these hackers and their free long-distance calls hacks. Fast forward to today, and what was once a victimless crime (though not entirely so), has taken on ominous overtones.

Call spoofing (showing a phone number in caller ID, other than the real originating number) in it’s most vicious form – “swatting” – can have potentially lethal consequences. The twisted idea behind swatting is – faking an emergency of such a magnitude that the response from law enforcement is the deployment of a  SWAT team to the location generated by the spoofed phone number.

You can well imagine the chaos such an incidence is sure to cause.

From the FBI website:

Needless to say, these calls are dangerous to first responders and to the victims. The callers often tell tales of hostages about to be executed or bombs about to go off. The community is placed in danger as responders rush to the scene, taking them away from real emergencies. And the officers are placed in danger as unsuspecting residents may try to defend themselves.

I must admit; I’ve been completely out of the loop on this one and, until I read the following two newspaper stories this past week, I had no idea of the potential danger.

Toronto man ‘swatted’ by hacker who summoned police

Hacker’s swatting attack calls police to Langley home

Why did they do it?

According to FBI Assistant Special Agent in Charge Kevin Kolbye:

Individuals did it for the bragging rights and ego, versus any monetary gain. Basically, they did it because they could.

It’s not my intention, in this article, to describe just how easily a phone number can be spoofed – but, I was hardly surprised to see roughly 2 Million Google search results covering this.


It’s an unfortunate fact that laws impacting technology issues are seemingly destined to always be in catch up mode. In my view though, this perversion should be addressed with some senses of urgency.

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Filed under Connected Devices, Cyber Crime, Cyber Criminals, cybercrime, Hackers, Mobile Applications, Software, VOIP

9 responses to ““Swatting” – Are You A Potential Victim?

  1. Bill,
    Great article on a little-known subject. Thanks.

    • Hi Paul,

      Thankfully, this atrocious behavior is not common. But, how long before the mindless copycats get on board?

      Thanks for stopping by. Hope you’re feeling well.



  2. Hey Bill,

    Nice one again to warn your readers,yeah Google always give a number of results but using dork we can refine the results but mostly are crap,sites come and go for this kinda stuff like as if now I only know two sites using which we can spoof calls and sms


  3. Pingback: “Swatting” – Are You A Potential Victim? | Bill Mullins’ Weblog – Tech Thoughts from blog The Technology blog and podcast

  4. A

    Just came around to this subject. I luckily didn’t have the swat team, but at 3 in the morning, I had police knocking at my door and flashlights in my windows. They said it was due to an out of service cell phone with our address.
    Later, we found out that it’s been happening in our city tonight.
    So I must say. this is a pathetic thing to do. if it was just sending police officers to your house, that’s one thing. being alerted by officer bob is not the end of the world. but for the people who were cuffed and had the swat team….oh my! i hope this can all work out.

    • Hi A,

      Being woken by the Police at 3 AM is traumatic in its own right, despite the lack of confrontation. I’m happy to hear you didn’t experience a more distressing set of circumstances.


  5. Crazy stuff, the police have enough on their hands without some moron spoofing a hostage situation.
    Take care