News & Announcements

February 22, 2021

A Cybercrime That Can Damage Your House and Property

Controlling smart home devices using a digital tablet with launched application. Smart home concept

The pandemic is affecting homeowners with a revival of a pernicious cybercrime called swatting. Whether bored teenagers or sophisticated cybercriminals looking for a kick, the FBI has recorded an uptick in swatting crimes across the country.

What is Swatting?

Swatting is not a new crime, but it has taken on a leering quality in the past few years. Swatting is calling in a kidnapping or hostage report to local police resulting in the deployment of a SWAT team to someone’s home or business. The first recorded case occurred in 2005 when someone called in a hostage situation to police in Wichita, Kansas.

In recent years, cybercriminals have been using homeowners’ smart devices, including audio and video-capable surveillance devices, to carry out swatting attacks while watching the live stream and even engaging with the responding police through the camera and speakers. They have used smart lock access to open doors, disabled cameras to hide evidence of tampering, and turn on and off smart lights to indicate movement inside the home.

In recent years, and particularly during the pandemic, swatting incidents have been live-streamed online with advance notice given by the prankster on where and how the event will occur.

What You Can Do

The FBI is working with device manufacturers like Ring and SimpliSafe to better educate consumers on what steps they should take to protect their homes, personal belongings, and lives. The FBI has said it is also working with local law enforcement and first responders to help them identify similar hoaxes and handle them appropriately.

We continue to encourage all of our members to protect their homes with security systems. They can provide invaluable evidence in the event of a break-in or storm damage and provide peace-of-mind that only a Rottweiler might match.

If you have a smart camera, audio system, doorbell, or even smart refrigerators, TVs, or thermostats (as these can provide access to your network), make sure you change the manufacturer’s default password as soon as the device is installed. Make sure the new password is complex, and use two-factor authentication whenever possible.

At Mutual Assurance, we use a service called Dashlane for generating complex passwords and keeping them secured in its system. With this app, you don’t have to remember every password and it will be populated whenever you sign in from your computer, phone, or tablet. It will also work across all of your devices. For a comprehensive review of Dashlane and other password generators, click here.

Don’t Think It Can’t Happen To You?

It might seem a remote possibility to most of us, but even some of the finest homes and families in Virginia have been targeted.

In 2020, an Alexandria, Virginia student at ODU called in bombing and shooting threats on random individuals, as part of a neo-Nazi group effort to intimidate and draw extreme law enforcement responses to wreak havoc on emergency response units. In keeping with the times, links to live and recorded videos of the swatting attacks were simultaneously posted online.

In 2016, two teenagers in the Southampton neighborhood of Richmond, VA called in a hostage situation at a neighbor’s home. This resulted in a one-hour, weapons drawn “stand-off” between the police and the teens’ friend who was waiting, terrified, in his home for one of his parents to come home from work.

A few years ago, an online security journalist was cleaning his Virginia home in preparation for a small dinner party when he noticed some plastic tape stuck under his front door. Pulling up the tape, he opened the front door and suddenly heard a yell. “Don’t move! Put your hands in the air!” There were around 10 to 12 police officers surrounding his driveway, guns drawn.

Homeowners insurance will cover any damage from these sorts of false criminal reports, yet the danger to victims outweighs any threat of property loss. Cybercriminals are getting more clever and resourceful by the minute. Protect yourself by being smarter and limiting access to your smart cameras, doorbells, and other devices.

Other posts on topic:

Smishing, Vishing, and Phishing – Don’t Become a Victim
The Pandemic Has Increased Ransomware Attacks