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FBI Warns of Swatting Attacks Targeting Residents With Camera and Voice-Capable Smart Devices

January 4, 2021

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned 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 offenders have been using stolen e-mail passwords to access smart devices with cameras and voice capabilities and carry out swatting attacks.

What is Swatting?

Swatting is a term used to describe a hoax call made to emergency services, typically reporting an immediate threat to human life, to draw a response from law enforcement and the S.W.A.T. team to a specific location. Confusion on the part of homeowners or responding officers has resulted in health-related or violent consequences and pulls limited resources away from valid emergencies.

Swatting may be motivated by revenge, used as a form of harassment, or used as a prank, but it is a serious crime that may have potentially deadly consequences.

Offenders often use spoofing technology to anonymize their own 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.

How is this version of Swatting carried out?

Recently, offenders have been using victims’ smart devices, including video and audio capable home surveillance devices, to carry out swatting attacks. To gain access to the smart devices, offenders are likely taking advantage of customers who re-use their email passwords for their smart device. The offenders use stolen email passwords to log into the smart device and hijack features, including the 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 offender 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.

The FBI is working with private sector partners who manufacture smart devices to advise customers about the scheme and how to avoid being victimized. The FBI is also working to alert law enforcement first responders to this threat so they may respond accordingly.

Protection and Defense

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

  • Because offenders are using stolen email passwords to access smart devices, users should practice 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 on a regular basis.
  • Users should enable two-factor authentication for their online accounts and on all devices accessible through an internet connection in order to reduce the chance a criminal could access their devices.
    • It is highly recommended that the user's second factor for two-factor or multi-factor authentication be a mobile device number and not a secondary e-mail account

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