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Hackers using home smart devices for ‘swatting’ attacks: FBI

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In a warning to people who use smart home devices, the US Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has said that offenders are hijacking victims’ smart devices, including video and audio capable home surveillance devices, to carry out “swatting” attacks.

“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 SWAT 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, the FBI said in a statement on Tuesday.

The FBI said it is warning 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,” it elaborated.

“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 anonymise 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,” the FBI said.

To gain access to the smart devices, offenders are likely taking advantage of customers who re-use their email passwords for their smart device.

They 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 said it was working with private sector partners who manufacture smart devices to advise customers about the scheme and how to avoid being victimised.


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