Avoiding swatting - a guide

One of the first notable instances of the type of trolling known as “swatting” happened in 2015. Its victim was a gamer based in Minnesota and the event was so viral that it turned the practice into a dangerous trend. Since then, numerous other instances have happened both in the USA and in the rest of the world. Even today, it seems like swatting, as dangerous as it can be, is still highly popular.

So, what is swatting exactly? How can others find your personal information, and how to prevent this situation from happening? Let's find out.

What is swatting?

Swatting is a form of harassment with the goal of getting an emergency law enforcement response against a victim. Usually, this is done by calling 911 and reporting some fake emergency - a kidnapping, a robbery, or something similar. It must be severe enough to dispatch one or more emergency teams to the victim's address.

The first instance related to swatting happened in 2008, according to the FBI. A California man called the emergency number, gave an address, and reported a murder. A SWAT team arrived to the scene and the situation became quite intense, but there were no casualties – this time. Soon after, the man who had made the 911 call got arrested.

How does swatting happen?

Swatting is impossible without having some sort of personal information. Ideally, this is a physical address or some detail that would allow authorities to easily determine the address. Here are a few ways someone can get that sort of information:

  • Searching the web. Sometimes all it takes is to run a search query to find the victim's address and real name.
  • Getting to your IP address: every time you connect to the web, you get a unique IP address. You'll be surprised to know that you don't need to be a hacker to find someone's IP, which then leads to your physical location data as well.
  • Getting geo-location via metadata: to be able to live-stream, you need to have a camera. And the majority of today's popular camera models encode geo-location. This information is typically read by software capable of creating albums based on specific events or places. Well, this information is also exposed when you live-stream as there's no re-encoding involved.
  • Advanced hacking methods: lastly, someone can find your personal information by planting malware into your computer. Hackers can create phishing emails with attractive offers, making you click on a link that usually takes you to a bogus website. This is where your private information can be picked up from.

Having obtained your personal info, the prakster can use IP spoofing services to call 911. This would make it seem like they’re calling from your area and also obscure who they actually are. And this is how a SWAT team can show up at your house.

Who risks becoming a victim of swatting?

As we entered the era of fast web connections and live-streaming, numerous individuals unknowingly exposed their private information online.

Among those, there's a large group of gamers who broadcast online and get interrupted in the middle by a SWAT team entering their home. But that also includes celebrities like Rihanna or Justin Bieber and virtually anyone who has enough personal information available on the web.

However, there’s plenty you can do to protect yourself from becoming a victim of a swatting prank and help put an end to this dangerous trolling activity.

How to protect yourself from swatting: 4 tips

Swatting is dangerous, but there are many ways to protect yourself and your data. Here are a few important tips.

1. Use a good VPN service

Plenty of information is being transmitted every time you connect to the web. And your real-time location can easily pop up when you live-stream. To prevent this information from appearing on the internet, we recommend using a VPN service.

VPNs route all your online traffic through a remote server, disguising your IP address, and thus also you real location. Since the IP address can often be a dead giveaway of where you’re located, using a VPN is a good anti-swatting tactic. 

While there are many great VPN providers to choose from, you can't miss by choosing NordVPN – the safest of them all.

2. Careful what data you have on your social media

Everyone uses social media now and this is one of the easiest ways for hackers and cybercriminals to get the info they need to send a SWAT team to your house.

Take a good look at your online profiles and remove the information you’ve exposed about yourself. 

3. Secure your online accounts

Making sure you don’t have too much data lying around is an important step, but you should also make sure a hacker won’t be able to get into your account by guessing your password. By logging into one of your account, a hacker would have many ways to get the info he or she needs to swat you.

A good way to secure your online accounts is by using 2-factor authentication (2FA), which is offered by all major online services these days. This technique allows you to have an additional security layer when logging in, disabling numerous hacking attempts in the process.

4. Be smart when live streaming online

Lastly, you need to be aware of everything you say online – especially during live streaming. Remember that real people are watching your stream, and they can even record it. Therefore, be aware of your surroundings. Remove anything that might point to your physical location, including your address and also the name of the city you live in.

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