Security Reporter Raided By SWAT Team After Someone Put In A Bogus 911 Call

from the hazards-of-the-job dept

Brian Krebs is a phenomenal online security reporter who’s been deeply involved in many stories concerning underground hacking issues, from spam to credit carding and many other such issues. As someone who explores that world, he’s been subject to various attacks, including regular DDoS attacks on his website (he now works with a company that helps protect against such attacks). However, things got taken to another level yesterday. First, that anti-DDoS company, Prolexic, received a forged letter, pretending to come from the FBI, asking it to stop hosting the site. Then, something much bigger happened. As Krebs was getting ready for a small dinner party at his house, he walked out his front door and discovered a bunch of police officers with guns pointed at him. He’d been “swatted,” — the term for tricking a SWAT team into raiding a house based on bogus info.

“As soon as I open the front door, I hear this guy yelling at me, behind a squad car, pointing a pistol at me saying: ‘Don’t move. Put your hands up,'” Krebs, who is a long-time friend and colleague, told me. “The first thing I said was: ‘You’ve got to be kidding me.'”

In all, there were at least a dozen officers with pistols, shotguns, and assault rifles pointed at him. They had police dogs circling his house and cruisers had sealed off a nearby street. Krebs, who was dressed in just gym shorts and a T-shirt, complied. Wisely.

“Two different guys were barking orders at me,” he continued. “I finally said: ‘Which way should I go?'” One officer told Krebs to lie on the ground, but before he could comply the other cop ordered Krebs to walk backwards. Eventually, “they put the cuffs on me and took me up the street. I was freezing the whole time.”

Someone had made a call to the police, pretending to be Krebs, and claiming that “he was hiding in a closet after Russian thieves had broken into his home and shot his wife.” And the police sent the SWAT team.

Why? Krebs suspects it was a response to a an article he had just posted, which highlighted a Russian website that was used to get easy and cheap access to credit reports (one interesting tidbit, is that he suggests that people are abusing the federally mandated free AnnualCreditReport.com site, which was supposed to reduce identify fraud, but may actually be enabling much more of it). Krebs figures that the people behind that site weren’t too happy about the exposure, and tried to send him a message.

Of course, if law enforcement officials weren’t so eager to rush in with a SWAT team, such issues might have been avoided as well. In fact, Krebs notes that he warned his local police agency of the possibility of such a thing happening about six months ago, but apparently no one bothered to check on that bit of info until later.

After about five minutes in custody, Krebs explained that he was the victim of a monstrous crime known as swatting. One of the officers asked if Krebs was the person who had filed a report a few months earlier. When Krebs replied yes, the officers did a quick search of his home. With preparations for a dinner party clearly on display, it quickly became apparent that Krebs’ home was not a crime scene and that the call was part of a fiendish plot. An officer told him later that they had tried calling him before he opened his front door but no one had answered the phone.

As Krebs notes, these are situations where it makes little sense for local law enforcement to rush into these things where they may not understand what’s going on.

Often local police are left to investigate, even when the perpetrators may be half a world away. He wants that to change. “Your local police department, the ones that are responding to these distress calls, they don’t have the bandwidth,” he said. “This is an area where federal law enforcement needs to be coordinating investigations. I’d like to see some sort of recognition or statement from federal law enforcement that this is something they’re actively investigating.”

Of course, I’m not sure how well that would have worked in this case, since the caller suggested it was a local crime issue. Still, hopefully Krebs’ situation raises some questions about the eagerness to send in the SWAT team, though given just how common bogus SWAT team raids have become, it seems doubtful that yet another example of a bogus raid will lead to any real change.

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Comments on “Security Reporter Raided By SWAT Team After Someone Put In A Bogus 911 Call”

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31 Comments
Anonymous Coward says:

I believe the pranksters are actually helping the police in this instance, since eventually they will need to do something about it to actually get it right.

Hint: Making it illegal will not stop those things from happening, since the people doing it can coordinate those pranks with people outside the country.

Anonymous Coward says:

/

Serves Mr. Krebs right for writing about hacking. Surely he is involved in some shady stuff.

He clearly does not respect authority and did not do what the officers told him. They should have taken him out right there, no questions asked.

Doesn’t he know we are at war right now? Cyber War is the biggest threat ever, bro.

Lock him up.

Violated (profile) says:

So what

I can’t see the SWAT team did anything wrong in this beyond a little confusion in the suspect apprehension. The Police are charged with investigating possible crimes and sure that may lead to the occasional false arrest or detainment.

Better a case like this then some intruder shooting up his family with the Police doing nothing when he said previously they should just ignore such things.

So now they only need to find who did the prank call and to charge them with wasting Police time.

John Fenderson (profile) says:

Re: So what

I agree that the SWAT team itself appeared to act correctly.

However, a system that sends a SWAT team to a residence on the basis of only a phone call is a system that is broken. Deploying a SWAT team is a major act of aggression, and it should be done cautiously.

So now they only need to find who did the prank call and to charge them with wasting Police time.

No, charge them with filing a false report. I don’t think “wasting Police time” is the harm that came out of this. It’s the deployment of defacto military force against an innocent citizen that is the harm.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: So what

With the advent of VoIP, it’s been quite easy to fake the calling number and caller id. Tracking down the source of the call means using CALEA records and subpoenas to get access to the phone records from the switch provider. If the soft switch is located in country X, it’s going to be a very long battle to get the records. Doing all of this before a dispatch, well that doesn’t sound feasible.

Best bet, as suggested before, would be to call in local police to scope out the situation before sending in the SWAT to bash down doors.

DataShade (profile) says:

Of course, I’m not sure how well that would have worked in this case, since the caller suggested it was a local crime issue.

Mike, I think the point Krebs is trying to make is that, right now, if someone files a false report with the police, it’s the local police that investigates. For “swatting” it should be passed up the line to federal authorities – especially since if it’s done through VOIP or international phone systems it’s going to be outside the reach of a local police force. (Also: since swatting is eventually going to get somebody killed, we might as well start tracking known swatters on a national level.)

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