FBI Warns Smart Devices Are Being Hacked to Live-Stream 'Swatting' Incidents

Picture this: You're at home with your family, minding your business and enjoying the day when suddenly a gaggle of officers decked out in riot gear swarm your property for reasons unknown. Nothing requiring police assistance has happened at your home or in your neighborhood, and you certainly didn't contact authorities for anything. So why on Earth are people in uniform, brandishing weapons there? Only adding to the horror, the whole event is being watched by strangers online via live stream.

According to the FBI, that's an instance more than a few Americans have experienced in recent times as pranksters have developed an appetite for live-streaming so-called swatting incidents—instances in which FBI describes as "a hoax call are 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."

The department issued a warning on Tuesday notifying Americans of an increase of swatting attacks targeting people with smart home devices. According to the FBI, pranksters have been hacking into residents' smart devices then contact law enforcement to report fake crimes at the victims' homes.

"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," the FBI said in a statement.

The agency noted that offenders were using "stolen email passwords to log into the smart device and hijack features, including the live-stream camera and device speakers." In some instances, hackers were even live-streaming the event on "shared online community platforms," the FBI added.

Manufacturers have already been notified about the uptick in hacking, and the FBI said it was working with local law enforcement to help advise units on the proper way to respond to the threat.

FBI Warns Smart Devices Are Being Hacked
A weatherproof outdoor Nest home surveillance camera from Google Inc has been installed in a smart home in San Ramon, California, August 21, 2018. According to the FBI, pranksters have been hacking into residents' smart devices then contact law enforcement to report fake crimes at the victims' homes. Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Image

Swatting has been an issue in America for the past two decades, and it can come with some serious repercussions. Making fake emergency calls can come with misdemeanor or felony charges depending on the state. However, the crime came with a minimum 20-year prison sentence for one "serial swatter" whose hoax 911 call resulted in the death of another man.

Los Angeles resident Tyler Rai Barriss was sentenced to 20 to 25 years in federal prison on 51 charges pertaining to spoof emergency calls, including one false report he made to authorities in Witchita, Kansas, in December 2017. On the call, Barriss claimed to have shot and killed his father and said he was holding his family hostage.

Officers arrived to the home of 28-year-old Andrew Finch. When the father of two stepped outside his home, he was fatally shot by an officer under the impression that Finch was reaching for a weapon.