Let's talk about Swatting. The dangerous practice that's part cyber crime, part real crime, and always a terrible idea.
Before the episode starts I want to preface it with a warning that this episode contains some stronger language than normal from audio clips of incidents that are high stress. If that isn't something you'd like to see I suggest you wait to till the next episode.
I like to watch twitch streams. It's not shocking, I know but I just enjoy the interaction I get with the streamer and their audience. Sometimes it's nice background noise to have as well that I can jump in and out of. And every once in a while, I might get a little shoutout from the person I'm watching and that's pretty neat. I don't think about that shoutout much more than a passing glimmer of fun but what if I told you that there are people out there that set out to make the worst impact on the entertainers. The kind of people that aren't happy unless they're causing chaos or harm. It's not a pleasant thought but it's a very really thing that happens. How many news articles have you read about a streamer just going about their work and suddenly the cops bust the door down. Always causing disruption, sometimes causing harm, maybe even causing death.
For the next few months, every other episode I'm going to inject a part of a series based around internet privacy, and how using things like open source intelligence can go a bit down the darker path. We'll talk things like cyber stalkers, doxxers, political campaigns and more. But for today, I'm John Kordis and I'm inviting you to come with me so I can explain to you What the Shell Swatting is and why this "prank" is anything but a good time.
What if I told you that right now, someone might be making a call to the police department of your town? And the only reason they're doing so is to make it seem like you're going ballistic. You might be sitting here wondering, why would someone do that? What did I do to them? Well, in this case it honestly might not matter. You might just be the next in line for what they think are wacky antics, or maybe you wronged them in the past, or hell, maybe even you create content and they're just a fan that wants to have an impact. What they're getting ready to do to you is called Swatting.
So, what exactly is Swatting? In simple terms, it's a malicious act where someone deliberately makes a false emergency call to law enforcement, typically claiming a high-stakes crisis at a targeted location. This could include false reports of armed intruders, hostages, or even bomb threats. The goal is, as I mentoned a minute ago, to trigger an overwhelming response from heavily armed tactical units, commonly known as SWAT teams.
And I want to make it clear, Swatting is not a harmless prank – it is a potentially deadly crime. The unsuspecting victims often find themselves at the center of chaotic situations, with armed officers descending upon their homes or workplaces. Lives are put at risk, and valuable police resources are diverted from real emergencies.
But wait, you may wonder, is Swatting even legal in the United States? The answer is an unequivocal no. Swatting is a criminal offense that carries severe penalties. Perpetrators can be charged with false reporting, conspiracy, and may face additional federal charges due to the impact on public safety and critical infrastructures.
Throughout history, Swatting has plagued countless individuals from various walks of life. We're going to cover today a bit about why a Swatter might do what they do, and how you might think you're safe but you can't always be sure if you're putting yourself out there.
These incidents aren't always even coordinated by one individual, sometimes it can be an entire hacking group coordinating this for a reason.
I've found myself reordering this episode a lot because honestly I didn't know where I wanted to start this. This is something that dips in and out of cyber territory. The stories interesting, horrifying, and everything in between. But I think to set the story I'm going to talk about the story of a young girl and how she was impacted by swatting. The story comes from an investigation VICE did that uncovered one swatters actions.
So let's take you back to fall of 2022. Because at this time, the eventual victim, let's call her Molly for this story, was just 15 years old. Molly's name is not included in any of the legal affidavits for this, she is merely referred to as VICTIM A. But Molly is in high school, just trying to live what I expect to be a normal life when she accepted a snapchat friend request from a person named Braiden Williams.
Over the following months, Molly would continue to chat with him over Telegram, Discord, and other forms of social media.
It was at this point, Williams was arrested in the late fall of 2022. You see, Williams had been a part of a "Hacking Group" called "The Comm". The Comm were essentially a group of younger people that were in it to make money. Their M.O seemed to be that they would SIM Swap people, access their crypto wallets, and drain the funds.
For anyone that may not be aware, SIM Swapping is a form of attack against your cell phone. Every cell phone has the sim card that ties it to a carrier like Sprint or T-Mobile, and this attack targets that specific card.
The way a SIM swap works starts with an attacker knowing that in order to get into someones account, they probably need to get past some kind of second form of authentication, like the one time codes sent to your phone. See where I'm going with this? They'll acquire information on someone, either by their own means or by purchasing it on the dark web, then use this information to try and swap your phone number that's tied to your sim card in YOUR phone, to the new SIM card in THEIR phone.
Now, sometimes this will only last for a little bit but it's enough time to do damage. In just a few minutes an attacker can use the credentials they've acquired, get the completely valid passcode to login, and then drain the funds out of whatever they can get at. It's tough, and it's why a lot of mobile carriers are trying to implement a more strict verification process, so that it's not able to just be purchased on the dark web.
Anyways, like I said, Williams is a part of the Comm Group, who do this, and amongst other stuff, they're also known for Swatting. The court records in the case of his arrest warrant tell the story up to this point so here is what's explicitly called out
- To establish probably causes we have a section for
- Email Hijacking and SIM swapping that resulted in theft of cryptocurrency
- The conspiracy to sell this information
It even goes so far as to lay out he and his crews tactics, saying that in this case quote "Specifically, there is evidence that this group of co-conspirators first hijacked victims' email accounts and then conducted reconnaissance on potential victims by trying to fraudulently initiate password resets for victims Coinbase accounts. After identifying victims who were likely to have higher amounts of cryptocurrency I their accounts, Williams and/or his co-conspirators then were able to access without authorizations victims' coinbase accounts that typically require multifactor authentication."
That's all to say that they would buy or brute force their way into email accounts, figure out who was worth going after by sitting on the email addresses, then go through the process that we outlined above to hack their coinbase accounts.
This is all to say that once Williams was arrested, eventually being set free in April of 2023, Molly blocked him on every platform she could. Rightly so. This was not a great guy, and he was not a part of a great group of people. But, Williams did not like this. And remember that bit I mentioned about the Comm group also liking to Swat people?
Well turns out in that arrest warrant it also had this line saying quote "Williams has potentially been linked to additional prior swatting incidents and his associates have been linked to swatting of US Law Enforcement Officers".
This was all about to come to a head when this guy who, I guess just can't take rejection from someone that's underage…. decided to retaliate.
Amongst forms of harassment like throwing a literal brick through her window that said "msg us or else" Molly's name was used specifically in threats made to hundreds of schools and universities in May of 2023. The emails were threats of varying level of violence that caused all kinds of disruption because they happened to be around a standard graduation time.
Ultimately, the police were able to find out that Molly was not involved but the goal here was twofold. First, engage police in these towns and schools uneccesarily. Secondly, and I think more critically, The Comm group wanted to get Molly swatted for what she did, or didn't do. In this case by simply exisitng, and taking what I think was the right course of action when she blocked this guy, Molly became the center of a multi state investigation.
But let's keep on that multi state piece here and talk about how the needlessly got cops active across the country. That week or two as I mentioned these were some of the responses that police drove
- In Pittsburg there were reports of shootings at two high schools that didn't actually happen
- In New Jersey, schools in Phillipsburg and Allentown had similar reports of students being shot
- The university of Pittsburgh police department
- In Massachussetts, state police said they knew of 28 different communities that all had Swatting calls that week including the towns of Foxborough, Mansfield, and Westwood. All of which included a call from an unnamed male that claimed to have shot students at the schools
This was all on the back of a real school shooting incident that had occurred in Nashville the week before, so you can imagine that the responses to this were aimed with that fresh in mind.
Ultimately, many of these tried to pin the blame on Molly, and thankfully did not succeed in terms of injury to her. I suspect, though, that this is one of those things that is going to leave an impact.
There will be no victim blaming here, but there can be lessons learned. Be careful letting anyone you don't know in on social media. Even if they present themselves as friendly, it's something that can turn sour. I'm not saying don't do it at all, but calculate your own risk tolerance here and make an educated decision when you do this. It's something I have to do each time I engage with people about the show, and something I consider a lot as I try to produce this, but ultimately the call is yours. This is one of the prime examples of being safe online.
I want to move on to streamers because I think that this paints an interesting view into how a lot of little piece can add up into a picture you might not have wanted to be seen. It also paints a bit of a picture as to why some people might do this.
On August 9th of last year, two separate streamers were both the victims of swatting. Some of you may know these streamers, I wasn't super familiar with them but I knew the names in passing from other content creators that have mentioned them. They were Adin Ross and IShowSpeed.
Adin Ross is a streamer that got his start in NBA streaming and over his career been the center of a fair share of controversies. One such incident occurred when he decided to stream the Super Bowl and while doing so accidentally opened pornhub. So, interesting character this guy. The other streamer goes by the moniker IShowSpeed. Speed came into the limelight in about 2019 and has made a name for himself doing wrather crazy stuff including setting off fireworks in his own home nearly burning it down.
So what happened to these two? How did it go down? How might have someone even known where they were? Utlimately not much is known about the IShowSpeed incident beyond the video of him being taken out of his home in handcuffs, but it happened in the same timeframe as Adin leading some to wonder if they were connected. Well in Adins case, there's actually a bit more meat to it that I want to talk about because he came forward with some clear information about what it was like.
For Adin's, the first major difference was I found the stream in which this occurred and just before 7 hours into it, he gets up from his desk hearing a knock at the door. The stream is almost eerie in silence at this point and almost 10 minutes later you can see in the background armed police officers appear to be searching. Suddenly it becomes aware to the people he's streaming with that something is happening and this wasn't just him getting up.
He returns nearly 20 minutes later, just long enough to close the stream down. He sits down and acknowledges that quote "You did it. Whatever troll did it you did it congratulations" and ends the stream.
Not three months later the same thign happened in a much more startling turn of events as well. On the evening of November 9th 2022, it happened again with Adin, and well this one doesn't have any copywrited audio on it so I'm going to clip out some bits. Just listen to what happens
You can see the full video posted on my website whattheshellpod.com but you can hear the combinations of emotions in his voice. He's scared, he's infuriated, and he's anxious. He's trying to make it through this without him or his friends getting hurt and honestly I think this is about the best reaction you can have expected from someone.
If you keep watching you can see flashlights in his yard, he and his friends seated in the middle of the floor with their hands up, hoping things don't go sideways. And ultimately they don't.
To have to have dealt with this back to back must have been something that really started to weigh down on him. This period of unease lasted about ten minutes before the cops ordered them all to come outside with their hands up. Then the stream just…goes on. This is the most surreal part to me is for 20 minutes you see an empty room with chat making jokes about this. Ultimately he'll come back and shut the stream off again, but not before a night that would scar him for a while to come.
What's bizarre here is that eventually Adin allegedly confronted his streamer live on Stream. I went back and forth on how to bring this part up because I could show you the whole video but I think it's too long so I'm going to edit it down a bit.
To me this brings up the idea of a parasocial relationship and how it can get messy. This is clearly a fan of his that has had some interaction with him in the past and truly believes he's one of Adins friends. So much so that when Adin doesn't see a DM, he goes into overdrive and swats him. And minutes after being confronted is asking for money or to hang out. It's honestly bonkers to me.
But now you're thinking to yourself again, how? How did this happen john? Well it all comes back to OSINT. You know, Open source intelligence? Open Source intelligence is any kind of information that is freely available to the internet at large, if you know where to look. And this episode, OSINT it going to essentially be synonymous with cyber stalking.
A streamer like Adin, they have the camera on them quite a bit, and even in this stream you can kind of see him potentially engaging in some questionable practices. Let's start with the most common thing, a username. With a username and time, it's usually pretty likely that someone can find other places that the name is in use and tie it back to you. Maybe they even find an email address.
From there, it's even possible that there's breach data that's tied to it. How many times have you gotten an email from a service you're involved in that says "Hey, just so you know your data was involved in a recent breach. Don't worry though, the business is fine. You just might have to change your email, password, and engage in credit monitoring for the foreseeable future. We're sorrrrrryyy".
Then there's also the fact that a lot of content creators make life decisions part of the content they display, which is fair. They're marketing themselves as a personality and as entertainment so if a creator moves into a new house, they might make a comment about the new office or something like that.
Ultimately, that's not a whole lot but add that with the fact that it's not hard to assume you know what state they're in. Maybe even what city, because again….maybe they're broadcasting at certain times that give away timezone, maybe they talk about local events or sports teams. Each of these put together might add up to someone saying "Hey, I think this guy lives in Vegas". And you know what, an internet creeper can do things like search for stuff that would tie you that including real estate items. It's not fun to think about, the amount of thought and care this might take all while the victim has no idea it's going on. I'm hesitant to even describe the tactics because I feel slimy talking about it. Like I'm doing something wrong for knowing about it myself. But then again, how are you going to consider avoiding it if you don't know?
Now I want to take this moment and talk about how unfortunately easy it can be to actually offload this. What I mean by that is, say I'm one of these creeps that wants to swat someone or someplace, but I don't want to tie myself to it. There are actually services on the dark web where you can contract out Swatting calls. According to Jason Law of Boston 25 News, it's a service titled "Swatting and Bomb Threat Service", wherein a buyer can use crypto to have someone else do the deed.
Now, this isn't the actual title of what to search and that won't be shared, but that's the descriptor line to what you're buying. And if you look at an article from March of this year from Law, you can see he found that one seller sold over 300 fake threats, and even goes so far as to offer bulk discounts. He even had a pricing model where one school costs 19 dollars, 2 schools was 31 dollars, and 10 schools were 80 dollars. The buyer might even get a quality control copy of the recording that would be used for this.
You might all be thinking, how can we let this keep going on, but what happens is that these services are run outside of the US which makes legal action very difficult. The big benefit to us is that it does, however, make law enforcement slightly more able to detect when it happens in instances like this because the swatters are using voice-over IP phone services that can be a bit easily identified right off the bat. It's not fool proof but it does work well.
The other thing that tends to happen unfortunate as it may be, is popular streamers needing to make friends with the police departments of where they live. Amouranth for example, a majorly popular variety streamer, told her fans that she has a relationship with the police force of her town because of how often this happens. And even then, some people will take things to the next level and do things like doxx her location.
So here we have two big encounters ranging from someone that isn't a widely known individual to a multimillion follower content creator. Both of whom have had their lives definiitively altered by the kind of people that would do something like this without knowing it happened till it's too late.
Then you've got the perpetrators. On the one hand we had Williams, who I tried to find online and if the twitter account I was able to tie to him is correct, then you suddenly start to see some sense out this because boy, this guys tweets were racist, full of gun violence, and honestly quite alarming. I suspect he may have had his account banned at one point and then unbanned given the recent changes at X because it's hard for me to see how this isn't a red flag waiting to happen. On the other hand, you've got someone that thinks your friends and wants your attention and this is the only way they know how, by acting out. These are literal children doing this and we need to push this on the youth of this generation that there can be consequences to this.
And speaking of the consequences, I'd like to tell one last story of swatting because this is the case where someone lost their life to this. Don't misunderstand this isn't the only case, but it's the one I'm going to bring up. There have been incidents where people were swatted went into cardiac arrest and died, but this is different. And it's one I think many people might remember.
This occurred in late 2017, so let's flashback to then. There are three young men involved in this. We have Casey Viner, Tyler Barriss, and Shane Gaskill. At this time Viner was just 19 years old, again these are barely adults. It was a pretty standard night in North College Hill Ohio, when Viner decided to play Call of Duty World War 2 with Shane Gaskill.
What I'm going to detail here, I got from the court records of the plea agreement that detailed the timeline and the events. I'll have a link to the entire plea agreement on my website in the episode transcript.
This is all taken from section 2, the factual basis for the plea that would come.
On December 28th, 2017 as I mentioned above, Viner and Gaskill were playing Call of Duty together; Viner playing from Ohio and Gaskill playing from Kansas. At some point a wager had been made and several more games that led to exactly what you would expect from a call of duty lobby, a lot of toxic behavior. They would argue online in the chat and even online after that.
It gets so heated that Viner threatened to swat Gaskill, and Gaskill, who in other documents it came out egged him on, gave a false address. So what does Viner do? He called up his buddy Tyler Barriss to actually Swat him.
Tyler, wanting to apparently do some level of due dilligence here, followed Gaskill on twitter and tried to fact check the address as redisdential. He did, and even went as far as to get the Whichita Kansas police department number for this.
At about 6:10 PM is when things started heating up as Harriss, who lived in California, started his series of attempts to call the SWAT in. He started with the Wichita police department downtown security desk. He did so with a number he got from a service called Text Now, to try and disguise himself. He wanted them to see that this came from a Wichita number, not California to try and give it an eir of legitimacy. He would call back again at 6:15, and again at 6:17.
He would call and state that his name was Brian, and that his mother struck his father with a gun. This merited him a transfer to the County Emergency deparment and at 6:18 a new dispatcher asked for the location of the incident. At this time, Barriss under the name Brian, gave him the address that he'd received from Viner, allegedly leading to Shane Gaskill. And he added in quote "I just shot my dad dad in the head 'cause he was arguing with my mom and it was getting way out of control".
The dispatcher confirmed again the address. All the while Shane has no idea this is going on, and Barriss adds in that he has his mother and brother at gunpoint.
Officers arrived at the address, believing this to be an active crimscene and established a perimeter around the area. And at approximately 6:28 PM that evening, the door to the address opened up, a man stepped onto the porch, and an officer fired a shot that would kill this person.
You might notice that didn't say Gaskill, because Gaskill gave him a false address. So what happened in this case, is a man named Andrew Finch, with absolutely zero ties to the situation, opened his door to a police barricade. When he stepped outside, he made a scared movement that startled officers who believed he had a weapon, and it led to his death.
These three men condemned an innocent man to death over call of duty. They traumatised his family, traumatised the repsonding officers who, In this case, were acting as they truly believed they should be only to find out later they had been played, and likely would inflict a bit of self trauma to themselves through this. All over a video game.
All three men in this case would receive some level of punishment. Barriss was sentenced to 20 years in federal prison. He pleaded guilty to more than 50 felonies nationwide, including federal charges in Kansas of making an interstate hoax that resulted in a death and cyberstalking. Those felonies also included swatting and bomb threat attempts on the FCC headquarters in Washington.
Part of Viner's conviction included obstruction of justice and conspiracy. The obstruction piece was that in an attempt to try and wipe himself of this, he wiped his phone hoping it would erase communications when the police came looking. He would end up spending 15 months in Jail.
And lastly, Gaskill was placed on deferred prosecution.
I wanted to share that so that if anyone is out there listening to the first few stories thinking no harm no foul, they can see how close any one of these can come to that. It's not a prank, it's not funny, it's people's real lives that are being wagered on the responses of the police at the hand of people they may never have met. I'm John Kordis, and I hope this provided a little bit of light for you as to how impactful swatting can be.
For the last part of the show I wanted to go into the the community for an end prompt that we had a bit of an interesting discussion about on the shows discord. It comes from user "Pointy Elephant" and reads "
What do you do when friends and relatives don't respect your online privacy? Stuff like posting pics of you or your children on public socials without your knowledge or consent. Or giving out your email and/or physical address so they can get a referral discount. Or allowing an app to access their contact list, etc.
This is a great question, and as always I want to preface this with me reminding you that I'm by no means the gold standard here. These are just my thoughts. Dealing with friends and family online or in real life can be tricky, especially about cyber stuff. There's a line between not wanting to come off as stand offish and wanting to be respectful. Admittedly it all kind of comes back to a topic I bring up every now and then and that's accepted risk.
In a hypothetical where I didn't want pictures of myself or my family online the first thing I'd do here is straight up tell my family to clear posts through me that involve me. This is something I try to do with my family that has children as well. If I'm sharing a photo of them or their children I always ask for the clearance to do so, especially if they don't share the pictures frequently themselves. But that being said, there is technically nothing stopping me from posting them if I want. Sure if I tagged them they could remove the tags but the photos would stay. But really, what I think it comes down to is that if you have family or friends that are disrespecting your wishes like that it ulimtately isn't a cyber thing but a personal relationship problem. The best you can do is sit them down and tell them why you're concerned about these being online. You don't need to educate them about everything like they don't know about it, just share why they're concerns for you. Then, you would probably want to set boundaries. If people don't respect them, then they accept the consequences which might just be that you don't really feel like devoting time to them.
For some things you can probably even set boundaries and tactics they don't know about, like just make a giveaway email that you tell people to use instead of a real one. My wife and I have an email that is specifically for that purpose that doesn't tie back to our normal accounts and information. Honestly, it's a challenging subject, there's not much of a right answer, but the wrong answer is to not say anything if it's bothering you. Then it'll just fester. The best thing I think you can do is model the behavior you'd like to be given to you by giving it to them. Ask them first about your posts with them or your informaton, and hope they clue in that this is something that's important to you. I hope that answered it because I think I kind of went off on a tangenet there but we came back around!
So that's that for this week, this was an episode I hope I dealt with as tactfully as I could. It's important for people to know about because of how scary and sometimes easy it can happen. If you left today with anything, I hope it's just an expanded mindset about how serious it can be each time you see an article about this.
If you've taken the time to listen up to here, thank you. If you want to chat about this episode, please join us in the discord. I love engaging with everyone over there and the link is in the description here, on my website, and on my Instagram profile @shell_pod.
I'm happy to be back and I think you will be too because I've got a couple ideas for new kinds of content that will hopefully be something different than what you're used to, and help me try some fun projects. So to sign off, I'll just say thank you. Especially to those of you that are still supporting me on patreon. There were a bunch of you that I think knew I'd be coming back even before I did. So j.s , Stephen, k1lby, Frank, J, Adon, Ben Sweetnam, Ben M, John, Chris Finik, pseudo, rkaFLDvXub, last but never least, I use pot of greed to draw three additional cards from my deck….thank you. If you want to join their ranks, you can find me at patreon.com/whattheshell Let's keep this truck rolling and I'll see you all next episode.