Posted by: David Harley | September 17, 2014

Swotting up on SWATting

Well, this is embarrassing.

Yesterday, a blog article of mine appeared at on The economics of benevolence: mean memes’ bemoaning the fact that ‘members of the security community, an industry which is so sensitive (with some justification) to statistical legerdemain and to being misrepresented in the media (social or otherwise), being so insensitive as to spread unverified, misleading commentary when it relates to contexts outside their own fields of expertise.’ Elsewhere, with reference (pun intended) to an article on the anal preoccupation in academia with correctly cited references, I remarked:

I’m ambivalent about this. I don’t enjoy doing the sort of paper where I have to spend more time getting the references into exactly the right format – in fact, the older I get, the less I’m inclined to submit for academic conferences, for more than one reason – but there is so much misinformation and misattribution on the internet, I can’t say that rigour isn’t called for.

And then I saw an article shared on Facebook by one of my colleagues in the security industry about a gamer imprisoned for SWATting. Not swatting as in swatting flies or wasps like ‘wanton gods’ (King Lear, Act IV, Scene 1), but swatting as in tricking an emergency service into responding to a fake emergency. Unfortunately, my BS antennae were evidently taking the day off – I thought, “that’s interesting…” and shared it myself, before it was pointed out to me (thank you, Zusana) that it was a repost/retread (one among many) of a known hoax article – sorry, apparently it’s satire, not a hoax – from the National Report. In fact, the photograph seems to be of Dylan Schumaker, who is reported as having been sentenced to 25 years for killing his girlfriend’s toddler.

I’m sure there’s a good reason for the explosion in fake news stories on the 21st century internet, even if I haven’t quite worked out what it is. Nor do I know when the term satire became a synonym for hoax. But I do know that it’s getting (even) harder to distinguish fact from factoid from fiction, and even those of us who’ve been scam/spam/hoaxwatching for decades can get sucked in sometimes.

In my defence, swatting is a long-established issue and no joke at all. And yes, there are frequent reports of the online gaming fraternity (brotherly love, huh?) perpetrating it. There are instances of more hard-core criminals doing the same thing, though. Security blogger Brian Krebs has himself been victimized and has written several articles about the phenomenon since.

David Harley

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