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VoIP 'Swatting' a Growing Problem
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July 28, 2011

VoIP 'Swatting' a Growing Problem

By Gary Kim, Contributing Editor

"Spoofing" and hoaxes are downsides of just about any Internet application, and VoIP apparently is no exception. A Vancouver, Canada family apparently was the recent victim of just such a hoax, where it appears an emergency call resulted in a SWAT team being dispatched in response to a "911" call indicating that a man had killed several people and was holding more hostage.

The call was a hoax, an example of “swatting,” where bogus 911 callers trick police into sending out a SWAT team. See here. In other cases pranksters simply place false 911 calls.

Louise Gray and her two teenage children were arrested at their Langley home only to be released when police discovered the call may have been made through the family computer, which had been hacked.

The hoax highlights a security shortcoming with voice-over-Internet (VoIP) phone services that lets people mask their true location, according to Chester Wisniewski (News - Alert), senior security adviser with the IT security company Sophos.

Unlike calls that come from landline phones, which are registered to a fixed physical address and display that on 911 dispatchers' screens, calls coming from people's computers, or even calls from landline or cell phones that are routed through spoofing services, could appear to be originating from anywhere.

Scores of Caller ID spoofing services have sprung up, offering to disguise callers' origins for a fee. All anybody needs to do is pony up for a certain number of minutes, punch in a PIN code and specify whom they're calling and what they'd like the Caller ID to display.

It isn't immediately clear what can be done about the problem. Software upgrades to emergency dispatch systems that would display IP addresses might help, as would the ability to automatically display the name of the Internet access provider being used to place an emergency call, some argue.

In instances where the displayed ISP does not actually operate in a local area, dispatchers might have a bit more information about a purportedly "local" call being placed from some other geographic location.

Read more here.

Gary Kim (News - Alert) is a contributing editor for TMCnet. To read more of Gary’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Stefania Viscusi

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