Cyber security consultant warns of online “Swatting and Bomb Threat Services”

DEDHAM, Mass. — In the wake of a nationwide swatting scam last month, a local cyber security expert is warning of a disturbing online service that makes it easier to call in a swatting incident.

It’s known on the dark web as a “Swatting and Bomb Threat Service.” For a few dollars, a buyer can enlist a caller to phone in a fake bomb or active-shooter threat to residential homes, businesses or schools.

“The challenge is these services can be used for a variety of different purposes. It can be for disruption, or frankly, just sheer terrorism,” said North Shore cyber security consultant Caleb Barlow.

We’re not going to show you where to find it or how it works, but Barlow says parents and educators need to know the service is out there and easy to use.

“Unfortunately, the benefit of using one of these services is anonymity,” Barlow said. “You’re having someone else, their voice, their interaction, their infrastructure make these calls. In most of the cases, these are being driven by folks outside of the United States.”

A Mass State Police spokesperson said police are aware of these types of swatting services.

“We are familiar with these sites and aggressively work in coordination with our federal and local partners to identify and bring charges against their creators or owners as well as those who utilize these services to generate threats,” MSP Spokesperson Dave Procopio said in an email.

More than a dozen Massachusetts schools received false swatting calls last month, part of a broader hoax that was seen across the country. In most cases, the calls prompted a police response and schools were placed in “safe mode” out of precaution. It’s unknown if any of the fake threats were made using an online call service like the one Barlow showed us.

“There’s a lot of reservations about even talking about this, because we don’t want to encourage people to go and use these types of services,” Barlow said. “On the other hand, I think it’s really, really important for parents, law enforcement and educators to be aware that these things exist.”

The online post indicates the seller has sold 321 fake threats since 2016 and offers bulk discounts. A threat made at one school costs $19, two schools are $31, and ten schools cost $80, or $8 a school. The post also promises the buyer will receive a recording of the fake threat.

“Remember, these services are run by individuals mostly outside the U.S. so although $19 may not seem like a lot for you, it might be a full weeks wage for somebody else,” Barlow said.

Former Boston Police Superintendent-in-Chief Dan Linskey said law enforcement training must prepare officers to consider an active-shooter call might be a hoax.

“We’ve got to train officers that just because a call came in, it doesn’t mean it’s actually real,” Linskey said. “Officers are going to have that adrenaline rush and we still want them to have it. That’s what’s going to help them survive these situations, but we want to remind them during an adrenaline rush, ‘Hey, we only got one call. This could be a swatting event.’”

This is a developing story. Check back for updates as more information becomes available.

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