Internet safety news from the Ascentive team
On Monday, July 22, New Jersey Police and SWAT teams raided the residence of a well-known Internet safety expert and lawyer after receiving an elaborate hoax call from an unidentified man to authorities claiming that another man had killed four people, and was holding another hostage.
SWAT teams descended on the quiet suburban home of Parry Aftab in Wyckoff, New Jersey (a suburb about 15 miles west of New York City), following the call from hackers who had planned the revenge hoax against the prominent internet security campaigner.
Hackers are believed to have orchestrated the plot by first cloning Mrs. Aftab’s telephone number, then placing the unidentified 911 phone call that resulted in thirty armed officers storming the residence in a tense three-hour standoff. Wyckoff police Chief Benjamin Fox said investigators believe the call was made using a computer.
After waiting for more instructions from the supposed killer (who had demanded $10,000 and a getaway car) police entered the residence but found it unoccupied, as Mrs. Aftab was out of town.
SWAT teams had trained automatic rifles on the property and stormed it after throwing tear gas through the window, but got inside to find only the family cat on its own.
They had initially thought the house was occupied due to the movements of the same cat behind the curtains. It’s widely-believed that Mrs. Aftab has been targeted by members of online cyber-bully community ‘4chan’ after she spoke out against cyber bullying on the television show “Good Morning America.” 4chan is also associated with Project Chanology, an anonymous group of hackers that recently cyber-attacked the Church of Scientology. The campaigner has often been in direct opposition to online community members like these who believe the Internet should be uncensored, regardless of damage. After speaking out on cyber-bullying last July, Mrs. Aftab was pranked called, and had her Wikipedia page vandalized by wiki-users believed to be from 4chan.
The SWAT team call-out to her house is the latest incident of ‘swatting’, a practice commonly used by cyber-criminals where prank calls see police arrive at people’s homes with SWAT teams. Aftab is said to have apologized to her neighbors for the altercations on Sunday afternoon, and is now working with authorities to attempt to trace the call.
“There are a lot of people who hide behind a computer monitor and think it’s going to get them attention, but this is going to get them the wrong kind of attention. This is not a harmless prank. Any 8-year-old I know could have done this, and it does hide the identity of whoever’s sending it if it’s done the right way, said Aftab.
Wyckoff police Chief Benjamin Fox said, “While we’re all out at this scene, God forbid there’s a second, real scene somewhere else. You’re taking the law enforcement resources from something that could be more serious at another location.”