Amazon Ring cameras used in nationwide 'swatting' spree, US says


The pair allegedly gained access to 12 Ring home security cameras in nine states in November 2020 and placed fake emergency calls to local law enforcement agencies to summon police to the homes where the cameras were located. — Christian Wiediger on Unsplash

Two people who hacked Yahoo! email accounts to gain access to Ring home security cameras have been charged over a weeklong "swatting” spree that involved placing bogus emergency calls and live-streaming the armed police responses on social media, according to a Los Angeles grand jury indictment, the US Justice Department said.

Kya Christian Nelson, 21, of Racine, Wisconsin, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty, 20, of Charlotte, North Carolina, were charged with conspiracy to access computers without authorisation. Nelson, who is currently incarcerated in Kentucky in an unrelated case, was also charged with two counts of intentionally accessing a computer without authorisation and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

The series of swatting incidents prompted the FBI to issue a public service announcement in late 2020 urging users of smart home security cameras to use unique passwords with two-factor authentication.

Nelson and McCarty face a maximum of five years in prison for the conspiracy charges. A charge of aggravated identity theft carries a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence.

"Swatting is a serious crime, and those responsible for it should be brought to justice,” Ring spokesperson Emma Daniels said in an emailed statement. "We take the security of our customers extremely seriously - that’s why we made two-step verification mandatory, conduct regular scans for Ring passwords compromised in non-Ring breaches, and continually invest in new security protections to harden our systems.”

Yahoo! didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

The pair allegedly gained access to 12 Ring home security cameras in nine states in November 2020 and placed fake emergency calls to local law enforcement agencies to summon police to the homes where the cameras were located.

They then streamed the police response on social media, according to the Justice Department. During several of the incidents, they taunted police officers and the victims through the Ring devices, prosecutors said.

In one instance, a hoax call was made to police in West Covina, California, with the caller pretending to be a minor reporting her parents were drinking and shooting guns in the home. Nelson allegedly accessed the Ring camera and used it to taunt and threaten the responding police officers, prosecutors said. – Bloomberg

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