Back in 2015, a gamer based in Minnesota was one of the first subjects of a trolling technique called swatting. As soon as this event went viral, numerous other instances happened across the USA and the rest of the world. Even today, it seems like swatting, as dangerous as it can be, is still highly popular.

Mainly related to gamers who broadcast their gameplay experience over YouTube and Twitch, swatting is something that’s happening to those who expose their personal information on the web. With that said, anyone can become a victim. However, there’s also plenty you can do to put an end to this dangerous trolling activity.

So, what is swatting exactly? How can others find your personal information, and how to prevent this situation from happening? Let’s find out.

What is swatting, in the first place?

The first instance related to swatting happened in 2008, according to the FBI. This is when a man from California called 911 and reported a murder by giving a false address. A local SWAT team appeared on the scene only to find a married couple with two young children. The situation quickly escalated, but luckily no one was injured. Soon after, the man who called 911 got arrested.

As we entered the era of fast web connections and live-streaming, numerous individuals unknowingly exposed their private information online. And among those, there’s a large group of gamers who broadcast online.

By knowing their private information, a prankster calls 911 and reports a severe emergency. As a result, an emergency team responds and organizes a raid on the victim’s home. And as you can guess, all of this happens while the victim of the prank is broadcasting live on the web.

How does swatting happen?

As you can see by now, the central part of this prank consists of your personal information. After all, the prankster needs to know your name, address, or other similar information to be able to place a 911 call. So, here’s how prankster can find out your private data.

  • Getting geo-location via metadata: to be able to live-stream, you need to have a camera. And the majority of today’s popular camera models encode geo-location. This information is typically read by software capable of creating albums based on specific events or places. Well, this information is also exposed when you live-stream as there’s no re-encoding involved.
  • Getting to your IP address: every time you connect to the web, you get a unique IP address. In fact, every web-connected device out there has one. You’ll be surprised to know that you don’t need to be a hacker to find someone’s IP, which then leads to your physical location data as well.
  • Advanced hacking methods: lastly, someone can find your true information by planting malware into your computer. Hackers can create emails with attractive offers, making you click on a link that usually takes you to a bogus website. This is where your private information can be picked up from.

After obtaining your personal information, pranksters and hackers use IP spoofing services to call 911. This makes it appear as if they’re calling from your home. And this is how a SWAT team can show up at your house.

How to protect yourself from swatting?

Luckily, there are numerous methods to hide your personal information online. With a bit of effort on your part, you can eliminate any chances of becoming a victim of swatting. So, here’s what you need to know.

Always use a trustworthy VPN service!

As you know by now, plenty of information is being transmitted every time you connect to the web. And your real-time location can easily pop up when you live-stream. To prevent this information from appearing on the web, we recommend using a VPN service.

VPN (Virtual Private Network) services are designed to help you become entirely anonymous online. They’re very easy to use and, at the moment, they are the best tool for preventing any data leak. So, here’s what you need to know about this type of software.

  • VPNs hide your true IP: when you connect to a VPN server, you immediately get a virtual IP address. If someone tries to find your real IP, they’ll be out of luck as your VPN will only show your virtual location.
  • VPNs encrypt your data: thanks to VPNs, you can easily encrypt all your incoming and outgoing data. This means that even if someone uses a hacking technique to get to your data, they won’t be able to break into a highly secure “VPN tunnel.”
  • VPNs stop malware: the most capable VPNs out there can stop malware and hacking attempts. They act as an antivirus by checking which links you open and preventing you from getting to insecure web locations.
  • VPNs secure public web connections: lastly, you need to know that VPNs can secure even the most problematic web connections, like public hotspots. This gives you greater freedom when live-streaming, and you can use VPNs on your computer, smartphone, or tablet.

Avoid exposing your data via social media

Your social media profiles expose a large volume of your personal information. It’s a known fact that advertising agencies extract information from your social media profiles to see what you like, what you don’t like, which websites you visit and so on. Now imagine what a skilled individual can find.

Take a good look at your online profiles and see what kinds of information you’ve exposed about yourself. This especially goes for those who broadcast online, as their social media profiles can put them in danger.

So, revisit your online profiles. Remove any personal information, along with images whose metadata can pose a risk. And also, always use a VPN when posting on social media.

Secure your online accounts

Even if you delete your sensitive information from the web, there’s a chance that someone might try to get to your social media credentials. By logging into your account, they can see different kinds of information that aren’t presented publicly.

A good way to secure your online accounts is by using 2-factor authentication (2FA), which is offered by all major online services these days. This technique allows you to have an additional security layer when logging in, disabling numerous hacking attempts in the process.

Be smart when live-broadcasting online

Lastly, you need to be aware of everything you say online – especially during live-broadcasting. Remember that real people are watching your live-stream and they can even record it. Therefore, be aware of your surroundings. Remove anything that might point to your physical location including your address and also the name of the city you live in.

Final thoughts

Dear readers, we hope that we’ve shed some light on swatting. As you can see, this trolling technique can have serious consequences, so be aware of what you do online. Remember that your private information has tremendous value and act accordingly.

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