The digital age has created exciting opportunities for people around the world to connect and share their passions. However, there’s also a dark side to this elevated connectivity. One of the most recent online depravities is an action known as “swatting.”
Swatting occurs when a disgruntled individual weaponizes the local police force of an online contact or personality that has somehow offended them. The individual collects information about the target’s location, then files a false police report that indicates a dangerous issue, like an active hostage situation. The police respond to this call accordingly, surprising the target, who is often at home doing nothing.
If you have an online presence, it’s essential to stay safe. Here are five ways to protect yourself against swatting.
Know Your Risk
The scariest part of swatting is that anyone with an online presence can become a target. If you’re in an online community that participates in hot topic discussions, like politics, for example, you could be targeted by swatters. Similarly, gamers who play online and use the platform Twitch often find themselves in a swatting situation.
If you’re someone who engages with unknown people online, you’re at risk. If you keep your online presence locked down with tight security and only interact with people you know, you’re likely fine.
Use a VPN
A virtual private network (VPN) is the best technical line of defense against swatting. You should always use a VPN for gaming to block your IP address and protect your data as you interact with other tech-savvy individuals.
Swatters can easily use your IP address to narrow down your physical address. When you use a VPN, that information is protected and redirected. So, you may be commenting and interacting from your house in Canada, but thanks to your VPN, it could say that you’re in Florida.
Don’t Share Personal Information
Whether you’re an avid gamer, an Instagram influencer, or just an average person who likes to engage in discourse online, you should limit your personal information. During the 1990s, when the internet was relatively new, children were taught not to share their names, photos, or locations online. As the internet became more commonplace and the social media revolution took hold, much of that fell by the wayside.
Conduct an audit of your social media and determine what hints you’ve shared about your location and identity. Geotagging in Instagram posts or talking about your favorite beach are seemingly innocuous tidbits of information that could be used against you. If possible, use a pseudonym and be mindful of what’s going on in the background of your images.
Register with Local Authorities
As swatting is a relatively new event, there are many legal jurisdictions that have no experience with it. However, after the swatting death of Andrew Finch, Seattle authorities created a registry where gamers and online activists can register swatting concerns. When Seattle police respond to a call, they also check the registry to see if it’s a potential swatting situation.
If you encounter an issue that leads you to believe you’re at risk for swatting, you should call the local authorities even if they don’t have a registry program. Highlight your concerns so that they’re on record, just in case something comes up.
Know What to Do if Swatting Occurs
If you find yourself in a swatting situation, the important thing to remember is to stay calm and cooperate. Of course, that’s the last thing you’ll feel like doing if your house is suddenly surrounded by armed police. Cooperate to safely defuse the situation; you can explain that you’ve done nothing wrong later and get everything sorted out.
When it comes to protecting yourself from swatting, being proactive and smart is the best line of defense. Open a dialogue with your local authorities and protect your personal information online.