One Telegram channel has been found to be behind a great deal of swatting incidents in the US. Using the anonymity provided by Telegram, caller ID spoofing, and voices generated by Artificial Intelligence (AI), a person or group of persons calling themselves Torswats is suspected to be behind dozens, if not hundreds of swatting incidents.
Swatting is where someone makes a hoax emergency call to law enforcement in order to get armed police (hence the SWAT reference) to target a particular address. Swatting is a crime that has evolved from a dangerous type of prank to a cybercrime that can be ordered as a service.
NPR reported that in October 2022, 182 schools in 28 states received fake threat calls with a familiar pattern behind this wave of false calls. A voice-over-internet-protocol (VOIP) number in Ethiopia which was tied to a call about a "suspicious backpack" in a classroom call had logged calls to 79 other places across Louisiana, Arizona, and New Mexico.
Even in the stage when swatting was a prank popular among gamers, it was dangerous because of the potential consequences. Not only does it take emergency services away from their actual tasks, there have been swatting incidents that had fatal consequences. Police officers are placed in danger as victims may try to defend themselves against an unsuspected raid.
Swatting is a criminal offense in many jurisdictions, often punishable by fine or imprisonment. So swatters want to keep their identity hidden. And Torswats seems to do a good job at that. Some of the people paying Torswats for their services have been arrested, but the Telegram channel remains open for business.
Telegram is an anonymous chat platform that uses encrypted communication and does not require users to reveal their true identity. While not intended for that purpose, it is popular among criminals of all kinds and trades because they have a natural desire to stay anonymous.
Caller ID spoofing is the practice of causing the telephone network to indicate to the receiver of a call that the origin of the call is different from the true origin. Swatters use this to make the caller ID display show a phone number different from that of the origin.
Text to speech conversion software has evolved to a point where it is almost impossible for a human to discern the generated speech patterns from a real human. AI can be used to instill “voice acting” into the spoken text so the message sounds panicky, threatening, or whatever emotion is needed to make the message sound more realistic.
Torswats carries out these alarming calls as part of a paid service they offer. Payments are made in cryptocurrency to maintain anonymity. For $75, Torswats says they will close down a school. For $50, customers can buy more extreme swatting services, in which authorities can be expected to handcuff the victim and search their house.
If you are afraid of swatters targeting you for your online actions, you can use a VPN to hide your IP address. That gives them one less opportunity to find your physical address.
Just like there are tools and programs to generate fake voices, there are initiatives that aim to fight this increasingly widespread practice. But many of them are based on biometrics which allows the program to determine whether the text was spoken by the person or the deepfake version trying to impersonate them.
The future probably lies in deep-learning algorithms that analyze a caller’s voice and recognize unique characteristics that are tied to deepfakes. These programs will be used to assist emergency services dispatchers in recognizing AI generated voices.
Let’s hope Torswats and other operations like theirs will soon learn what it feels like to get—legitimately--arrested.
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