The family of a 15-year-old Xbox player was raided by heavily armed police after a disaffected online opponent made a hoax emergency call claiming there was a home invasion in progress.
According to news reports, SWAT, or special weapons and tactics, police entered the Naples, Florida, residence of Hunter Gelinas after receiving a false report that he had been stabbed and his family was being held captive. The reports blamed the stunt on a fellow Xbox user the youth had met online.
“They had a whole SWAT team at my door and I came out of my room and they've got their guns pointed at me,” Gelinas told WINK TV news. Attempts by The Register to reach him weren't successful. An incident report from the Collier County Sheriff's Office confirmed the hoax emergency call and said it "came in through a hearing impaired relay."
The incident is the latest to highlight the real-world perils that can follow virtual rivalries that start on Microsoft's Xbox Live network or other services. In 2007, security expert Kevin Finisterre of Digitalmunition found the Xbox account of a girlfriend had been banned shortly after he had accused several online opponents of cheating during a heated game of Halo 2. He later concluded that the ban was the work of people who relied on social engineering to convince support personnel to help the attackers take control of the accounts.
Eight months later, celebrity Xbox gamer Colin Fogel lost control of his Xbox Live account by thieves he suspects of using similar techniques. He said it was the third time his account had been commandeered.
News reports claim that Tuesday's attack against Gelinas happened after someone hacked his Xbox. The more likely explanation is that opponents pieced together enough data available online to learn his name and location and called in the hoax emergency to authorities.
This conjecture is supported by documents posted online eight days ago that list Gelinas's address, phone number, and the names of various family members. Such “doxing” – in which a target's personal information is publicly documented – is a common technique hackers use in coordinating or carrying out attacks.
“I got ur ip !!!!!!!!!!!” the unknown poster wrote. “With cain and abel ima type it in my mIRC serceveer.”
Indeed, Xboxes have long been known to leak users' IP addresses, and the password recovery tool known as Cain and Abel, as documented in tutorials such as this one, are a favorite way for people with little skill to quickly exploit the weakness. Using the information included in the document, a detailed snapshot of Gelinas quickly emerged, including the value and purchase history of his home and his father's occupation.
So-called swatting attacks, in which hackers use caller ID spoofing to orchestrate SWAT raids on people they don't like, were all the rage a few years ago but seemed to fall out of vogue after police vigorously pursued suspects in several high-profile cases.
Reports of one being used against the Florida family suggest they haven't gone away. Xbox Live users operating under the assumption they're anonymous may want to keep that in mind the next time they're tempted to talk smack against an opponent. ®
This post was updated to add details from the incident report.