Swatters tricked AT&T while making fake emergency calls

Criminals have been using social engineering skills to gain access to AT&T networks and place fake 911 calls, a practice called 'swatting.'

A Cleveland, Ohio man has pled guilty to participating in a scheme that involved using AT&T employee passwords and identities to place false 911 calls to emergency dispatch centers.

Stuart Rosoff is facing as much as five years in prison and a US$250,000 fine after pleading guilty to charges of harassing people by tricking 911 operators into dispatching police SWAT (Special Weapons And Tactics) teams to the homes of their unsuspecting victims. Rosoff was part of a group of about 15 to 20 people who met in chat rooms and telephone party lines to exchange information on how to conduct their attacks, according to court documents.

Rosoff is considered the lead defendant in a federal case against members of the group. Two other members have pled guilty, and two others, Jason Trowbridge and Chad Ward are still facing trial.

Virtually unknown until recently, swatting gained national attention last month when 19 year-old Randall Ellis was arrested after allegedly dispatching a SWAT team to the home of an unsuspecting couple in Orange County, California. That incident cost county officials nearly $20,000. On Friday, Ellis plead not guilty to charges stemming from the March 29 incident. He is not believed to be connected with Rosoff or his group.

The Rosoff group has been connected to about 60 incidents, including one in January 2007, according to Detective Larry Cole with the Snohomish County Sherriff's Office in Washington State. In that case, a Rosoff's co-conspirator named Guadalupe Santana Martinez ended up dispatching 35 county employees, including the SWAT team to a Snohomish County home in the middle of the night. "He built enough information and called 911 and faked that he was committing a serious crime at the time," he said. "When our patrols responded, nobody answered the door, so it ended up being an activation of our SWAT team."

In a June 12, 2006 incident, Martinez is alleged to have called 911, saying that he was high on hallucinogenic drugs, had shot and killed family members and was holding hostages.

Martinez used a spoof card to conceal his identity in this case, according to court filings, but in the Snohomish County incident he used an even simpler technique: he blocked his caller ID and simply gave 911 operators his victim's number, according to Cole. "Even with our 911 system if you use some blocked numbers for privacy reasons it's hard for our 911 system to read them," he said.

Martinez, and another group member, Angela Roberson have since pleaded guilty to swatting charges.

Court documents state that he and other group members used social engineering techniques against telephone companies such as AT&T.

For example, Martinez would call an internal AT&T number claiming to be a service representative working in the field in order to get information on victims and sometimes even terminate their phone service, Cole said. "He would fake that he was an AT&T employee, call the internal phone number... and they would give him that information."

According to an affidavit by U.S. Federal Bureau of Investigation Special Agent Allyn Lynd, "AT&T employees were being victimized by the swatting group by the misappropriation of the AT&T employees' identities and passwords in order to make the swatting group's illegal access appear more legitimate."

One of the group's members, Matthew Weigman had registered telephone service for himself under the name of an AT&T representative, the affidavit states.

Members of the group were able to spoof their phone numbers using commercially available "spoofing cards," as well as special hardware that could be used to spoof the ANI (Automatic Number Identification) caller identification system used by some telephone systems.

They accessed systems at AT&T subsidiary CTS Telecommunications, in Grand Prairie, Texas, the Verizon Provisioning Center in Irving Texas, and the Frontier Telecommunications center in Rochester, New York, according to court fillings.

AT&T did not return calls for comment.

Cole said that the group swatted people for two reasons: for kicks, and to get even. "They had very limited social skills so they were kind of immature," he said.

Martinez who is described as the one generally responsible for making the telephone calls, was nicknamed the "Wicked Wizard." He would often swat victims as a way of getting even for some chatroom slight, Cole said. "I think it was a power trip for him. It was his way of being the big man."

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