Computer harassment becoming more common

An expert on cyber-crime says what happened to an Aldergrove family whose house was surrounded by heavily-armed officers July 25 is known as “swatting”, harassing a target by convincing police to send heavily armed officers to their address.

An expert on cyber-crime says what happened to an Aldergrove family whose house was surrounded by heavily-armed officers July 25 is known as “swatting”, harassing a target by convincing police to send heavily armed officers to their address.

SFU international security expert Paul Meyer calls it an “extreme form of public mischief” that will continue to fool police until the federal government provides more resources to fight cyber-crime.

“It’s a reminder of how vulnerable people can be when their cyber-identity is taken over by some malevolent actor,” Meyer told The Times.

The name “swatting” comes from American police Special Weapons and Tactics or SWAT teams, the equivalent of the Emergency Response Team (ERT) members, who arrived at the house in the 27100 block of 16 Avenue in Aldergrove.

They responded after a male caller phoned 911, claiming he’d killed several people and was holding others hostage.

Whoever did it knew how to make the 911 call display believe the call came from the house in Aldergrove.

And that is why a mother of two teenagers heard a strange noise and stepped outside to discover her home was surrounded by heavily-armed police, who yelled at her to put her hands up while they pointed guns at her.

Her family has been target of Internet harassment for 18 months, the mother said, complaining police paid little attention to their concerns until the fake 911 call.

Meyer says without more resources and training, authorities will be unable to effectively fight swatting.

“Police forces are not particularly placed to deal with these incidents,” Meyer said.

He suggests following prevention and protection tips available from the Public Safety Canada website (http://www.publicsafety.gc.ca).

1. Protect your computer. Update your computer software.

Keep your operating system and application software up-to-date by accepting to install software manufacturer’s updates when prompted.

Use a firewall.

Configure firewall software to help block unwanted connections to your computer and keep out hackers.

Use anti-virus software. Prevent viruses from infecting your computer by installing and regularly updating anti-virus software data files.

2. Protect your information.

Block spyware attacks. Prevent others from stealing your passwords and confidential information by installing and updating anti-spyware software.

Protect remote and wireless network access. Turn off your computer when not in use. If you use wireless and broadband routers, set them up to request user identification.

Back up your files.

Create and store a copy of your important information and documents offsite to help protect them from loss due to viruses or hardware damage.

3. Protect yourself.

Protect your e-identity. Change your user name and passwords regularly. Use multiple electronic identities when communicating with those you don’t know. Don’t have your computer remember passwords.

Be careful with e-mails from unknown senders. Never open or download files or follow links in e-mails from people you don’t know.

Browse the Internet safely.

Read a website’s privacy policies before providing your name, age, street address, e-mail address, phone numbers or other personal information — even when on a secure website.

Seek technical help and report cyber-crime.

If you need assistance with software maintenance or installation on your computer, call a computer technician. Call local police if you suspect a computer crime, identity theft or commercial scam.

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