A hoax shooting incident in Sydney’s south may have been Australia’s first “swatting” incident, experts say.
Hackers from anywhere in the world could have gained access to a Sydney teenager’s computer and sparked an elaborate shooting hoax in the city’s south.
More than 20 police in bullet-proof vests swarmed a home in Bonar Street, Arncliffe early on Wednesday morning after receiving reports of shots being fired at the property.
But it turned out to be a hoax with the teenager at the centre of the incident apparently caught up in an elaborate “swatting” hoax, whereby pranksters trick police or SWAT crews into thinking there has been a major incident.
“At this stage of inquiries, the matter is being investigated as a public mischief incident,” police said in a statement.
Mathew McGrath, 18, was questioned by police and released without charge pending further inquiries – including an examination of three computers and a mobile phone taken from the home.
His mother told reporters a text message was sent from his mobile phone to triple-zero in Queensland, prompting the police response.
NSW Blue Mountains-based computer security expert, Stilgherrian, who goes by a single name, said it would be entirely possible for hackers anywhere in the world to gain access to Mr McGrath’s computer and spark the hoax.
“Once they’ve hacked his computer they can either make online or Skype calls out through it,” he told AAP.
Computer programs could also have been used to send out text messages from his mobile phone.
The incident is believed to be the first case of swatting in Australia that’s prompted an emergency services or police response.
There have been numerous cases of the prank in the US, including those targeting celebrities such as Selena Gomez, Justin Bieber, Paris Hilton, Tom Cruise, Clint Eastwood and Ashton Kutcher.
Stilgherrian said in some cases hackers had invented a scoring system, whereby they get additional points if the incident appears on television or attracts a response of more than 50 police officers.
Lawmakers in California have introduced stiff penalties for those caught swatting, including paying back the costs involved in the emergency response.
In any case, Bonar Street got a wake-up call at 4.40am on Wednesday when police arrived.
Neighbour Ray Anderson told AAP he was woken by bright lights, before seeing police and TV crews lining the usually quiet street.
“I woke up to a great big light shining in my window,” he said.
“It was still dark.”
Mr Anderson described the teen as “a very nice lad”.