In a Florida suburb Friday afternoon, local law enforcement received a call from a man confessing to hoarding explosives and killing his wife after seeing her cheat on him. Seemingly distraught, he gave them a play-by-play of the chaos unraveling. However, the crime didn't happen. The call was made by someone who hacked into his Ring surveillance camera.
NBC 2 reported that Sarah Courtney, the supposed dead wife, was home when she got a call from local authorities asking if she was alive. Nearby, her children’s school went into lockdown and the neighborhood was swarming with law enforcement, according to The North Port Sun.
When authorities arrived at Courtney’s home, they found her unharmed and couldn’t decipher who the incognito caller was. Then the Ring camera started calling them names. It had been hacked and then used in a version of a swatting prank, an escalating, but similar type of prank to a series of Ring hacks that happened last year.
As seen in a video from NBC 2, officers walking out of Courtney’s home are met with a, “Yo, what’s up [sic],” and other insults. One officer turns around, looks awkwardly into the Ring camera, and waves. “Hello?” they say, seemingly confused.
The investigation is ongoing, however, Josh Taylor, the City of North Port’s communications manager, believes the doorbell hacker is based in Sweden. Taylor said the perpetrator allegedly broke into the home’s internet connection and was able to switch the doorbell’s password, gaining access to its camera. Once the person knew Courtney was home, he made the call.
“We had a lot of interactions with the previous owners of this address,” said Taylor in an interview with Motherboard. “We’re not sure but they could have had beef with this hacker. Without knowing the old resident had moved, whoever made the call could have looked up the address and targeted them for whatever reason.”
“I think it was incredibly random. But rattling,” Courtney said in an interview with the North Port Sun. “Some creep was watching me walk up to my front door. Just a major invasion of privacy. I was like ‘what the heck.’ It’s a scary side of society.”
As Motherboard has previously reported, Ring cameras had been frequent targets for hackers, who broke into individual cameras of owners who did not use two-factor verification. There is no indication that Ring's servers had been hacked; in this case, a single Ring camera owner's account was hacked. Once a hacker is in, they can watch live stream video from the camera, access archival footage, and even speak through the device’s speakers, as displayed in Courtney’s case.
“Based on our ongoing investigation, a small number of Ring accounts appear to have been accessed by bad actors using compromised email accounts—Ring systems were not compromised,” a Ring spokesperson said in a statement. “We promptly notified these customers and reset their Ring passwords so they could secure both their Ring and personal email accounts. Swatting is a serious crime and we’re working with law enforcement to hold the bad actors accountable and protect customers.”
Courtney said she assumes the hacker was watching and waiting for her to get home. She told local news she thought it was a joke at first, but eventually realized she had been “swatted.”
Made popular by YouTubers, swatting is a malicious gag where someone calls the police and reports a serious situation like a hostage hold up or murder. Local officials rush to the scene but typically only find a completely innocent citizen caught wildly off guard. It’s no joke, though, as swatting has led to multiple deaths in the United States.