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Two Charged in Ring Camera Hacking Spree Used to 'Swat' Police

The Department of Justice said Monday that two men participated in a nationwide scheme to hack Ring security cameras, draw local police and harass them.

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The Department of Justice said on Monday that two men have been charged in a scheme that involved hacking Ring security cameras outside homes, drawing and sometimes taunting police, and then broadcasting the antics on social media.

Bloomberg / Contributor I Getty Images
Ring cameras.

Amazon bought security company Ring in 2018, and the product quickly became one of the company's "signature" security products for the home, per The Guardian. Ring offers products like doorbells, security cameras and home security systems, with relevant data and controls accessible through the company's app.

Critics and researchers say the Ring cameras are used to surveil gig economy drivers and delivery people and that they give law enforcement too much power to survey everyday life.

Related: Report Reveals Controversy Surrounding Video Doorbells — and Why Delivery Drivers Don't Like Them

It's unclear what the men's motivation was. The two charged are Kya Christian Nelson, who is 21, from Racine, Wisconsin and "currently incarcerated in Kentucky in an unrelated case," per the DOJ, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty, who is 20 and from Charlotte, North Carolina.

In this case, the two men used the Ring cameras to do something known as "swatting," where one pretends there is an emergency to draw a large group of police or other first responders.

The pair would hack people's Yahoo email accounts, then their Ring accounts, find their addresses, call law enforcement to the home with a bogus story, and then stream police's response to the call. Often, they would harass the first responders at the same time using Ring device capabilities.

For example, "A hoax telephone call was placed to the West Covina [California] Police Department purporting to originate from the victim's residence and posing as a minor child reporting her parents drinking and shooting guns inside the residence of the victim's parents," the Justice Department wrote.

The pair conducted this scheme a dozen times across the country in a one-week span, the department noted. The two men were indicted by a grand jury. Nelson faces two counts of accessing a computer without permission and two counts of aggravated identity theft.

Nelson and McCarty each face one count of conspiring to access computers without permission.

The conspiracy and computer charges have a maximum sentence of five years each, and identity theft has a required sentence of two years. The case is also being investigated by The Federal Bureau of Investigation.

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