A 22-year-old Connecticut man is facing a year in prison for participating in a series of "swatting" hoaxes. This summer, Matthew Tollis pled guilty to faking a bomb threat as part of a group known as "Team Crucifix or Die" or TCOD. According to the Department of Justice, Tollis was involved in six fake emergency calls in 2014, including one that shut down the University of Connecticut for three hours as police searched for explosives. Last week, a judge sentenced him to 12 months and one day in prison, plus three years of supervised release and 300 hours of community service.
Tollis was arrested in September of last year, a few months after the Connecticut bomb threat. The Justice Department said that as part of TCOD, he "identified potential institutions ... for TCOD members to make the threatening calls, and gathered telephone numbers and other information about the targeted institutions." Besides the University of Connecticut, he was involved in threats towards Boston University and the Boston Convention Center, as well as two high schools in New Jersey and one in Texas.
"Swatting is not a schoolboy prank, it's a federal crime."
TCOD, described as a group composed mostly of Xbox gamers, is supposed to have made other calls without Tollis' involvement. The Justice Department says several of TCOD's members are in the UK, and it's working with British law enforcement on an investigation. This summer, security expert Brian Krebs noted that the group later renamed itself the "ISIS Gang" and was allegedly also connected to Julius Kivimaki, a hacker convicted this year for injecting malware into a large number of computer systems and stealing credit card numbers. According to an affidavit that ABC News published snippets from last year, Tollis joined TCOD after hackers posted his address and other personal information online, hoping that "it would discourage others from bullying him."
"Swatting," or making false emergency calls to get law enforcement dispatched to a location, has entered the popular lexicon over the past few years. Arguably, Tollis' actions fall more in the realm of traditional fake threats, though the terms are fuzzy. Swatting usually describes someone targeting an individual's home, not a public institution, which is what makes it so potentially dangerous. Instead of simply getting an area locked down or evacuated, one of the intended effects is getting the target themselves attacked or arrested by police, something that happened to Krebs himself in 2013.
US Attorney Deirdre Daly, however, refers to the events as swatting. "Swatting is not a schoolboy prank, it’s a federal crime," she said in a statement. "It is our hope that this prosecution and the knowledge that this defendant will serve time in prison and live with a felony conviction for the remainder of his life will deter others from engaging in this immature, dangerous and criminal behavior." While prosecutions for swatting are still relatively new, a Canadian teen was sentenced to 16 months in custody earlier this year.