Two men have been charged with hacking into at least a dozen Amazon Ring cameras across the country, swatting the owners, and streaming the aftermath.
Authorities say that Kya Christian Nelson, 21, of Racine, Wisconsin, and James Thomas Andrew McCarty, 20, of Charlotte, North Carolina, went on a “swatting spree” in November 2020, carrying out a string of attacks aimed at unsuspecting homeowners throughout the U.S.
Nelson and McCarty are accused of swatting random homes and then using the residences’ hacked Ring security cameras to stream the police response to social media, according to a Justice Department press release from the Central District of California, where the men are now facing charges. The duo’s alleged hacking spree took place over the course of a week, between Nov. 7 and Nov. 13, of 2020, and targeted homes in states as far flung as California, Texas, Montana, Michigan, Georgia, Virginia, Illinois and Florida.
Swatting involves making 911 hoax calls, often in an attempt to get police to erroneously respond to particular residences, which can be incredibly dangerous. In one episode in 2017, a man was mistakenly shot dead by police after two men swatted his home. One of the swatters was later sentenced to 20 years in prison.
After police rushed to the houses in question, Nelson and McCarty would use the Ring cameras to share “the audio and video from those devices on social media during the police response,” according to authorities. They would also frequently “taunt” and threaten the responding officers via the cameras, the indictment states. In one particular incident in West Covina, Calif., the men are alleged to have called the police while posing as a “minor child.” During the call, they reported that the child’s parents were “drinking and shooting guns inside the residence,” thus eliciting a police response.
Authorities say the two men carried out their hacking activities under cover of online pseudonyms—Nelson as “ChumLul,” and McCarty, as “Aspertaine.” To hack the home security systems, they allegedly used compromised login credentials for Yahoo accounts that were linked to the Ring cameras. It isn’t clear where Nelson and McCarty got ahold of these credentials, though it’s easy to purchase that kind of information on the dark web.
Nelson and McCarty were both indicted by a Los Angeles federal grand jury last week, and now both face one felony count of conspiracy to intentionally access computers without authorization. Additionally, Nelson faces two counts of intentionally accessing a computer without authorization and two counts of aggravated identity theft.
The accompanying indictment also states that the duo worked together with a third co-conspirator, an unnamed juvenile. Others “known and unknown” are alleged to have been involved, making the whole thing sound very much like a swatting gang in it for sick laughs.
If convicted, Nelson and McCarty could each face up to five years in prison. If convicted of aggravated identity theft, they will face a mandatory two-year consecutive sentence. Nelson is already behind bars in connection to a different case, officials say.