The use of Zoom videoconferencing technology has exploded now that people have to stay at home but still need to communicate with people as part of their work or to stay connected with friends and family. Educational institutions especially have begun to use Zoom extensively to teach online. But along with that new popularity, Zoom has also become the target of hackers who are exploiting its security flaws and taken up the practice now being called ‘Zoom bombing’.
The huge uptake of Zoom has created the new phenomenon of ‘zoombombing’ which sees uninvited guests join video conferences, usually to shout abuse, share pornography or make racist remarks.
The mischief-makers find out the details of the meetings either via links that have been shared publicly on social media platforms or websites or, in some cases, by simply guessing the nine digit ID code. It is reasonably easy to prevent attacks by password protecting meetings and not allowing anyone other than the host to screen-share.
Some of these pests are sociopaths who just enjoy disrupting the lives of others for no reason, while others are suspected to be white supremacists who seek to promote their message and gain new recruits by appealing to those young people who might find such antics amusing, ‘for the lulz’ as the kids say these days, though given how fast slang changes, they may now be saying something else.
When she founded WOC Space, Tiara Moore envisioned a virtual place where professional women of color could meet, socialize, and offer support in a safe setting.
Then when stay-at-home orders began to be issued across the country, Moore believed the group’s weekly meetings were more important than ever. They offered moral support, tips, and relief to the isolation of working from home by being able to connect people via Zoom.
So on Monday, she logged onto the video conferencing app and continued working on her computer, waiting for the handful of members to join her.
The virtual room instantly filled with what seemed like 100 people, Moore said, with multiple people yelling racist slurs at the same time. It was chaos — but the n-word, being repeatedly yelled in the middle of it, could be heard distinctly.
“I immediately closed it down like, what just happened,” she said.
With schools closed and people across the country working from home, the use of teleconferencing has exploded during the coronavirus pandemic. Business executives, government officials, and kindergarten classes have flocked to apps like Zoom, which have become vital to day-to-day work and life during the pandemic.
Unfortunately, racists and trolls have also taken advantage of the app, sneaking their way into unsuspecting meetings and online gatherings, usually bombarding them with pornographic images or racist attacks.
Social media posts show that “Zoombombing” incidents have become widespread in recent days. In particular, college classes and students have become targets, usually with attackers disrupting meetings with racist language.
Jessica Jackson, a second-year student at UCLA, was logging into her astronomy class on Tuesday when it was hijacked within five minutes.
“[The professor] gave them the space to ask their question and then was bombarded by someone repeatedly referring to him as the n-word,” Jackson told BuzzFeed News. “Having to leave our universities abruptly because of the pandemic has been taxing enough as it is. It’s wild to think that now we have to worry about virtual harassment when we’re all just trying to learn and get our degree.”
I have been using Zoom for video chats with friends and have not experienced any problems so far. Fortunately, there are some fairly straightforward preventative steps that can be taken such as the meeting host requiring to first give permission to anyone who has been invited to attend before they can join or blocking the use of screen sharing by participants. This can be tedious if there are a lot of people involved, especially for people who are not that tech savvy.