How Safe Is Zoom? FBI Issues Warning About Hackers And Our Kids Could Be At Risk

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As we continue to hunker down in our homes in the wake of a hellish pandemic, many of us are turning to technology to stay connected. We are using online video teleconferencing (VTC) to visit with friends and family and to conduct meetings while we work from home.

And it is not without A LOT of growing pains.

Most of us have laughed hysterically at the Zoom meetings gaffes that have gone viral as we struggle to adjust to life in the virtual world. Mostly because they are funny, but also because we all secretly know, this could have just as easily happened to us. 

But it’s not just adults that are using VTC platforms. Our kids are now on them too. With schools closed and extracurricular activities halted, educators are setting up virtual classrooms and turning to Zoom to teach our children.

Piano lessons, voice lessons, art classes and more have also transitioned on-line. In addition, our children’s social lives are being lived out in front of screens, rather than in person. 

Zoom has become an indispensable tool in keeping employees, teachers, students, church-goers, friends, and loved ones connected. But at what cost? 

Because apparently? Zoom has a dark side. And why can’t we just have one thing go right in a world that has gone so horribly wrong? 

Zoombombers are hijacking people’s meetings with pornographic and/or hate images and threatening messages.They are taking over screens, chat boxes, and audio feeds. And we are all at risk. 

In the past few days there have been a number of incidents and it is so worrying, in fact, that the FBI has deemed it necessary to issue a warning.

According to the Boston FBI unit, two schools in Massachusetts have reported incidents where an online classroom was hacked.

In the first incident a high-school teacher was conducting a lesson when an unknown individual dialed in, yelling profanities and shouting out the teacher’s home address. In the second occurrence, an individual popped up in the video feed bearing Swastika tattoos.

Business Insider has also reported that zoombombers disrupted an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New York. Trolls harassed participants with “misogynistic and anti-Semitic slurs, along with crass references to drinking.” 

Another disturbing incident occurred during Sunday school at a church in Austin, Texas.

“Trolls began sharing their screens and drawing obscene images over the text the group had been discussing.

“You are being hacked! You are being hacked!” one shouted. Another turned on his video and began revealing his genitals.”

Dennis Johnson, a doctoral candidate in California, relays his own horrifying experience while presenting his dissertation, “The struggles of African Americans in California’s education system,” via Zoom. In the middle of his presentation a hacker drew a penis on the screen.

Then came the N-word. Quickly followed by more pornographic images.

Infiltrators are popping up everywhere.

Online classes at Arizona State University and the University of Southern California have also been hacked. As was a Jewish high school in Vancouver.

The FBI has released the following recommendations to mitigate hijacking threats:

  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.
  • Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
  • Manage screensharing options. In Zoom, change screensharing to “Host Only.”
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications. In January 2020, Zoom updated their software. In their security update, the teleconference software provider added passwords by default for meetings and disabled the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.
  • Lastly, ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security

A Zoom spokesperson has said that the company is “deeply upset” about the attacks.

Zoom has published its own blog post on how to keep uninvited guests out. They recommend password protecting meetings, not sharing meeting links on social media, and only allowing signed-in users to join. 

Zoom also stresses that meeting organizers should NEVER give up control of their screens.

In a world completely turned upside down, parents are scrambling to keep our kids safe.

Not only are we worried about the physical threat of a deadly virus sweeping the globe, we now have to look out for danger lurking within our own homes. Behind our screens.

Technology has helped to keep us connected as minuscule bugs continue to keep us apart. But it isn’t without significant risks. Hackers are out there. And just as with the coronavirus, we are all vulnerable.

So take precautions, monitor your kids’ screen use, and take the time to configure the recommended settings. And above all, stay safe. Inside your homes and out.

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