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Hackers Targeting Video Conference Calls To Harass, Surveil and Threaten

The increasingly common form of cyber attack known as "Zoom bombing" have drawn the attention of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Our teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. We provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.
The Associated Press is an independent, not-for-profit news cooperative headquartered in New York City. Our teams in over 100 countries tell the world’s stories, from breaking news to investigative reporting. We provide content and services to help engage audiences worldwide, working with companies of all types, from broadcasters to brands.

Image source: Zoom Video Communications

By Regina Garcia Cano and Aaron Morrison

Despite the update, Nevada’s Clark County School District, which includes all public schools in Las Vegas, and the New York City Department of Education, which is responsible for the largest school district in the U.S., have told teachers to stop using Zoom.

Zoom-bombing was always a threat given how the video conferencing app was configured — geared more toward user-friendliness than privacy, said Justin Brookman, director of privacy and technology policy at Consumer Reports.

When shelter-at-home mandates suddenly converted Zoom into a lifeline for tens of millions of families, it became a juicy target for mischief, he said.

For years, “the usability issues outweighed the potential security issues because society was less reliant on them. Obviously, that has changed dramatically over the last month,” Brookman added.

Some Zoom-bombers have been able to randomly guess meeting IDs and crash conferences not configured to keep out interlopers, he said.

In other cases, inexperienced users have exposed meeting IDs online, including U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who tweeted a screenshot of a Zoom Cabinet meeting that showed the ID and everyone’s screen name.

Brookman said Zoom can do more to boost privacy protections for a massive user base that now ranges from elementary school children to senior citizens discussing their wills with attorneys.

“A lot of people, including us, are critical of how they enable hosts to surveil users to make sure they are paying attention to the screen, or reading DMs or recording the call when it’s not entirely clear,” Brookman said.

A mother in Georgia told a local TV station that her son was “embarrassed and a little hysterical” after someone hacked into his online class and showed pornography to the children and teacher.

The Rev. Jason Wells was holding a publicly advertised forum recently on Zoom when a troll entered and used the chat box to post a racial slur so many times that it made the feature unusable for other participants.

“I would not say this was a random vandal hoping to interrupt somebody,” said Wells, who is executive director of the New Hampshire Council of Churches in Concord and co-chair of a state chapter of the Poor People’s Campaign, part of a movement pioneered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. The intruder was eventually removed and blocked.

As the Rev. Laura Everett delivered a sermon via Zoom for Boston’s First Baptist Church, a user who had seen the church service advertised entered the video conferencing session and shouted homophobic and racist slurs. Everett said she had tweeted the link to the sermon because she wanted “the doors of the church to be open to every weary soul who is looking for a word of comfort.”

“This was, for all intents and purposes, a house of worship that was violated,” she said. “Zoom and every other business bears the primary responsibility for users’ safety.”

In Oakland, California, Malachi Garza reported an attack on a Zoom conference she hosted for roughly 200 participants, including formerly incarcerated people who have experience with solitary confinement and are struggling with the pandemic’s stay-home orders.

The conference organized by the philanthropic Solidare Network was interrupted by racist, anti-transgender language, and pornographic images were flashed on a shared screen.

Zoom needs to “tell the truth and call this what it really is,” Garza said. “It’s racial terror, not party crashers.”

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Aaron Morrison reported from New York. Associated Press Technology Writer Frank Bajak in Boston also contributed to this report.

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Source: AP News