‘Zoombombing’ Isn’t a Prank, It’s a Federal Crime

‘Zoombombing’ Isn’t a Prank, It’s a Federal Crime

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Zoom has become one of the most popular ways for people to stay in touch during the coronavirus pandemic. As an unprecedented number of people work–and socialize–from home, the video conferencing app is essential. But it isn’t all funny backgrounds and filters.

Hackers have discovered an easy way to hijack other people’s Zoom meetings. They then post shockingly graphic or racist content for their unsuspecting audience. Termed “Zoombombing,” it’s not just a prank. It’s a federal offense.

What Is Zoombombing?

Hackers and trolls access other people’s video conferences on Zoom and post disruptive, often offensive content. These cybercriminals find publicly listed meetings or use a simple Google search to find unprotected Zoom addresses.

The cyberattacks appear to have some level of coordination. They seem to be targeting schools and universities, as well as Alcoholics Anonymous meetings.

For example, a virtual AA meeting was recently disrupted by a troll shouting racial slurs and taunting the attendees.  And during a class for students of Orange County Public Schools in Florida, a man appeared onscreen and exposed himself to the teachers and students.

Michigan Federal Prosecutors Lay Down the Law

The US Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Michigan spoke out against Zoombombing: “Hackers are disrupting conferences and online classrooms with pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language. Anyone who hacks into a teleconference can be charged with state or federal crimes.”

The charges could include “disrupting a public meeting, computer intrusion, using a computer to commit a crime, hate crimes, fraud, or transmitting threatening communications,” according to the federal prosecutors.

Lax Security Leaves Loopholes for Hackers

Zoom offers a fun and easy way for people to participate in video conferences. It’s a way for classes and business meetings to continue, as well as a virtual space for friends and family to hang out. But the convenience of creating a teleconference with an easily clickable link means that it’s all too easy for strangers to crash your party.

The company has been overwhelmed with growth. With 200 million+ users, it quickly became clear that there were major security issues. Zoom has put feature development on hold in order to focus on fixing those issues. They claim to have already addressed multiple bugs and vulnerabilities, but it is an ongoing battle.

How Can You Protect Yourself?

It’s important to take steps to protect yourself if you want to use Zoom. The service is known for having poor privacy and security–although they’re working on it–so you need to be that much more vigilant.

Make sure that meetings are password protected. Notify participants of the meeting through email or direct message instead of posting on social media. If you are the meeting organizer, control who can share their screens.

In addition, the meeting organizer should take these steps:

  • Turn off the “Join Before Host” function to prevent anyone from hijacking the meeting.
  • Create a Waiting Room for participants, which allows you to vet everyone before allowing them to join.
  • Lock the meeting once it has started so that no one else can join unexpectedly.

If you follow this advice, you should be able to avoid Zoombombing attacks.