Schools scrambling to transition to online learning amid the coronavirus pandemic are exposing students to hackers and perverts, and experts are urging step up to protect their privacy.
Last Tuesday, a so-called “Zoom bomber” hacked into a video conference with students at Berkeley High School and exposed himself while shouting obscenities. Superintendent Brent Stephens said the man “obtained the credentials for the meeting and was able to gain access to the session,” The Mercury News reports.
“What was especially troubling about this incident is that it appears that the teacher followed all the current guidance about security precautions in Zoom,” Stephens wrote in an email to parents.
The ordeal forced the district to suspend all video conferencing to re-evaluate the security of Zoom and other platforms like Google Meet.
“You have heard that school district across the country are dealing with issues of ‘Zoom bombing’ in which people join public meetings and say or do inappropriate things,” he told the new site. “We put many controls in place that we had thought would protect our online sessions.”
The FBI warned early this month about “multiple reports” of video conference calls interrupted with “pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language, including recent incidents in Massachusetts schools.
“In late March 2020, a Massachusetts-based high school reported that while a teacher was conducting an online class using the teleconferencing software Zoom, an unidentified individual(s) dialed into the classroom. The individual yelled a profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of instruction,” the FBI wrote in a press release.
“A second Massachusetts-based school reported a Zoom meeting being accessed by an unidentified individual. In this incident, the individual was visible on the video camera and displayed swastika tattoos.”
It was a similar situation in Orange, Florida, where a math class for eighth-graders at Wolf Lake Middle School were greeted by a nude hacker during a Zoom session.
Alexis Neely told WKMG her 14-year-old son said it was “a really weird class and disgusting.”
“He told me that when they were in class, all of a sudden, a man came on the screen who was naked and had exposed himself to all the kids,” she said.
“He said he didn’t want to talk about it because he just didn’t want to relive the memories or the images,” Neely said. “Fingers crossed that the other stuff they’re using will be a lot better.”
The University of California and New York City schools have faced similar breaches, which have inflicted official government meetings, as well.
“We are sorry to report we learned today that some of our online Zoom classes were disrupted by people who used racist and vi8le language that interrupted lectures and learning,” USC President Carol Folt and Provost Charles Zukoski wrote in an email. “We are taking immediate action to protect our classes from what is called Zoombombing – which, unfortunately, is taking place in organizations around the country.”
The Milwaukee Election Commission was apparently bombed on Easter Sunday as officials prepared to discuss absentee ballots without post marks.
Can’t make it up: Milwaukee Election Commission meeting on Sunday afternoon on Zoom was hacked. Radical Muslim posts and crude images appeared on everyone’s screens, so city officials abruptly ended the meeting. They were to discuss what to do with absentee ballots w/o postmarks.
— Daniel Bice (@DanielBice) April 12, 2020
“Can’t make it up: Milwaukee Election Commission meeting on Sunday afternoon on Zoom was hacked,” Daniel Bice posted to Twitter. “Radical Muslim posts and crude images appeared on everyone’s screens, so city officials abruptly ended the meeting. They were to discuss what to do with absentee ballots w/o postmarks.”
In some schools, the problems stem directly from officials running the show.
“In Oakland, district suffered a more widespread breach of student privacy after administrators inadvertently publicly posted hundreds of access codes and passwords used by teachers and students to log into online classrooms and video conferences,” the San Francisco Chronicle reports.
“The codes allowed anyone with a Gmail account to join the Google Classroom sites set up by teachers across the district, allowing access to students’ full names as well as their comments posted in class. The documents included the time, access codes and passwords for Zoom video conference with teachers and students.
“In Oakland, district officials were unaware of the exposure of the information until The Chronicle notified them of easily found information and access to the sites.”