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Sunday Mornings with Rania: ZoomBombing

Rania Mankarious
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Rania Mankarious

Rania Mankarious is executive director of Crime Stoppers of Houston(Photo: lawellphoto.com)

In an effort to see one another in our shelter-in-place world, most are turning to video-conferencing service Zoom to conduct meetings, have academic classes, celebrate milestones, or have social virtual visits. At the beginning of March, you may not have even known what Zoom was but now, with 32 million daily active users (10 times more than there were a year ago) we are all “zooming.”

All that said, as people strive for solutions while adhering to social distancing, there are others who see this as a prime and ripe opportunity for new types of exploitation. It’s getting so bad that many local FBI organizations are issuing warnings against the rising concerns within Zoom, coined zoombombing.  

Yes, Zoombombing.

During this time while we're all at home, many of us are using Zoom as a way to connect for work, school or social gatherings. Rania Mankarious, CEO of Crime Stoppers of Houston, talks about privacy concerns and how to stay safe using Zoom.

A new term to categorize incidents across the country that have popped up in many zoom meetings, the idea is that a Zoom user (usually uninvited) jumps onto your zoom platforms and takes over your meeting or visit. The zoom-crashers, in most cases, have ill intentions and start streaming inappropriate or illegal content or start taping your meetings or messages. 

Earlier this week, the Boston division of the FBI issued a warning against zoombombing after the agency received reports of meetings getting highjacked and then interrupted with streaming pornography, threats against participants, or extremely hateful content with horrific language. The meetings being highjacked range from business meetings to class sessions and the number of meetings being interrupted is growing. 

Also earlier this week, the office of the New York Attorney General, Letitia James, sounded the alarm after it was made aware that the Zoom camera on a MAC device was turned on by hackers, allowing them to see what a person was doing without permission. Not only can hackers see private activists taking place in someone’s home office or whatever device they have installed Zoom but that footage can be taped and shared without limits. Imagine the privacy violations and the potential damage if your teen or tween is taped unknowingly and their videos are shared? Don’t our children have enough to deal with? 

Another complaint arose when a user found that the Zoom software on their device had shared a version of one’s Windows account credentials with a hacker, allowing the hacker to run programs and install programs on the Windows computer without the owner’s knowledge or permission. Think of the documents that can be viewed, bank accounts and more that are subject to being compromised.  

Protect Yourself, Your Company and Your Kids, Now
Zoom and community experts are offering recommendations for users, namely:  

  • Make all meetings private. This means we are asking the community not to share zoom invites via social media or via apps or through professional platforms like LinkedIn or even in the body of professional emails (once people register for a session, they get a direct link to join). 
  • Send the Zoom invite closer to the time of the meeting and not days before where hackers or ill-intentioned people can get ahold of the link. 
  • Recognize that you can always be taped. Even in the best of cases, it’s easy for a host to turn on their recording feature in Zoom. Always keep that in mind so be careful of conversations, what you’re wearing and what you’re showing. 
  • Cover your phone or computer camera at all times when you are not using it and turn off the Zoom app (shut it down) when it’s not in use. 

Zoom is also doing the following things starting April 5, 2020: 

  • Enable Passwords. Zoom is enabling passwords for all meetings. This will apply to all upcoming meetings, even those previously scheduled. If your attendees are joining via a meeting link, you have nothing to worry about. For those joining by manually entering a Meeting ID, they’ll not be allowed to enter without the password. The meeting password can be found in the invitation. For instant meetings, the password will be displayed in the Zoom client or the meeting join URL. Users have the option to re-share the updated meeting link (which is the recommendation by Zoom) before the workweek begins so that no one has to worry about a passcode. To do that, log into your Zoom account, visit your “Meetings” tab, select the upcoming meeting by name and copy the new meeting invitation to share with your attendees. 
  • Enable “waiting rooms.” This features makes guests wait in a “waiting room” until the host identifies the user and specifically lets them in. Normally, the waiting room feature is enabled at the direction of the host but as of April 5, 2020, new and previously scheduled meetings will default to putting guests in a “waiting room” until they are let in by the host. To let guests into the meeting, the host will see the number of participants in your waiting room within the “Manage Participants” icon. Select “Manage Participants” to view the full list of participants. You can admit one-by-one by selecting the blue “Admit” button or all once by hitting the “Admit All” option o the right-hand side of your screen. 
  • Limit Screen Sharing. As the host, you can limit screen sharing in Zoom web settings.
  • Enable “manage participants.” Once a host has checked in all his/her guests, they can lock-out others from joining. Called a “meeting lock,” the set-up feature is simple: Click the “manage participants” button at the bottom of the Zoom application window, hit “more” in the participants' pane near the bottom right corner of the window, and select “lock meeting.” 
  • Teachers can limit the screen-sharing ability to only themselves. Zoom has offered free accounts without restrictions when dealing with kids K-12 that allow hosts alone to share their screens. See more on online learning.

And of course, law enforcement and the Zoom community are asking the public to report any incidents of zoombombing to Zoom’s website. We are also encouraging community members, kids, teachers and businesses to understand these risks and take them seriously. Whether having your camera turned on when you are unaware or being forced to view or hear content that is harmful, to having your Zoom account turned against you - there is much more yet to come from these attackers. Let’s get ahead of this trend quickly and share these safety measures with all. 

Read more on safety concerns during the time of the coronavirus pandemic here

Read past Sunday Mornings with Rania posts here. Find more information on Crime Stoppers of Houston on their website or follow them on Facebook. Have topics in mind that you’d like Rania to write about? Comment below or email her at [email protected]. Rania is co-host of a weekly podcast which features interesting local and national guests who used their platforms for the good of the community. Connect with Rania on Instagram and Twitter.

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