FBI gets involved as 'Zoombombing' threatens online classes

As the teleconferencing application Zoom gains more popularity and more users, concerns about users’ data privacy and the risk of malicious cyber actors “hijacking” conference calls also continue to grow. Now, it’s even gotten to the point where the FBI is involved. 

High schools, universities and many workplaces went virtual in order to curb the spread of coronavirus and ensure people’s health wouldn’t be compromised. Zoom, the teleconferencing app garnered significant use and utility in order for education and other industries to continue operations. However, after previously reported “Zoombombings,” several questions about user privacy and the privacy of the conferences themselves have surfaced.

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On Wednesday, the FBI issued a press release that described the “Zoombombers” shouting profanities and displaying swastikas in Massachusetts schools. Previous Campus Reform reporting highlights college courses at University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign also being disrupted in a similar manner. 

Questions about privacy protections and who has access to these teleconferences are being asked, and the New York Attorney General, Latitia James sent a letter to Zoom on Monday in order to better understand how they handle users’ data. According to the New York Times reporting, the letter expressed concerns among which were security flaws “that could enable malicious third parties to, among other things, gain surreptitious access to consumer webcams.”

“The possibility of data vulnerability is less concerning to me than it may be to others,” Ryan Murray, a senior at Michigan State University who is using Zoom for some of his lectures, told Campus Reform. “However, I do think the companies like Zoom have an obligation to their users, especially since they are charging large sums for companies and universities for their contracts, to protect their privacy and data”, he continues. 

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Murray also expresses, however, if there were a different option with more privacy guarantees, then he might prefer a substitute, saying, “Given growing concerns around the lack of privacy, this could push me to find a better alternative.” He also adds, “We would not be forgiving if private individuals were wiretapping our personal phones and this is just the next generation of that.” 

On Sunday, Zoom did announce an update to their privacy policy amid growing concerns about the application. In addition to that, on March 20, Zoom also posted to its blog useful instructions that outline how to prevent future incidents, known as “Zoombombing.” 

Furthermore, the FBI posted in its press release bulleted instructions that echo Zoom’s blog post. The FBI also noted,“If you were a victim of a teleconference hijacking or any cyber-crime for that matter, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.”

Follow the author of this article on Twitter: @AlexTokie