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As Vermont businesses, schools and politicians have transitioned toward conference calls and remote learning during the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, there have been reports of Zoom meetings being derailed by unwelcome guests.
On Wednesday, the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) warned computer users to be aware of potential COVID-19 related scams.
“As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called “Zoom-bombing”) are emerging nationwide,” the FBI’s Boston Office said in a statement.
The federal agency has received numerous reports of conferences disrupted by pornographic and hate images, as well as threatening language.
Safeguard your next meeting:
Burlington School District, Vermont Senate victims of ‘zoombombing’
An elementary school in Burlington experienced its own case of zoombombing this week.
A code for a Wednesday meeting affiliated with the Sustainability Academy at Lawrence Barnes got shared online, according to Russell Elek, communications specialist with the district.
“Once the meeting began, it became clear that one of the meeting attendees was not following community guidelines,” he wrote in an email. “The meeting was ended and soon restarted with additional restrictions in place to ensure a safe environment for all.”
The school and district are responding to the incident in a few different ways, according to Elek:
- Principal Nina Oropeza took measures to prevent this from occurring in the future.
- Staff will receive a guideline document regarding technology conferencing, prepared by the district’s Technology Integration Specialists.
- It’s been recommended that staff use Zoom less, “but this guideline document will provide even clearer direction to move away from this software unless staff have worked directly with our curriculum director.”
“We have learned from this incident and will continue to do so as we adjust to a new normal during this time of global pandemic,” Elek said.
One day later, on Thursday, someone cut in on a Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture hearing and shared pornographic videos, according to VTDigger.
FBI: How to protect your meetings, report incidents
The FBI has not yet received reports of any Vermont incidents.
“We don’t know what people aren’t reporting,” said Sarah Ruane, public affairs specialist for the FBI’s office in Albany.
Individuals or organizations that are victims of teleconference hijacking, phishing scams or other cyber-related crimes are being asked to report to the agency’s Internet Crime Complaint Center.
Ruane said the FBI anticipates more scams related to the COVID-19 pandemic, such as fake fundraising efforts or false claims that a person has access to testing kits.
“These people are using the fact that everyone is craving information,” Ruane said.
The FBI is advising conference meeting hosts to make their calls private, either through requiring a password for attendees or controlling the amount of users in a chat.
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