A University of Georgia organic chemistry class’s online Zoom lecture was shut down on April 6 when students said unidentified users joined the class and sent racist, anti-gay and anti-Semitic slurs.
“It was obvious they were trying to upset people,” said Joshua Mishkin, a sophomore genetics major from Marietta, who was in the video conference.
“Zoom bombing” is a form of cyber-harassment in which a Zoom conference is disrupted by an unwelcome party. It has caused school districts, including the New York City Department of Education and Clark County Public Schools in Nevada, to ban the use of Zoom video-conferencing services, according to the Washington Post. Zoom bombing has become so prevalent that the FBI issued a news release on March 30 warning people to be cautious online.
The professor, Douglas Jackson, realized what was happening when he joined the lecture and shut it down. Since then, he has met with the Franklin College Office of Information Technology to work out a more secure Zoom meeting procedure.
“I am presenting my digital whiteboard, ChemDraw software, browser through screen share to a silent audience who cannot talk or ‘text chat’ with me or each other,” said Jackson in an April 15 email. “I can unmute them and they can ask a question that everyone can hear. It’s quite an effective teaching tool.”
Along with muting the chat, hosts of a Zoom session can also lock their meeting once all of their intended participants have joined, according to a tweet from UGA’s Enterprise Information Technology Services.
UGA participated in over 4.5 million minutes of Zoom meetings from March 30 to April 3, Greg Trevor, UGA spokesperson, said in an email on April 9. The disruption to the organic chemistry class “was an isolated incident that is under investigation by the University,” Trevor said.
Zoom’s founder and CEO, Eric Yuan, addressed these issues in a message on the Zoom website on April 1, five days before the UGA organic chemistry class incident.
“We recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s — and our own — privacy and security expectations,” Yuan said in the post. “For that, I am deeply sorry, and I want to share what we are doing about it.”
According to the message, Zoom has updated security measures in several ways, including preventing the application from collecting information from users’ devices and changing settings to make teachers the only sharers of content in K-12 classes. Zoom is also pausing all feature updates until June 30 to focus solely on security enhancement.
Features such as Zoom’s waiting room, two-factor authentication and meeting locks are in place to prevent unwanted guests from joining video chats, according to a March 20 post on the Zoom website. Zoom has also established certain host controls, such as sharing options, that allow the creator of the meeting to block other users from sharing their screens.