Even with the world coming to a complete stop outside of our homes, people are finding new and innovative ways to suck, even from a (social) distance. Whether it’s your idiot neighbors who think that the second the weather hits 60 degrees outside, coronavirus magically goes away, Vanessa Hudgens opening her mouth, or this new insane thing called Zoom-bombing, humanity never ceases to amaze me—and not in a good way.
So, what exactly is Zoom-bombing? You can probably guess based on the name, but it’s when people join Zoom calls without an invite and typically with a pretty sh*tty motivation. This obviously isn’t unique to Zoom, and all video conferencing programs are vulnerable to hacking. As someone who has been using Zoom for meetings since, like, high school, I honestly have never thought about doing anything like this. However, I guess when the entire world is now dependent on a single platform, it’s easier for sh*tty people to do anything to f*ck it up for the rest of us. This is why we can’t have nice things.
As schools and businesses across the country increasingly rely on Zoom for remote learning, conference calls, and the like, so too have people taken to being incredibly disruptive to Zoom-based meetings and using the platform for really f*cked up stuff.
I am a junior at Tulane University, where, a few weeks ago, a Zoom class was recently interrupted by a so-called Zoom Bomber. After news of the event spread throughout campus, I was able to get a hold of a student who was on the call when it happened. She agreed to share her experience with me but asked to remain anonymous, so we will call her Sophie.
Sophie is a Junior in the business school (but she’s chill, I promise) and is taking a Research and Analytics class this semester. Discussing the event, she said, “we were going over attribute types when this kid, whose name I didn’t recognize, asked a question that didn’t make sense.” According to Sophie, the class is small enough where she could recognize the names and voices of her classmates, and she thought he may have just been a member of another section of the class, which is a pretty normal thing to happen. Let’s just say I’ve definitely been a little hungover and gone to a 2pm stat lab instead of my 9:30am one before.
However, things got a little more abnormal when the professor went to the next slide on his presentation. Sophie explains that one of the attributes being discussed was hair color. “My professor said that these attributes can’t be ranked, and that was when the Zoom Bombers decided to make their move,” Sophie recalled. “These two voices, which I didn’t recognize, both started saying that’s so racist, and you can’t say one hair color is better than the other.”
But Sophie explains that it wasn’t just a dumb-ass student misunderstanding and being disruptive: “that’s when they started dominating the conversation, and they took over the screen, started drawing swastikas over the slide, and then completely took over the screen and were writing the N-word all over it.” The eeriest part of it, said Sophie, was that “they were just laughing during it. It wasn’t just a bot, these were actual kids who wanted to take over the class” to spew racist hate speech.
Eventually, this the professor was forced to end the class mid-session and used a password for the next session.
“It was so startling hearing real people’s voices on the other end, laughing and having fun while they were doing it,” explained Sophie. “I had heard about because my brother’s school got an email, so I wasn’t as startled, but I don’t think my professor knew about it at that point.”
It isn’t just college campuses that are dealing with Zoom-bombing, according to the New York Times: Reddit, Instagram, Twitter, and 4Chan have been used to plan these “harassment campaigns.” Classes in middle and high schools, doctoral dissertations, youth group events that have been moved online, and company-wide meetings are just some examples of events that have been disrupted. I guess even if the world is ending, assholes are going to asshole.
No one could have predicted that all at once, Zoom was going to become the backbone of many people’s work lives, and the company was not fully prepared to be used on such a wide scale. However, they are working now to make up for lapses in security and other programming issues.
Over the weekend, Zoom sent an email explaining security measures to users. These include virtual waiting rooms and meeting passwords, which they recently enabled for users with free memberships; the virtual waiting room feature will be turned on by default so hosts can manage who enters their meeting before it begins. They also removed the ability for users to randomly scan for meetings to join, and are requiring all meetings to have a password. Hosts can also require all users to authenticate before entering, which basically means people need to create and log into their Zoom accounts to be permitted to join a meeting. Additionally, Zoom and similar video conferencing programs encourage that users stay on top of updates that include new security measures.
The bottom line is that Zoom-bombing is like if someone gave photo-bombing steroids and a MAGA hat and made it 1,000 times more offensive and disruptive. It isn’t funny or cute, and if “don’t be an asshole” isn’t enough of a reason not to do it, then just know the FBI is looking into it too. In a recent press release, the FBI Boston Division said they are paying increased attention to cyber-crimes, especially incidents of Zoom-bombing. They recommend not making meetings public, and not posting the links to any upcoming meetings on social media, but rather, give the link out directly only to the people you want to attend your meeting. If you’re hosting a meeting, you may want to change your screensharing settings to “host only” so random trolls can’t take over your screen.
As if the constant threat of COVID-19 wasn’t enough, we have to be extra careful in terms of the technology we use. The same FBI release recommends that in addition to increased security measures that companies like Zoom have taken, all users should use their due diligence.
Image: Gabriel Benois / Unsplash
Most of us consider our computers online shopping or Netflix machines, and have no f*cking clue how they work. Beyond the turn-it-off-then-on-again method, the vast majority of computer users are not necessarily tech savvy. However, 17-year-old River O’Conner from Washington knew enough about computers to hack our election system. Before you start picturing a hacker with a black hoodie on, sitting in front of like 5 monitors in his basement (i.e. our exact header image), think again. River did this as part of a hack-a-thon, and not as an international terrorist. Very important to clarify that fact since he prob is still trying to apply to college and he’s prob got a reputation to protect as a normal teen not terrorist, the usual.
Why Did He Do It?
So it wasn’t even his idea… the Democratic National Committee (DNC) decided to have a mock election system hacking challenge (say that 10 times fast) at the annual DEF CON convention in Vegas. Because a group of teen hackers and the DNC could really only make sense in Vegas. River has attended the convention since he was 11 and wanted to participate in this challenge because I guess something made him feel like our election system could be vulnerable? Wonder what that could be…
How Did He Do It?
In his personal account, which you can read here, River uses some jargon like “MySQL” and a bunch of other tech info that those of us who aren’t in STEM (I see you, beautiful lady STEM warriors) probs don’t fully understand. But whatever the method, the outcome was that a bunch of teens were able to change names, numbers, and – oh yeah – the outcome of an election. River decided to go one step further, putting himself in the mindset of a spy. He shut down the whole system by copying the IP Address, accessing the portal from a secure wifi spot, and the googled the coding he would need to use to shut it down. This all happened in minutes and he googled how to do the main part. *jaw on floor*
Why TF Does It Matter?
Basically our entire voting system is based on the idea that everyone gets one vote and that vote matters. So, when a bunch of high schoolers are able to hack into the election system and cancel those votes out, it’s def concerning. River O’Connor may not be a spy, but there are for sure plenty of countries *cough, Russia, cough* that would easily be able to pull this off. Even scarier is the fact that this may have already happened in 2016, when 21 state election systems were hacked.
It’s been no secret that state election systems have been v vulnerable in recent years and it is a problem that could be fixed. Unfortunately, the powers that be in Congress and the crumbling White House aren’t making any changes. If a 17-year-old who doesn’t even know if he wants to study technology in college yet can hack into an election system in 10 minutes, then let’s just assume pretty much every country as like hundreds of people who could too.
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