Avoiding ‘Zoom Bombing’ in the New Age of Meetings

- Posted
May 22, 2020

An unwelcome intruder who infiltrates the workplace or classroom and disrupts a meeting by acting erratically and blurting out epithets poses a threat to everyone's wellbeing and safety.

A few months ago a physical intruder would have been more likely to create risk exposure. But work and school have moved to virtual platforms in light of the global pandemic, and risk exposure has followed.

Platforms like Zoom, Skype, Blackboard Collaborate, Microsoft Teams, and WebEx allow classes, meetings, health visits, business meetings and other gatherings to continue in ways that were unimaginable just a few decades ago. However, with the positives also come the negatives and this rapid transition to a virtual landscape has released video teleconferencing hijackers, allowing us to coin a new term: "Zoom-bombing."

Zoom-bombing is when a virtual meeting is disrupted by graphic or threatening messages or actions, which often include harassing hate speech or pornographic materials. The intrusions cause liability exposure based on the highly offensive harassment. While the term refers to the popular virtual meeting platform, any platform is likely susceptible to some type of security threat. These instances have quickly garnered attention across the country as virtual classes, support groups, and religious gatherings have been hijacked.

Protecting students, employees, clients and other members of the community from discriminatory harassment is a moral and legal obligation. State and federal civil rights laws require covered businesses, organizations, and public entities to prevent discriminatory harassment.

While many aspects of these programs are outside of a user's control, users should implement the following of these tips and other best practices to decrease the risk of a virtual intruder:

  • Become acquainted with the technology you will be using. If you are new to the virtual landscape, or are using a new program, it is important to test it before your meeting so that you can maintain control.
  • Use a program that only allows authenticated users. For schools and conducting internal business, programs like Blackboard Collaborate and Microsoft Teams work well because they are connected to the individual's authenticated email and require participants to be added to the group by an administrator. It is important to find a program that works well for your community and objectives, but that also ensures some level of protection.
  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. Instead, require a meeting password or use the waiting feature to control the admittance of guests to the room. Avoid reusing meeting identifiers, as a permanent identifier creates an analog to a physical room and can be entered and re-entered.
  • Do not share the link to the room in an unrestricted, publicly visible place. Instead, provide the link directly to individuals who will be joining you. Ask participants not to share the meeting link or code without obtaining permission.
  • Disable the "join before host" setting. This will prevent others from using your meeting ID without you.
  • Manage screen-sharing options. Use the host-only mode, so that no one else in the room can share their computer screen besides the person who created the group unless permission is granted.
  • Use the latest technology. Be aware of updates that will produce new security enhancements. For example, some updates have blocked the ability for individuals to "scan" for rooms to join and have added passwords as defaults for meetings.

Given that in-person gatherings still aren't advised at this time in some locations, and will likely look different when they are permitted, our virtual spaces need to remain safe. If your organization has moved to a virtual platform for gatherings, it is important to stay literate with the technology you are using and to plan for possible risks that could arise as you would with any physical gathering.

William Zee and Kalani Linnell are attorneys with Barley Snyder in Lancaster, Pa. Katelyn Rohrbaugh is a law clerk with Barley Snyder in York, Pa. © 2020 Barley Snyder. All rights reserved. Reposted with permission.