What if You Knew Someone Unwanted Could Take Control of Your Zoom Video Calls?

The Dark Side of Conference Calls: How the COVID-19 Pandemic is Exposing the Dangerous Trend of “Zoombombing”

By Caroline Campbell on Apr 22, 2020

Editor Note: Understanding the importance of this timely topic and to ensure that research is made available to the wider academic community, IGI Global has made a sample of related articles and chapters complimentary to access. View the end of this article to freely access this critical research.


During the current pandemic protocol, many are turning to video conferencing applications to continue working, teaching, and connecting with family and friends, but what if you knew someone unwanted was listening to your conversation and could take control of the call? According to a recent CNN article, a new cyber security threat, “Zoombombing,” has been happening to teachers and professionals worldwide through the popular video conference application Zoom. This occurs when individuals are hijacking Zoom conference calls and showcasing graphic imagery or shouting hate speech.

The FBI has been collecting incident reports on “Zoombombing,” including an incident in Massachusetts, where a person dialed into an online high school class and yelled profanity and shared the teacher's home address with the class. Other incidents are being reported, including a man exposing himself to a class, a professor being racially slurred during a lecture, and even a U.S. House Oversight Committee call being hacked

“Now that we as a society are aware of the possible dangers posed by social media, it is time to address all of these potential risks with individuals, communities, organizations, and so forth,” state Profs. Eileen O’Donnell and Liam O’Donnell from Technological University Dublin, Ireland, in the publication Criminal Activities and the Deep Web (IGI Global). “By identifying and highlighting these risks and through ensuring that individuals, communities, and organizations are made aware of these risks, only then will it be possible to successfully deal with such risks.”1Additionally, they continue to add that all users of social media and applications should engage in conversation on the effects of the threats of these platforms, not just parents and teachers, as it could have a larger societal impact.

Encyclopedia of Criminal Activities and the Deep Web
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The Threat of Zoombombing and What Users Need to Know

One of the most prominent threats of Zoombombing is the ability to listen in or “attack” specific meetings with sensitive information, which can lead to the theft of information or a national security threat. One example is a recent U.S. government call being “Zoombombed” three times as they were hosting a briefing on women’s rights in Afghanistan, showcasing that any user is susceptible to an attack. A recent threat post article explains that government officials were unable to see if any sensitive data was accessed, but a motion went out to all government officials to immediately stop using Zoom and questions of China’s involvement in the app came into question.

“Currently the United States, as one of the economic leaders in the world, is perceived to be the biggest target of cyber espionage,” explains Prof. Laura Pinto Hansen, from Western New England University, USA, in Criminal Activities and the Deep Web (IGI Global). However, it is not only the United States that is being targeted for sensitive information, as many countries and governments are dealing with the theft of intellectual property or security breaches, with an increase of occurrences in countries including Tibet, China, and Russia, she continues to explain.2

However, not all those who are “Zoombombing” are your traditional hackers, but some are teenagers gathering in online communities through Reddit, Discord, and internet forums, sharing Zoom credentials to target specific professors or classes. These teenagers are often labeled as “internet trolls,” or people who seek to start controversy online to get a response from users.

“[T]roll behavior emerges from a combination of psychological and situational factors. This disquieting new form of mob mentality has come to be known as the online disinhibition effect,” explains Prof. Leslie J. Reynard, from Washburn University, USA, in Developing Safer Online Environments for Children: Tools and Policies for Combatting Cyber Aggression (IGI Global). She continues to explain that due to the anonymity of online platforms, individuals will feel safe in expressing disapproval of experiences with college professors, which can manifest into anger and lead “the individual to turn to an anonymous forum in order to strike back at the perceived transgressor.”3

Developing Safer Online Environments for Children: Tools and Policies for Combatting Cyber Aggression
Copyright: © 2020 | Pages: 416 | ISBN: 9781799816843| EISBN: 9781799816867

This publication explores the effects of cyberbullying and cyberstalking on children and examines solutions that can identify and prevent online harassment through both policy and legislation reform and technological tools...Learn More.

These coordinated attacks paired with security weaknesses in Zoom’s platform make it an ideal platform to hack and exploit.

How to Mitigate Being Zoombombed

Although Zoom is working on increasing security measures, it is nearly impossible to mitigate these attacks, especially if the meeting is a public event. But The New York Times outlines ways users can keep their meetings and personal information safe. These guidelines include:

  • Create a Meeting Password: The article suggests keeping your events private and only inviting intended users through private emails or messages. Do not share it on social media and add an extra layer of security through setting a meeting password for attendees.

  • Create a Waiting Room: Zoom has a virtual waiting room, where the host can review those who are joined into the conference call, and the host should only select those who are invited to the meeting. Additionally, they can verify their identity by having each user turn on their camera.

  • Set Screen Sharing to “Host-Only”: Make sure that the app’s screen sharing functionality only allows the host to showcase images or talk. Additionally, they mention ensuring that the annotation feature is turned off, as “trolls” can draw offensive words or shapes on the host’s presentation.

  • Restrict Other Features for Audience Members: Other features should be turned off for the audience members, including blocking private chats, file transfers, and custom backgrounds.

  • Download the Latest Version of Zoom: Zoom has put time and energy into increasing security features and has included a streamlined way to report “Zoombombers,” which is available through the latest version of the software.

This new wave of attacks is causing governmental officials, tech companies, and users to question the applications they are utilizing in this “remote work” era, showcasing the importance for users to understand the threats that they face. In an increasingly digital world, these threats will continue to grow and now, more than ever, it is important to continue to educate users to ensure that companies and institutions have the proper cybersecurity measures in place.

In support of mitigating cyber security threats, the latest research and information on cybersecurity, identify theft, and the dark web is available through Criminal Activities and the Deep Web (IGI Global), edited by Mehdi Khosrow-Pour, D.B.A, Executive Editor of IGI Global, USA. This comprehensive encyclopedia provides the most diverse findings and new methodologies for monitoring and regulating the use of online tools as well as hidden areas of the internet, including the deep and dark web.

This publication is currently available in electronic format (EISBN: 9781522597162) through IGI Global’s Online Bookstore at a 50% discount, and is featured in IGI Global’s InfoSci®-Books database (5,900+ e-books). Recommend this publication and the InfoSci-Books database to your library to have access to this critical research, as well as thousands of other research resources, including the chapters below, in the IGI Global InfoSci-Books database.

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1O'Donnell, E., & O'Donnell, L. (2020). The Dark Side of Engaging With Social Networking Sites (SNS). In M. Khosrow-Pour D.B.A. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Criminal Activities and the Deep Web (pp. 615-627). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-9715-5.ch042

2Hansen, L. P. (2020). The Spy Who Never Has to Go Out Into the Cold: Cyber Espionage. In M. Khosrow-Pour D.B.A. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of Criminal Activities and the Deep Web (pp. 258-270). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-5225-9715-5.ch017

3Reynard, L. J. (2020). Troll Farm: Anonymity as a Weapon for Online Character Assassination. In I. Management Association (Ed.), Developing Safer Online Environments for Children: Tools and Policies for Combatting Cyber Aggression (pp. 230-265). Hershey, PA: IGI Global. doi:10.4018/978-1-7998-1684-3.ch010

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