‘Zoom Bombings’ Derail Virtual Learning

As if a global pandemic, recession, historic wildfires and the ordinary stressors of distance learning and homeschooling weren’t enough for Canby students and parents to deal with, now this.

At least nine incidents of what is being increasingly referred to as “Zoom bombing” was documented at Canby School District during the first four days of live virtual instruction this year.

“Most have heard about it in the news,” Canby High School Principal Greg Dinse said of “Zoom bombing.” “A person gets a hold of a classroom Zoom link and poses as a legitimate student to get in. Once a part of the class, they take the opportunity to inappropriately say things, use profanity, or generally misbehave.”

Derived from the related term “photobombing,” it refers to the unwanted and unauthorized intrusion — typically by unknown persons — into a video conference call. The practice was well-known to professionals earlier this year, when many workplaces transitioned to telework situations because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Zoom bombing can happen on any video meeting platform, including Skype or WebEx.

Of the nine incidents that are known to have occurred in the Canby virtual learning environment, they range from inappropriate comments to simply occasions in which a teacher “thought a non-approved attendee might have been present,” according to district Communications Coordinator Autumn Foster.

“Comments have mainly consisted of swearing and other offensive or disruptive language,” Foster said. “In almost all cases when the intruder was discovered, they made statements before the teacher either directly removed them from the meeting, or the meeting was ended altogether.”

There are a handful of investigations still pending, but in most cases, the district found intruders were attempting to join a meeting using a nondescript first and last name that they hoped would fool the staff member running the meeting.

These same tactics are being seen by district officials throughout the Portland metro area and even in other states, as much of the nation experiments with some amount of distance learning this fall.

“Unfortunately, opportunists are taking advantage of our technology to disrupt our learning environments,” said Foster. “Similar intrusions have happened in neighboring districts, including Molalla River, Lake Oswego and North Clackamas.”

Foster said the district is working with teachers to implement preventative measures and ward off further disruptions, including ensuring staff make time to review the roster of online meetings and questioning students in Zoom waiting rooms to make sure they are who they say they are.

The district’s technology team is also reevaluating security settings and may require additional authentication from attendees to prove they are a Canby student, such as passcodes or additional login information.

“At this time, Zoom is still the best product to meet the needs we have for online instruction,” Foster said. “We also know that other products are just as susceptible to attacks from those who wish to disrupt our environment.”

The district believes the additional security steps teachers are taking will help prevent these incidents moving forward, officials said.

“These acts are childish, disruptive and, in some cases, hurtful,” said Principal Dinse, in an email to students and families. “Students, please understand the classroom Zoom link is entrusted to you. Don’t share it. Parents, please engage with your students about the importance of maintaining this security. We appreciate the help in addressing this behavior.”

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