Zoombombing! And Other Opportunistic Deviance

Novel misbehaviors have emerged in light of the coronavirus pandemic.

Posted Apr 17, 2020

From juggling household and work-from-home responsibilities to managing anxieties and just keeping it together, the coronavirus pandemic has altered our daily lives in multiple ways. Routines are changing; systems are updating, and technology and the internet are more important than ever. After all, we can still hope to be digitally connected despite physical distancing.

Logan Weaver/Unsplash
Source: Logan Weaver/Unsplash

Yet, the extreme reliance on electronic communication to keep the wheels of society moving has had some unintended consequences. Zoombombing has emerged as a new kind of online trolling, where one enters and hijacks a meeting uninvited. As nearly all universities have moved their instruction online, some, presumably bored, students shared their lecture meeting ID and password with strangers; these infiltrators were welcomed to come and take over their classes, often by posting lewd content. The sessions were then terminated and needed to be rescheduled. Necessity (in this case brought on by boredom) is indeed the mother of invention.

Also, now that most of us are home nearly all the time, getting out of online social commitments can become difficult, regardless of whether they are personal or professional. It is true that several of us are having a hard time staying consistently productive (not to mention the unrealistic pressure of being hyper-productive during a global pandemic), and sometimes we may not be in the frame of mind to engage with others. But what's the excuse you can come up with to avoid such interactions? Because you can't lie and say you have elsewhere to be—you will be at home and available at all times.

A friend of mine mentioned how she copes with unending telephone calls: Cut the call mid-sentence, switch the phone to Airplane mode, and message the person a bit later saying sorry, the battery died; let's catch up later.

That's pretty brutal, but we can creatively lie for prosocial reasons too, like to prevent hurting another person's feelings. And then there are the larger-scale deviant behaviors, like scams and financial frauds under the garb of offering COVID-19 "cures," seeking donations for "coronavirus relief programs," and even sophisticated phishing expeditions. None of these hacking methods is necessarily novel, but their ability to appeal to people's current states of mind (anxious, tense, worried, hysterical, paranoid, and the like) and the current pandemic definitely is.

For instance, adequate medical supplies are the need of the hour—from the world's health care workers to the general public, everyone is desperately looking for Personal Protective Equipment. (Side note: Please make a cloth mask for yourself if you are not an essential worker so that vital PPEs can reach hospitals instead). Scams that promise the delivery of masks, gloves, and sanitizers leverage individuals' and families' vulnerabilities regarding the fear of contracting the virus and give a false sense of security. Leaching off this anxiety, such scams, unfortunately, can swindle many.

Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay
Source: Mohamed Hassan/Pixabay

Similarly, although theft may not always be creative, there can be certain details of the act or the product stolen that make it intriguing. Amid the pandemic, a Van Gogh painting was nicked from a museum in the Netherlands, which was closed due to lockdown restrictions. Burglars stole the painting, titled "The Parsonage Garden at Nuenen in Spring 1884," on March 30—Vincent Van Gogh's birthday! It may have just been a coincidence, of course, but it made the story of the crime so much more bitter.

We seek routine and demand certainty, but the virus has other plans. As with every circumstance in life, it has brought out the best in some and the worst in others. All we can do is be aware of local, national, and global guidelines on how to avoid falling prey to such attacks.

References

WHO (2020). Beware of criminals pretending to be WHO. Retrieved from https://www.who.int/about/communications/cyber-security

Folwer, B. (March 13, 2020). How to avoid coronavirus phishing scams. Retrieved from https://www.consumerreports.org/phishing-vishing/how-to-avoid-coronavirus-phishing-scams/