Using Zoom to Connect Online? Protect Yourself From Hackers

The last thing you should have to worry about during COVID-19 is a "Zoom bomb."

Posted Apr 03, 2020

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There are plenty of things to feel anxious about these days. There’s coronavirus, of course, and the economic fallout of a pandemic. On top of that, there's the stress that many families are feeling—suddenly having to work from home and care for and educate their children at the same time. The last thing they need to worry about is the possibility of a “Zoom bomb.”

“Zoom bombing” is the cyber-threat of the day. It refers to when a stranger hacks into a Zoom meeting (Zoom is a popular video conferencing platform) to share unsavory, and sometimes even pornographic, content. With so many people using Zoom for work, school, and community gatherings, it was only a matter of time before hackers started using it too. This is too bad, because Zoom CEO Eric Yuan is generously offering the platform to schools for free. Full disclosure: I'm in no way associated with Zoom. I just use it with students, as well as with clients and family, and find it an easy way to deliver content and maintain much-needed personal contact.

Unfortunately, some schools have been the unlucky targets of zoom bombers. The L.A. Times recently reported that when a school district in California held a public meeting on Zoom “a number of unrecognized users jumped into the group meeting and began chanting the N-word repeatedly. Close-up pornographic images suddenly took over the center screen.” Meanwhile, at USC, some virtual lectures fell prey to bombers crashing in with “racist and vile language.” 

Fears of similar occurrences at their own schools have stopped many educational institutions from using Zoom.

Please Don’t Throw the (Tech) Baby Out With the Bathwater

It is important to remember that hackers have successfully found their way into virtually every online platform that exists. This is an unfortunate byproduct of online life. Hackers (or predators) will even target children on the apps they use most—like Snapchat, Instagram, and more—and sometimes parents don’t even know about it.

But the good news is that nearly every platform offers excellent tools, settings, and more to protect their users. The problem is, users don’t use them! Zoom is a perfect example of this. 

So while it is understandable that we are living with a heightened sense of anxiety at a moment when everything feels out of control, it is important to step back and consider what control we do have, at least over a tool like Zoom. Turns out, we have a lot.

Features to Protect Yourself and Others When Using Zoom

Here are some simple ways to keep you, your colleagues, students, and family safe when using Zoom.

  • Don’t publicize any private meeting information on public forums (in other words, keep your meeting links private).
  • Use Zoom’s “waiting room” feature. This lets you (the host) decide who to let into your meeting. If you don’t recognize the user, don’t let him in.
  • Generate random meeting IDs and require participants to use passwords to access your meetings.
  • If you are the host, keep control of your screen (an easy setting). This restricts others from taking control of your screen and sharing unsavory content.
  • During your meeting, remove uninvited or disruptive participants.
  • Mute participants and/or disable their video.
  • Turn off your participant’s ability to share files.
  • Lock your meeting. Once your meeting has started, you can lock it so new participants can't join.
  • Disable the ability for participants’ to chat amongst themselves.

These features are found in Zoom’s meeting settings. Remember, if you are going to use Zoom, or for that matter, any online tool that allows users to connect, please take a moment to familiarize yourself with the tool’s settings. Read their user agreements, and privacy policies. Watch their tutorials. Do your research.

And please don’t let your anxiety about an online tool stand in the way of connecting with colleagues, students, or loved ones, especially during times like these.