Zoom has a dark side – and an FBI warning: NPR

Apr 4, 2020 1:50 AM ET


Zoom is very popular, but is currently being checked for security and privacy issues.

Dennis Johnson fell victim to a new form of harassment known as “zoom bombing” last week, in which intruders kidnap video calls and publish hate speech and offensive images such as pornography. It is a phenomenon that is so alarming that the FBI has issued a warning about using zoom.

Like many people these days, Johnson does many things on the Internet that he would normally do personally. Last week, he defended his doctoral thesis in a zoom video conference.

He had a large audience – he estimated it was about 40 people, including “my closest friends, family, classmates, and my dissertation committee” at California State University in Long Beach, he said.

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Johnson is the first member of his family to graduate from college, let alone graduate. He wanted to share the moment with them.

He said he was just about to present when someone started drawing male genitals on the screen. First, said Johnson, he wasn’t sure what was going on.

“I’m like ‘Whoa!’ And then I freeze and everyone who sees the screen freezes, “he said.

It got worse. The attacker scribbled a racist bow that everyone could see in the zoom call.

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Johnson was horrified. The organizers blocked all screens until they were able to remove the intruder from the meeting. But, Johnson said, they couldn’t identify that person.

Even though he was shaken, Johnson managed to finish his presentation. But what should have been a triumphant celebration was ruined.

“The moment she [told] I, ‘Congratulations, Dr. Dennis Johnson ‘and it’s all over and I’m leaving the zoom meeting, it all starts, “he said.” I couldn’t even communicate. I just had to go out [of] my house. … I didn’t want to talk or see anyone. “

Zoombomber disrupted an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New York, Sunday school in Texas, online classes at the University of Southern California, and a city meeting in Kalamazoo, Michigan.

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With schools closed and millions of people working from home, Zoom has become very popular. The company said 200 million people used the app daily in March, up from just 10 million in December. But this newly discovered popularity brings new control.

The FBI particularly warns schools to be careful.

“The FBI has received several reports that conferences are disrupted by pornographic and / or hate images and threatening language,” the office’s Boston office said this week.

As concerns arose, Zoom worked to resolve them. A guide was released last month on how users can protect meetings. In addition, the settings for accounts in schools and universities have been changed to make their meetings more private by default.

New York Attorney General Letitia James sent Zoom a letter asking about security and privacy.

“Things you only want in a chat and video application – strong encryption, strong data protection controls, strong security – just seem to be completely lacking,” said Patrick Wardle, a security researcher who previously worked at the National Security Agency.

He and other researchers have discovered flaws in the zoom software that could allow hackers to spy on a computer’s webcam or microphone. According to Zoom, corrections to these problems were released on Wednesday.

The motherboard website found that Zoom shares data with Facebook, even data about people who are not Facebook users.

Zoom says that this was a mistake and that this data was discontinued in March, but is now facing a class action lawsuit.

Wardle says Zoom is easy to use, but is careful with its track record.

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“This product was designed to prioritize things other than privacy and security,” he said.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan said in a blog post on Wednesday that the company is freezing work on new features to focus on addressing its privacy and security issues.

“We acknowledge that we have failed to meet the community’s and our own privacy and security expectations,” he wrote. “I am very sorry and I want to share what we are doing about it.”

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