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Zoom-bombing, the act of jumping into zoom meetings uninvited and unwanted to cause chaos and confusion started, like many things do, as a joke. Unfortunately, from security leaks to a vehicle for racism, this is a joke that’s already gone too far. For national governments, banning Zoom is becoming a trend, but for classrooms, the danger can’t as easily be avoided, and now Zoombombing of online classes is endangering children’s privacy and safety.

Zoombombers Disrupting all Levels of Online Learning

The phenomenon of zoom bombing is touching all levels of education, not just for K12 classes. Rice University in Texas has been subject to a stream of it, so much so that they’ve seriously reconsidered the platform. Zoom bombers have been disrupting classes primarily by drawing inappropriate images on the screens of lecture slides, something that is anonymous in default settings.

But the degree of disruption is varied and impactful. While many of the university staff note the complexities of the technology as one of the issues, Zoom still bears some of the blame, as Professor Stephen Bradshaw said: “I suppose this is part of the sloppy implementation that [Zoom was] rightly criticized for”. This is not an isolated phenomenon, and all over the world universities are grappling with this unprecedented level of targeted disruption.

Zoom Bombers for Hire

Another phenomenon that has got teachers pulling their hair out is zoom bombers for hire. As safeguarding techniques often mean a compromised online lesson has to be shut down, some students are enlisting Zoom bombers to disrupt their classrooms and get them closed.

This is seriously harming the viability of online classrooms, and the presence of someone on the insider facilitating the Zoom bombing makes it even more difficult to guard against. Even some viral content makers have piled in on the action, with Tik Tok star Malissa Cordova being invited to zoom bomb numerous classrooms. Eventually, she was banned from Tik Tok but inspired a further craze for Zoom bombing.

However, whilst students pulling tricks to get out of a lesson is nothing new, there are many sinister aspects of Zoom bombing emerging. Racism, Anti-Semitism, extremism, and even child-abuse have been broadcast through crashed zoom classrooms. A children’s sports education class in Plymouth, England, was subject to such vile images, affecting sixty children in total. For educators and students alike, this is an unacceptable risk and is the reason many are turning away from the platform.

Unfortunately, for a number of reasons, Zoom might be the only option available for many educators. All too often, by the time educators have realised the dangers, its when they’ve just experienced them.

Fighting Zoombombing

There has been pushback to Zoombombing, and there are a number of ways that educators have used to combat the phenomenon. We have already written a comprehensive guide on internet safety for kids, so we will just focus on the developments specific to Zoombombing.

To help avoid zoom bombing, many have realised the first step is to not share the meeting link publicly on social media, reserving it for private messages to the attendees, to do otherwise has been described by many as just inviting unwanted guests. When hosting public events, avoiding personal ID use has proved important also, as this gives an opening for hackers to access your private account at other times.

Default Won’t Do It

Zoom also has numerous customisable features and delving into these has proved absolutely necessary, as the default setting has proven totally inadequate for preventing Zoom bombing. The most important first step is teachers restricting screen control to the host. Doing this means that any unwanted visitors if they do arrive, aren’t able to hijack the screen content.

The next step is to manage which users can enter. There are numerous ways to do this, but if there are invites, it is possible to restrict access to any account that isn’t on the invite list.

Once this is done and all the attendees have joined, the meeting can be locked down. Locking it prevents anyone else entering, even if they have the meeting ID and password, preventing hackers or ‘invited’ zoom bombers entering a classroom when it has begun; giving teachers control and security.

Even when these precautions somehow fail, there’s still hope for scrambling teachers. The first thing educators are doing is putting the meeting on hold, preventing everyone from seeing and hearing, but not removing them from the meeting. This is a useful quick response that gives precious times to discover the culprit and assess the damage. With the class secure, time can be spent rooting out the culprit.

For educators realizing that the worse has taken place and a Zoom bomber has accessed a meeting or worse, used it to access a personal computer, it is always important to make sure you have an up to date VPN and Malware Scanner. While not things a teacher often needs, the online nature of COVID-19 education makes them necessary, and knowledge of online privacy a must.

More Disabled Features

There are other features an educator can implement, such as disabling private chat (meaning nothing goes on without their notice), turning off files transfer, and disabling footnotes. All these features are not really necessary for a classroom setting (being designed for business environments), but their disabling have been shown to instantly improve safety and damage control should the worse happen.

Conclusion

Zoom bombing has been a pervasive and disruptive aspect of online classrooms all throughout the COVID-19 lockdown and shows the deep flaws in a platform that was never really meant to accommodate such a colossal user base

Many of the issues can be cleared up by an astute and clued up educator, but there is never any chance a Zoom bombing will occur. Knowledge and software are updating to cope with this unexpected challenge, but the problem continues to grow. If you need to use online classrooms in Zoom, there’s plenty of ways to safeguard, but always be vigilant to the danger and disruption a mistake in security could create.