FBI warns of ‘Zoom-bombing’ hackers amid coronavirus usage spike


The FBI has warned individuals and businesses moving to flexible working patterns that hackers are disrupting video conferences with threatening language, hate speech and pornographic images.

With workplace meetings, and conferences social gatherings moving online en masse, the US law enforcement agency has detailed instances where cyber criminals have intruded on meetings on the likes of Zoom and Skype.

Zoom, in particular, has seen an explosion in usage since the coronavirus pandemic has caused lockdowns and office closures, with more and more people seeking a video conferencing platform to maintain normality.

Its rise in popularity has been coupled with a rise in cyber crime, however. Specifically, the Boston arm of the FBI has noted that reports of ‘Zoom-bombing’ have been flooding in from across the US.

“As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking (also called “Zoom-bombing”) are emerging nationwide,” the FBI Boston Division said.

“The FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.”

The volume of reports has seemingly been rich enough to warrant the FBI issuing an official statement against the threat.

The FBI Boston Division cited an example where a Massachusetts-based high school reported that while a teacher was hosting an online class, an unidentified individual dialled into the classroom before shouting profanities and Doxxing the teacher.

The agency has warned individuals and businesses against making meetings public, by either making it so the meeting requires a password, or by enabling the waiting room feature through which hosts can control admittance.

Users should also refrain from sharing a teleconferencing link on an unrestricted social media channel, and should instead provide links directly to specific individuals.

People using Zoom should ensure their software is up-to-date, especially given the platform only updated its privacy settings in January 2020 to ensure passwords to meetings were enacted by default.

Although the FBI’s warning largely concerns ensuring that organisations and individuals have activated the correct security and privacy settings, Zoom has been known to suffer from serious vulnerabilities in the past.

Dubbed ‘prying eye’, a flaw discovered in October 2019 allowed cyber criminals to snoop on videos conferences run on the Cisco WebEx and Zoom platforms. The weakness in web conferencing APIs could allow attackers to deploy a brute-force enumeration attack to find open calls or meetings.

After a Zoom flaw was discovered in July, meanwhile, Apple rolled out its own update that removed a web server that allowed websites to automatically launch a conference call and activate the webcam

Keumars Afifi-Sabet
Features Editor

Keumars Afifi-Sabet is a writer and editor that specialises in public sector, cyber security, and cloud computing. He first joined ITPro as a staff writer in April 2018 and eventually became its Features Editor. Although a regular contributor to other tech sites in the past, these days you will find Keumars on LiveScience, where he runs its Technology section.