How to Combat Racist Zoom Bombers

Warning: This content contains derogatory language

Zoom usage is a great tool to stay connected and network. When a breach occurs, it can have severe consequences to an organization and attendees.

I was invited along with three other Villanovans to serve as a panelist and discuss my experience in graduate school at Carnegie Mellon University. I’ve always had a sense of pride being a Villanovan and jump at any opportunity to give back. I was excited to share my experiences with current undergrads.

There are varying levels of Zoom bombing such as sharing social media handles or doing coordinated TikToks. But what I experienced was way out of bounds — before I knew what was happening I heard racist comments, saw the chat being spammed with racist rhetoric, and saw obscene images after an attendee shared their screen. The panelists, attendees, and I felt powerless.

At the moment of writing this, neither Zoom nor I have managed to pinpoint the perpetrator(s), mainly because this incident occurred 2 hours prior to writing this. However, I am not sure if Zoom’s support team has the capabilities of finding the perpetrator(s). But I do want to talk about signs to look for in Zoom attacks, steps you can take to prevent attacks, and what Zoom can do (what I’m most interested in as a software engineer) to combat racist Zoom bombers.

6 Signs to Look Out For Racist Zoom Bombers

  1. If you’re shocked by the number of attendees in your session (i.e., expecting 15–20 and receiving double), something is probably up.
  2. Attendees typing odd comments in the beginning of the session (i.e., randomly typing shalom followed up by anti-Semitic comments).
  3. Attendees typing “I can’t hear you” in the comments when other people can.
  4. Attendees yelling random nonsensical comments while a panelist or administrator is speaking.
  5. Attendees answering questions not intended for them.
  6. Attendees sharing the screen and showing obscene images. At this point, end the meeting and reschedule.

3 Things You Can Do to Prevent Racist Zoom Bombers

  1. Make your Zoom Meeting Secure in advance (i.e., only users in your organization can join or requiring users to join with their unique Zoom ID and generated password). Check out this video for details.
  2. During online event promotions, have attendees submit a Google Form requesting their emails. This way instead of sharing a public Zoom link that anyone can join, you share the Google Form link instead. Later you can directly invite attendees with their emails giving them a secure Zoom ID and generated password.
  3. Consider using Zoom Webinar instead of Zoom Meeting as it is more restrictive for attendees (i.e., webinars are view only and attendees cannot rename themselves).

10 Things Zoom Can Do to Combat Racist Zoom Bombers

*Note to reader: Step 1 below is a prerequisite step for the following steps

  1. Have an Emergency button feature that pauses the meeting and kicks all attendees into a waiting room. Zoom bombers can catch everyone off guard and be very disruptive. Once the attack has started it can be very difficult to focus to combat the attack.
  2. Immediately save an audio and visual recording of the meeting for Zoom’s internal investigation. All evidence is key for identifying the perpetrator(s).
  3. Immediately show all the attendees email addresses as well as all of their name changes to the meeting administrator. Although the perpetrator’s name is Anthony Padilla in the image above, these perpetrators are experienced. They will change their names multiple times, leave and re-enter the meeting, or anything else to hide their identities.
  4. Save all comments, email addresses (including all name changes with these emails), number of times they left and re-enter, and most importantly their IP address for an internal investigation.
  5. Show a Report Incident button to escalate this issue.
  6. Have a support representative join the administrator via chat to assist live with the issue.
  7. Be able to easily manage all meeting settings in order for the meeting to continue. This includes (but not limited to) disabling the chat, muting all attendees or some, disabling attendees ability to share their screen, disabling the videos of attendees except for a select few. As a software engineer, I believe the administrator should be able to easily do this in a simple user interface.
  8. Automatically filter out hateful words or swear words from the chat.
  9. Study other platforms like Twitch or Discord who have more experience in Room Control features.
  10. If the meeting has more than 30 attendees (or another arbitrary amount), mute all attendees and force attendees to use the ask to unmute feature.
  11. If an attendee’s IP address is “suspicious”, notify the administrator and allow them to decide if that attendee should be allowed in the meeting.

Final Thoughts on Racist Zoom Bombers

Experiencing something like this can be disturbing and traumatic. It’s important to remember to remain calm and collect as much evidence as you can. Someone’s initial thought might be to immediately end the meeting but in doing so you may lose out on potential evidence to capture the perpetrator(s).

Unfortunately, in recent days and weeks, similar attacks have occurred at places like Penn State University and during an online funeral service for Civil Rights icon, Calvin C. Goode.

In March of 2020, the FBI issued a statement characterizing Zoom bombing a cybercrime. In any regard, cybercrime should be reported to www.ic3.gov.

Although this type of Zoom bombing was racist and targeted towards a panel of Black individuals, reports and studies have shown that homophobia, misogyny, anti-Semitism, and Asian racism are other forms of bigoted bombing techniques online.

It is important not to entertain or overlook racism, ignorance, or any form of bigotry. Rather we must stomp it out like a wild fire waiting to spread.

Hopefully, with the help of Zoom we can identify the perpetrator(s) and hold them accountable. The goal is to prevent attacks like this from happening in the future. But if it does, my hope is that Zoom’s platform will have the tools to halt the attack immediately.

To my fellow panelist, I applaud your professionalism with staying composed. To the students in attendance, I applaud you for staying composed as well and remaining patient while the administrator combatted the racist Zoom bombers. To the racist Zoom bombers, you should consider therapy.

Software engineering. Tech entrepreneur. Philly native.

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