OTTUMWA — In a time of social distancing, some Ottumwans like Barb Hanson, OHS GEAR UP coordinator, are using “Zoom,” a cloud-based video conferencing service to connect with her students and Indian Hills colleagues.

While the service has provided positive connection time, she said, it is also a cause for concern as FBI officials warned citizens on their website of a new potential and private security concern called “Zoombombing.” It is a term that refers to unwanted intrusion from an unauthorized person or stranger who joins a zoom meeting by spewing hateful language or graphic images.

This “zoom bombing” happened to Hanson Wednesday afternoon during a meeting with a person at Indian Hills and some of her students. Hanson said she was surprised since she used Zoom before for meetings and interactions with colleagues and never had an issue.

“About 15 minutes in I was starting a new topic and somebody interrupted me,” Hanson said, “and said ‘Barb I have a question,’ and I said, ‘Yes, feel free, go ahead.’ They asked the question and used foul language.”

Hanson was able to remove the “intruder” from the Zoom session. Those in the session continued with the meeting believing they were safe until more “intruders” arrived using foul language — and some put up obscene images on screen.

After that, she apologized to those in the meeting and promptly put an end to the session. She did that and then took heed on the FBI’s recommendations to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats. Some of the advice included not making meetings or classrooms public and providing links to only specific people.

Hanson said Ottumwans, specifically teachers and students, can use Zoom as a safe form of communication. She is taking precautions to make sure this doesn’t occur in future meetings with Indian Hills and her students.

“First of all, I would say don’t let this scare people away from using this service,” she said, “because I do think there’s so much importance around connection … if we can’t physically be together. A couple of changes I would make [is] utilizing the waiting room feature on Zoom, so before anyone can enter the room, they have to be individually approved.”

Hanson also advises residents to take precaution on the “Zoom bombers” who will search for public codes and join the calls. “I would recommend [to] publicly clean out that information, either using a forum where people sign up and then get an email sent to them. The final change I’m making is … adding password codes to access the meeting. They’ll have to access the private link, but also put in the password as an added measure to make it more difficult for anyone to access.”

The FBI asks that those who were victims of “Zoombombing” or a victim of teleconference hijacking report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov.

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

Chiara Romero can be reached at cromero@ottumwacourier.com.

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