The FBI has issued a warning to the public about the “hijacking” of online classrooms and teleconferences after it received reports of disturbances by people shouting racist and threatening language and displaying hate messages.

Concerns about online security have been rising as most of the nation has moved to online education, with school buildings closed to try to stem the spread of a novel coronavirus that has stopped public life around the world. Schools have rushed to put together online lessons and programs, sometimes without strict security filters.

The FBI said in its new warning (see in full below) that it has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic images and other inappropriate things, while two schools in Massachusetts reported intruders signing into online classes.

In one instance, a high school reported that an unidentified person dialed into a class being held on Zoom videoconferencing software and interrupted a lesson by yelling a profanity and shouting the teacher’s home address. At another school, an online class was disrupted by someone who was visibly displaying tattoos of swastikas.

Last week, saboteurs using “racist and vile language” infiltrated and disrupted online classes held by the University of Southern California, my colleague Nick Anderson reported. The trend, which some have called “Zoom bombing,” is the intentional disruption of a class or a conference on the Zoom platform. Zoom has emerged as the most popular teleconferencing choice for K-12 schools and institutions of higher education during the pandemic.

The University of Texas at Austin is investigating a racist incident in which someone disrupted an online meeting on Zoom among students, staff and faculty, President Greg Fenves said Monday. It occurred during the first Zoom meeting for the school’s Heman Sweatt Center for Black Males, according to this tweet from the center:

Fenves denounced the “reprehensible” and “racist Zoom bombing” of the meeting and said he will increase online security for all staff.

Here’s the FBI’s warning:

FBI Warns of Teleconferencing and Online Classroom Hijacking During COVID-19 Pandemic

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

Within the FBI Boston Division’s area of responsibility (AOR), which includes Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, two schools in Massachusetts reported the following incidents:

  • In late March 2020, a Massachusetts-based high school reported that while a teacher was conducting an online class using the teleconferencing software Zoom, an unidentified individual(s) dialed into the classroom. This individual yelled a profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of instruction.
  • A second Massachusetts-based school reported a Zoom meeting being accessed by an unidentified individual. In this incident, the individual was visible on the video camera and displayed swastika tattoos.

As individuals continue the transition to online lessons and meetings, the FBI recommends exercising due diligence and caution in your cybersecurity efforts. The following steps can be taken to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats:

  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.
  • Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
  • Manage screensharing options. In Zoom, change screensharing to “Host Only.”
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications. In January 2020, Zoom updated their software. In their security update, the teleconference software provider added passwords by default for meetings and disabled the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.
  • Lastly, ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security.

If you were a victim of a teleconference hijacking, or any cyber-crime for that matter, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. Additionally, if you receive a specific threat during a teleconference, please report it to us at tips.fbi.gov or call the FBI Boston Division at (857) 386-2000.