New York City Bans Schools From Using Zoom Following Harassment Campaigns Targeting Classrooms

The FBI issued a warning to schools about the videoconferencing software, which was abused by online trolls "Zoombombing" classes and meetings with racist language and other actions.

New York City's education department is directing teachers and staff to “move away from using Zoom as soon as possible” for virtual instruction purposes due to cybersecurity concerns, department spokesperson Danielle Filson said on Saturday.

Filson told CNN that students and staff are moving to Microsoft Teams, which has “the same capabilities with appropriate security measures in place.” Schools across the country have had to shift resources and instruction online due to widespread closures in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

“There are many new components to remote learning, and we are making real-time decisions in the best interest of our staff and students," Filson said.

Last week, the videoconferencing app Zoom faced increased scrutiny for the ability of online trolls to “Zoombomb,” or invade, virtual meeting rooms through using online links. The practice caught the attention of the FBI, which issued a warning through its Boston office advising schools in particular to take particular precautions to password-protect their meeting rooms and limit screensharing abilities to the meeting organizer.

The warning took place after several individuals came into meeting rooms, sometimes yelling racist words, displaying swastika tattoos, playing pornographic imagery or exposing themselves, among other actions.

Many of those individuals coordinated their harassment campaigns through social media platforms like Reddit, 4Chan, Twitter, Instagram and Discord, according to The New York Times. Even more people were inspired by videos posted on YouTube and Twitch, a streaming platform, where harassers have displayed their tactics and the reactions of shocked meeting attendees.

One 16-year-old student running a “Zoom raid” account told the Times that derailing classes taking place on the platform was an outlet for them and involved mostly inoffensive jokes.

“Part of the reason we do it is a lot of teachers give us a lot of work right now,” the student said. “It’s stressing us out. We just got home for quarantine and on top of all that we have all this schoolwork to do. We still have tests to do, I have more work to do sometimes now than before because every teacher will assign stuff every week and sometimes classes get in the way of each other. It’s really stressful to keep up.”

Eric Yuan, the founder and CEO of Zoom, has vowed to address security issues and to better educate users about how to secure their meeting rooms. Zoom has experienced exponential growth in daily users thanks to huge portions of the country having to work and learn online. More than 90,000 schools in 20 countries have used the platform free of charge, Yuan said.

“We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home,” Yuan wrote in a letter to customers last week. “We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived.”

New York’s public schools are not the only district to abandon Zoom, as Clark County Public Schools in Nevada banned the app before stating that it was considering potential security options to reinstate staff use.

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