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Two online classes in Mass. disrupted by offensive 'Zoom-bombing’

The FBI’s Boston office is urging meeting organizers to use precautions built into the popular teleconferencing software.

As people increasingly turn to teleconferencing, law enforcement says people should take steps to avoid offensive intruders.
As people increasingly turn to teleconferencing, law enforcement says people should take steps to avoid offensive intruders.Zoom

Interlopers have invaded online classrooms for Massachusetts schools with offensive displays at least twice in recent days, the FBI’s Boston office said Monday, as increased use of teleconferencing software opens a new door for threats, hate speech, and other disturbing behavior.

As a growing number of schools and businesses shift to video teleconferencing amid the coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Bureau of Investigation “has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images, and threatening language,” the agency said in a statement.

Such “Zoom-bombing,” named for the popular provider of video teleconferencing, includes at least two incidents in which Massachusetts teachers and students were interrupted.

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In one incident, a high school teacher was interrupted by someone who “yelled a profanity and then shouted the teacher’s home address in the middle of instruction,” according to the FBI. In another, an unidentified person appeared on camera in a Zoom classroom and displayed tattoos that featured swastikas.

The FBI recommends organizers of virtual meetings take precautions to block unwanted participants. It suggests making meetings private by using either password protection or a virtual waiting room that allows meeting coordinators to control who enters, and using screen-sharing options to control who is able to speak and to share video.

The FBI also suggests providing links to online meetings to participants directly and selectively, rather than posting links in publicly available areas, and to make sure users have the most current version of the teleconferencing software. In the latest update for Zoom, the FBI says, meetings require a password by default and users cannot scan for random meetings to join.

Teleconference users who have experienced a hijacking of the transmission can contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov. To report a specific threat made during an online meeting, visit tips.fbi.gov or call the FBI’s Boston office at 857-386-2000.

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Jeremy C. Fox can be reached at jeremy.fox@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @jeremycfox.