Uninvited Guests? How Zoombombing is Becoming a Threat and How to Prevent It

January 14, 2021 7:43 am || By

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, various countries worldwide have implemented measures to halt the virus’s spread. This includes closing or limiting access to offices. As a result, numerous employees worldwide have resorted to working from home. Instead of physically meeting, employees can use Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Zoom, or various others to meet their peers.

However, using software to host a virtual meeting instead of physically meeting also has its own risks. Zoombombing is one of the risks that has been gaining popularity recently that threatens work from home employees. From small-sized corporate meetings to virtual religious ceremonies that are attended by hundreds of participants, all can be a target for zoombombings if not organized without the proper security measures.

What is Zoombombing?

Fundamentally, zoombombing refers to the action of joining a videoconference with the main intention of ruining it. Zoombombers can ruin a video conference by joining it and then intentionally conducting misdemeanors, such as by sharing pornographic contents, spreading hate speech, or other unpleasant behaviors.  Often, the practice of zoombombing can be considered as an act of trolling on the internet. According to the Cambridge dictionary, trolling itself can be defined as an intentional action to annoy others online[i].

The term zoombombing came from the word “Zoom” – a well-known videoconferencing software and “bombing”, which refers to the act of appearing somewhere uninvited. The act of zoombombing does not necessarily have to take place in a videoconference that uses Zoom as a platform; it can also take place in any videoconferencing software.

Why Did the Practice of Zoombombing Surge Recently?

The practice of zoombombing has existed for a long time. However, this practice has gained a sudden boost in popularity due to the rapid increase in video conferencing software. Of course, the use of videoconferencing software skyrocketed recently due to the policy of work from home that has been enforced in many countries to slow the spread of COVID-19.

This sudden surge in the usage of videoconferencing software is spectacular. According to a report published by Sensor Tower, no videoconferencing software was included in the top 10 most downloaded mobile applications in the world in January 2020 [ii]. However, after COVID-19 has spread to various countries, the popularity of videoconferencing software has also skyrocketed.

In another report published by Sensor Tower on the top 10 most downloaded mobile applications globally in April 2020, 3 videoconferencing software made it to the list[iii]. This three software were Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft Teams[iv]. Moreover, Zoom was the most downloaded mobile application in the world in April 2020, while Google Meet and Microsoft Teams were the 8th and 10th respectively[v].

This dramatic increase has greatly benefited video conferencing software providers. In March 2020, Zoom had more than 300 million daily meeting participants, up from 10 million in December 2019[vi]. Meanwhile, Cisco’s Webex also has experienced a dramatic increase.  In March 2020, Webex had 324 million attendees, compared to 152 million attendees in January[vii]. Other major video conferencing providers have also witnessed a similar story. Hence, with such a dramatic increase in the number of videoconference participants, it is logical that the practice of zoombombing has also increased.

How to Prevent Zoombombings from Happening?

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) has recommended several recommendations that can be used to prevent zoombombings[viii]. First of all, the host should only share the link and the password of the videoconference to the participants, ideally through a private message. The host should not share the link and the password of the videoconference through social media or any other platform that can be accessed by the public. Second, the host can also use a virtual waiting room, thus enabling the host to only admit the invited participants and reject unwanted ones.

Third, if all of the invited participants have joined the videoconference, it is a good idea to lock the video conferencing and prevent others from entering. The host should make sure that participants do not enter the videoconference before the host. Fourth, the host should ensure that only the host is able to share the screen. That way, zoombombers wouldn’t be able to feature unwanted imageries or videos on the shared screen.

Moreover, should a zoombombing occurs, the host can also take measures to mitigate it. The host can simply remove the zoombomber from the meeting and, deny the zoombomber from re-joining again. A more drastic measure can include muting all of the videoconference participants, disabling their camera, disable chatting and forbid file sharing. Finally, the host should always use the latest version of the chosen video conferencing software. Videoconferencing software developers have been working tirelessly to improve the security of their products. For now, videoconferences are an integral of our schooling, our work, and even our social life. As such, we need to adapt to ensure that our videoconferences are secure, especially from zoombombers.

[i] Cambridge Dictionary. 2020. Trolling. Accessed September 30, 2020. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/trolling.

[ii] Freier, Anne. 2020. TikTok Was Most Downloaded Non-Gaming App at the Start of 2020. Accessed September 10, 2020. https://www.businessofapps.com/news/tiktok-was-most-downloaded-non-gaming-app-at-the-start-of-2020/

[iii] Rasool, Aqsa. 2020. The Top 10 Most Downloaded Apps Worldwide in the Past Month Includes Some Unusual Entries. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://www.digitalinformationworld.com/2020/05/the-top-10-most-downloaded-apps-worldwide-in-the-past-month-includes-some-unusual-entries.html#.

[iv] Ibid

[v] Ibid

[vi] Zoom. 2020. Annual Report: Fiscal 2020. San Jose: Zoom.

[vii] Botifoll, Jordi. 2020. Excecutive Platform: Easing the Everyday Challenges of Sheltering in Place. Accessed October 1, 2020. https://blogs.cisco.com/news/easing-the-everyday-challenges-of-sheltering-in-place.

[viii] Setera, Kristen. 2020. FBI Warns of Teleconferencing and Online Classroom Hijacking During COVID-19 Pandemic. Accessed October 1, 2020. ttps://www.fbi.gov/contact-us/field-offices/boston/news/press-releases/fbi-warns-of-teleconferencing-and-online-classroom-hijacking-during-covid-19-pandemic?__cf_chl_jschl_tk__=fa4eaa9079a21d424094782c99022543633210da-1601559328-0-AQ1GA5dsCHbBQTv5ZaEO_fur.