Vulgar pornography interrupts virtual schooling in another instance of “Zoom bombing”

Education

MARBLE FALLS, Texas (KXAN) — Michelle Filek said her 13-year-old son was sitting in on his Marble Falls Middle School virtual band class when a vulgar, pornographic picture flashed and stayed on his computer screen.

Filek said the image froze there for at least 10 seconds for the entire class to see. Her 9 and 10-year-old crowded around their brother’s laptop as it happened. The band teacher could be heard in the background, frantically trying to get it off, Filek said.

“It was pretty vulgar; it was really bad. Nothing that my 9 or 10-year-old daughter should have seen, certainly,” Filek said.

This is just one example of “Zoom bombing” in the modern world of online learning, a term used to describe an instance when an uninvited person joins a virtual meeting to display offensive materials, yell racial slurs or otherwise compromise the integrity of a meeting with malicious intent.

According to the Marble Falls Independent School District, just last week, there were at least three incidents of Zoom bombings that occurred at Marble Falls schools.

“One occurrence involved the display of a highly inappropriate image, one involved the use of inappropriate language, and one employed the use of ‘childish’ language to make fun of a teacher,” the district said.

The district’s technology team believes those classroom intruders weren’t even from Texas; the IP addresses were traced back to California and/or Florida. The district said proper law enforcement agencies have been contacted.

However, these online threats aren’t strictly occurring to Marble Falls students. Parents of the Leander Independent School District reported an instance earlier this week and an entire school board meeting in the Blanco Independent School District was hijacked earlier this summer.

“We apologize for the interruption to the town hall meeting on Zoom. The law enforcement authorities have been notified. The initial investigation indicates there is no imminent threat to our network system or personal information.”

Blanco Independent School District

Cyber security experts say schools are under-prepared. Hackers have typically targeted finance, healthcare and manufacturing companies, leaving online learning platforms scrambling to implement adequate security measures.

“School districts didn’t see this coming,” said Kierk Sanderlin, the head of engineering for Check Point Software Technologies, one of the largest cyber security companies in the world.

“What we will see is a consistent attack against our online learning infrastructure,” Sanderlin said. “It could be a nation-state looking to disrupt, a student looking to o that or it could just be a sick individual.”

Sanderlin suggests parents take steps to better protect their families privacy.

You can change your password regularly, come up with stronger passwords, teaching your kids about cyber bullying and phishing, purchasing cyber security software that protects against intruders and disabling computer microphones and cameras when not in use.

Ultimately, Sanderlin said its up to both the country and individual state governments to find additional funding to catch schools up to the modern cyber era.

The Marble Falls Independent School District has since made adjustments to better secure their online learning platforms for students. The technology team has partnered with Zoom to add new security measures. Filek said her kids now have their own unique usernames and passwords, which she says will keep intruders out.

The district is also hoping parents will continue to monitor their kids’ online activity.

“This should be a reminder to all of us about the importance of monitoring the activity of our students in digital spaces. We hate that this has happened and are saddened by the maladjustment that motivates some of this behavior. We will continue to monitor the situation and make every effort to keep kids safe.”

Marble Falls Independent School District

Reach KXAN’s Education Reporter Alex Caprariello by email at alexc@kxan.com or by phone at 512-703-5365, or find him on Twitter and Facebook.

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