While online learning is the best option during this ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. It is also the perfect opportunity for cyber criminals to strike. They are increasingly targeting online learning tools and classrooms.
The FBI issued a warning to the public earlier this week 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. It said saboteurs were hacking into online classrooms.
While these cyberattacks often happen in different locations and different times across the country, they often share the same steps. First, an unknown guest would enter the virtual class without being noticed by the host of the meeting, usually teachers and professors. Then, the saboteur would display messages, gestures, images, and even videos that both students and educators would consider inappropriate, obscene, or offensive.
The intruders would often use the chatbox features teleconferencing platforms to send racist and offensive messages during the meeting and also use their screen sharing features to display pornographic material and other inappropriate gestures during the class. These incidents, which are frequently sudden and uncalled for, could make students and even teachers uncomfortable and distressed while holding virtual classes.
Though experts have recommended security practices to schools to address these breaches, experts and schools have attributed the drastic shift to online learning as a reason that users were ill-prepared for the safety risks attached to online conferencing platforms. Further, though certain security measures that allow schools to vet users would be possible to implement for smaller lectures or seminars, larger lectures with hundreds of students may make it difficult for schools to take the same steps.
While teleconferencing platforms are not perfect and still have several loopholes, tech experts, video conferencing companies, and the FBI have provided tips on how to prevent unwanted hackers from accessing online classes.
· Manage or limit screen sharing in online classes. These settings can also be changed to “Host Only” in some platforms.
· Do not use personal IDs for virtual classes and use unique meeting IDs for large or public calls.
· Disable or limit the use of the chatbox feature.
· Designate a cohost who will manage people coming in and out of the meeting as well as moderating any message or content coming from the participants.
· Do not share the link to a virtual class to a public social media platform and provide it directly to people who will participate the meeting.
· Use the waiting room feature and control guests coming in and out of the meeting.
· Create an invite-only meeting and require a meeting password.
· Ensure that the video conferencing platforms used is always up-to-date.
· Lock a meeting once it starts to prevent uninvited people from coming in.
· If possible, remove someone or put the participants on hold if they are showing inappropriate behavior.
With the COVID-19 pandemic continuously evolving and with the development of changes in education, such as online/distance learning, educators would have to rely on video conferencing software more and more to provide classes to students all over the world. These incidents of online class hacking will provide opportunities not just to educational institutions but also to parents and their children to learn more about cybersecurity during online classes and reduce these hijacks in the future