April 17, 2020 10:42:14 pm
Written by Alifiya Nalwala
Fifteen minutes into a group online lecture that had just begun to warm up, Navin Rai checked the comment box below to see an obscene line just being scrawled in. Even as the Class IX student was shocked by the boldness of it, another line came in and the entire class went into chaos.
A flustered professor had to halt the lecture to find the culprit, only to realise later that they were the latest victim of ‘Zoombombing’, a term coined for online trolling where unknown persons wreak havoc on classes being offered on Zoom, a videoconferencing service, because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It was a bit weird. Initially our professors just sent us a link to join in the meetings and that was easily hackable, but we didn’t face any problems. Later, they started sending us passwords to make meetings more secure and it is only after that we got trolled twice. Once the hackers took over the screen and put up a really offensive picture,” said the resident of Fatima Nagar.
Many colleges and universities have relied on Zoom to move classes online, but the platform has often been targeted by trolls. The Union Home Ministry recently cautioned users of the platform that it was “not safe”, and issued detailed guidelines on how to use it securely so that sensitive information is not leaked.
Meanwhile, Zoombombing is a phenomenon which is hitting higher educational institutions worldwide, and local coaching institutes say they are not immune to it and have had their fair share of trolls.
Durgesh Mangeshkar, founder of IIT Prakashan Kendra, said his classes on Zoom were also targeted. “Trolls tried to show objectionable photos once and used chats to write abusive comments. But we immediately switched to the paid software, which gave us greater control. We can now block them with a few steps,” he said.
Such widespread is the harassment that now compilation videos are available on social media platforms of Zoombombing incidents where intruders frequently pose as students and ask ridiculous questions, shout into audio, play loud music and in some cases, share explicit images, show pornography or draw crude images over instructors’ slides.
Most trolls randomly type the 10-digit number to enter meetings.
“So, a couple of things can be done. Like restricting entry into meetings, keeping audio video closed, allowing each individual to chat only with the host and disabling others from seeing chats. In fact, the host can stop anyone from accessing the soft board too by using certain tools in the paid version of the app,” added Mangeshkar.
However, not all attacks are random, with some students willingly sharing details of upcoming classes.
Subodh Pethe, professor at M Prakash Academy who conducts online classes, said his institute came up with a dual permission system to block entry. “Along with an entry link and password, we ask students to enter their names. Once they do, we verify it. For say 20 students per session, we press OK to allow only them if those students send us a request to join. Also, we insist on students keeping their video on. So far, we have been able to keep the trolls out this way,” he said.
Meanwhile, the tutorial classes attended by Rai has come up with a simple technique — locking classes and not allowing new participants to enter. “Usually interruptions happen once classes have started so they are very strict about entry timings. Once they start teaching, they lock the virtual classroom and whoever comes late is not allowed in. It has helped stop the nonsense, ” said the student.
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