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Zoom attack hijacks Georgia county board meeting

‘The chairman finally just had to shut down the system entirely,’ county attorney says

‘The chairman finally just had to shut down the system entirely,’ county attorney says.

MCINTOSH COUNTY, Ga. – With much of the country under stay-at-home orders, tens of millions of Americans are turning to video teleconferencing to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic.

But that dependence on software including Zoom has left people open to attack from people online who crash meetings and hijack them by posting obscene material. No one is immune, not even government officials.

One of the latest incidents happened Tuesday during a McIntosh County Commission meeting. Ten people were on the call when attackers bombarded them with sexually explicit images.

“The meeting was completely taken over from someone who hacked in and was displaying pornographic photographs,” McIntosh County Attorney Adam Poppell told News4Jax.

The county has notified law enforcement about Tuesday evening’s incident, but officials are taking steps to prevent future meetings from falling victim to similar attacks.

Poppell said the intruders struck about 20 minutes into the call.

“The screens were locked,” he recalled. “The chairman finally just had to shut down the system entirely to make it go away.”

Poppell said it was the board’s second Zoom meeting to discuss approving contracts. He said this is the first time the board has been targeted, despite holding several other Zoom meetings.

“Everyone was just aghast,” the county attorney said. “I think we were shocked and everyone immediately turned off their computer screens.

As the number of people meeting by video grows, the FBI has issued warnings of so-called Zoom bombers, who show up uninvited and interrupt meetings with offensive material.

The bureau acknowledged it has received multiple reports of these attacks unfolding in recent weeks with hijackers using a combination of threats, pornography and other obscenities.

Even as the threat of attacks remains, Zoom has settings that people can use to secure their calls. These include waiting rooms, passwords and requiring users to join by domain.

If something happens during a meeting, admins can also access security options in the tool bar such as locking the meeting, removing and muting participants and disabling video.

“Just anyone won’t be able to login,” Poppell said. “That’s our issue. Other folks were able to login and take control of the meeting, so you can bet we’re going to be operating under different circumstances.”

If you are a victim of a teleconference hijacking, you can contact the FBI at tips.fbi.gov.

About the Author:

Multi-media journalist with a special interest in Georgia issues.