Heather Wright/The Independent
Petrolia Council covers some pretty hot topics, but things usually don’t get steamy.
But about 11 minutes into Monday’s virtual meeting on Zoom, town councillors were confused as town staff worked frantically to remove images of young women in panties dancing to suggestive music. The women’s upper bodies appeared to be covered by text similar to a computer error message.
Staff got the first image off the screen quickly. But a little over a minute later, another appeared for all the 61 people logged on to see.
Staff again removed the image. “These interruptions are not appropriate,” Councillor Ross O’Hara said. But the meeting continued
Then, about 15 minutes into the council meeting, a loud voice broke through dropping the F-bomb three times.
“We’re being hacked here,” O’Hara then concluded.
He was right. And it’s not uncommon.
It’s a practice called Zoom Bombing. Hackers find Zoom meeting links on the internet and then dial in and take over the meeting.
The attacks have become more common during the pandemic with university students giving their final dissertations being bombed with pornography.
Closer to home, in Chatham-Kent a group of about 100 volunteers were stunned when Zoom Bombers hacked into their meeting about a food drive and dropped in child pornography.
The meeting was shutdown and local police vowed to investigate. So far, no charges have been laid in the April incident.
Experts say if a Zoom Bombing occurs, the host of the meeting should work quickly to remove them from the meeting, which Petrolia staff did, much to the surprise of one Bluewater Power official. Alex Palimaka was set to speak to council but was booted out of the meeting when the Zoom Bombing occurred. He jokingly assured councillors he was not the bomber.
Security experts at the University of British Columbia suggest these tips to avoid Zoom Bombing. Avoid sharing meeting links on social media or public outlets and avoid using Personal Meeting IDs.
Restrict screen sharing to the host and manage participants by muting participants or disabling video.
Remove unwanted or disruptive participants and use the waiting room feature to ensure that only the participants you want are allowed to join the meeting.
The Town of Petrolia follows most of these guidelines including screening participants in a waiting room. However, the practice is obviously not fool proof.
And, because meetings are public, the town publicly offers the Zoom links on its website to promote citizens to be involved in council meetings.