The video-conferencing app, Zoom, has become a daily tool for many people during the COVID-19 pandemic. As cities and state across the country were shutting down to protect against the spread of the virus; state and local governments were trying to find ways in which they could move forward with important meetings while being unable to meet in person.
Zoom became a go-to due to its ease of use; ability to have up to 100 people attend a meeting; and free use for up to 40 minutes. A problem that arose was what became known as “Zoom bombing” where a person or persons gains access to the Zoom meeting by hacking or obtaining the Zoom chat information and causes disruptions to the meeting.
One example of this was during a Kansas City Council committee meeting when a hacker or hackers infiltrated the meeting and began cursing and using racial slurs until the committee was forced to shut down the meeting. Another occurrence was during a Maine’s Children’s Behavioral Health Townhall in which a hacker or hackers gained access and began displaying deeply disturbing and offensive images forcing the meeting to be shutdown.
In addition to Zoom bombings, there have been instances of camera and audio high jacking, in which hackers can take control of a user’s camera or audio device to bug a meeting or even install harmful spyware and malware onto a user’s device.
Instances like these have caused many governments to rethink whether they want to use the platform to conduct meetings. Luckily, there are steps you can take to ensure your government Zoom meeting is protected against these unwanted Zoom bombings. Below we provide a how-to on securing you state and local government Zoom meetings.
- Always Password Protect Your Meetings
The easiest way to prevent unwanted intrusion into your government meetings is simple and easy to do; set a password. You have the option to set the password at the individual meeting, user, group, or account level and it is suggested to use a different password for each meeting. In order to do this, log into your Zoom portal and go to the “settings” tab. From there enable “require a password when scheduling new meetings” and Zoom will generate a password each time a meeting is scheduled.
- Use a Randomly Generated Meeting ID
When creating a Zoom account, you are provided with your own personal meeting ID you can use to set up meetings. These are not ideal for use for government meetings; especially if planning on public input attendance. It is suggested you do not make your personal meeting ID public. Once someone has your personal meeting ID it can either be leaked or used to gain access to future meetings; instead it is suggested you use a randomly generated meeting id. You can select this option when setting up your meeting.
- Utilize the Waiting Room Feature
The waiting room is normally used for individual interviews or one-on-one sessions, it can be utilized to screen participants as they join before allowing them to come into a meeting. This gives the host greater control over session security and prevents anyone who may have obtained the login information dishonestly from joining.
- Disable Participant Screen Sharing, Mute Upon Entry
In order to avoid people showing inappropriate things such as happened in the aforementioned examples, disabling attendant’s ability to use screen share can help prevent that. Unless someone is scheduled to share a presentation or visual, going under the “security” tab during your active session and disabling screen share can help avoid unwanted disturbances. Also remember, as a host, you can choose to mute people upon entry or manually mute or unmute a participant during the meeting.
- Lock the Meeting Once it Begins
Once the time for the meeting has arrived and everyone is in attendance who is meant to be there, it is a good idea to “lock” your meeting to prevent others from joining. This can be done once the session has begun by going to the “Manage Participants” tab and clicking on “more.” From there you can click on “lock” and this will prevent anyone else from joining the meeting. It can be unlocked at any time if you need to admit anyone.
- Evict Troublesome Participants and Report
If someone happens to come into your meeting uninvited or a participant begins causing trouble, you, as the host, can remove that person from the meeting. This should be done immediately upon noticing an issue. All you have to do is mouse over the participant’s name and with the option pop-up chose the “remove” option. After you have done this you can report them to Zoom’s Trust and Safety team who will take appropriate action.
- Keep Your Zoom App Updated
As security and functionality issues arise, patches and updates are regularly released to combat these issues. Each time before using Zoom, you should always check to make sure you are updated to the latest version. This can be done by opening your application, going to your profile and selecting “Check for Updates.” The app will automatically scan and install any updates.
Using Zoom for government meetings is a good way to continue with important policy and public engagement processes during these trying times. Zoom is an ever-evolving platform that continues to take steps towards a more secure meeting experience. Making sure you take all precautions to secure your meetings will help prevent bad actors from gaining access and wreaking havoc. Government meetings are essential to keep state, cities, and counties running smoothly, and Zoom is one means to keep the wheel turning until we can all safely meet in person again.