Zoom will not be used – for now – for home-based learning online lessons by Singapore schoolteachers.
The Ministry of Education (MOE) has suspended its use while it irons out security issues linked to the popular video conferencing app. The app shot up in popularity as millions of people worldwide find themselves having to work, study or socialise from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
In an incident that occurred on Wednesday (8 April), “Zoombombers” had hijacked a home-based learning lesson for secondary school students in Singapore, sharing pornographic images in a video conference and harassing students.
When contacted, MOE said it was aware of a second breach of another Zoom lesson, but the ministry declined to provide details of that incident.
The director of MOE’s Educational Technology Division Aaron Loh said, “These are very serious incidents. MOE is currently investigating both breaches and will lodge a police report if warranted. We are already working with Zoom to enhance its security settings and make these security measures clear and easy to follow.”
A parent of one of the students in the class, who wanted to be known only as Ms Loh (not related to MOE official), said that she was horrified by the incident. Her 13-year-old daughter, Zee, told her that two Caucasian men suddenly joined her online geography lesson without invitation. They then screen-shared images of penises to the class of 39 Secondary 1 students and asked the girls to “show us your boobs”. The teacher quickly terminated the lesson.
Ms Loh, a 47-year-old civil servant, said she is shocked and angry, and hoped that MOE could use a safer alternative to Zoom – such as Google Meet – for livestreamed lessons. “Home-based learning should be safe for kids. Yet there are predators preying on them everywhere. If MOE is not able to provide a safe learning space, maybe it can continue to give online homework without doing video conferencing.”
Schools across Singapore closed from Wednesday (8 April) as part of “circuit breaker” measures against the spread of the coronavirus, but home-based learning continued to be conducted for students.
Teachers said that lessons conducted through Zoom should be made secure by taking measures like requiring passwords to join meetings and vetting participants using the “waiting room” feature. One male secondary school teacher, who did not want to be named as he was not authorised to speak to media, said that some teachers may not be well-versed in ensuring that Zoom meetings were secure, since home-based learning had only been implemented since last week.
Controversial rise of Zoom
Zoom became the go-to video chat app for people during the coronavirus outbreak as it has user-friendly features and allows users to talk to up to 99 other people simultaneously. The company’s chief executive officer Eric Yuan said in a blog message on 1 April that Zoom’s daily users ballooned to more than 200 million in March from 10 million at the end of December last year.
As part of social distancing measures, Singapore’s government began using Zoom from last week as a platform for its regular ministerial press conferences on the coronavirus outbreak in the country.
A spokesman for the Smart Nation and Digital Government Office told the Straits Times that the public sector has implemented telecommuting to reduce the level of person-to-person contact. Government agencies are using a variety of tools, including Zoom, to disseminate information for the convenience of external parties, he said.
There are various reports of security and privacy issues faced by Zoom. “Zoombombing” or “Zoom raiding”, in which uninvited mischief-doers hack into or hijack online meetings to harass participants, has become an organised phenomenon involving thousands of perpetrators as the number of users rose dramatically globally. Such trolls have shared pornography inside meetings or spouted racist hate speech. Abusers share Zoom meeting codes on platforms such as Instagram or Discord, and coordinate raids on video conferences.
While Zoom is popular with consumers and businesses, some companies and countries have banned it due to concerns over security and privacy. New York City banned its schools from using Zoom for remote teaching. Google and SpaceX banned the use of Zoom among their employees, and Taiwan and Germany’s governments have banned Zoom for official use.
Zoom has promised to improve its security and privacy features. Nate Johnson, a Zoom spokesperson, said in a statement on 2 April, “Zoom strongly condemns harassment of this kind and we have been reporting instances of this to various social platforms in order for them to take appropriate action.”
As a parent, or a Zoom user, how can you make Zoom more secure?
Tips to make your Zoom chat more secure
- don’t share the Zoom meeting link or the meeting ID on public platforms
- don’t use the personal meeting ID; allow Zoom to create a random number for each meeting
- set a meeting password
- set screen sharing to “host only”
- limit recording permissions for call participants
- create a “waiting room” for the call, which allows the host to manually give users entry to the call
- disable file transfer
- disable “join before host”
- disable “allow removed participants to rejoin”