Are children safe from ‘Zoombombing’ while using popular app for distance learning?


School systems in New York City and Washington, D.C., stopped using Zoom because of security concerns. — Dreamstime/TNS

FORT WORTH, Texas: The Zoom video-conferencing service has made like its name during the coronavirus pandemic, growing wildly in popularity across the country as businesses and schools search for a way to connect while adhering to stay-at-home orders.

The application is easy to access and easy to use, and highly susceptible to security breaches that have infiltrated school systems across the country while teachers were attempting to hold online classes.

One Texas school district using Zoom has acted to help minimise the risk, though others have avoided it all together.

The Keller Independent School District sent its students and their parents strict protocol on how to better use Zoom less than a week after the FBI issued a warning about vulnerabilities that it called "Zoombombing”.

"With many school meetings taking place through Zoom, we understand there have been concerns voiced about the safety of using the platform that have come with recent media reports," the district wrote to families and students. "We want to assure you that KISD is aware of these concerns and takes them seriously."

The Keller ISD on Monday started requiring a passcode for all Zoom meetings, which were to be sent via invitation. Those joining meetings are required to log into Zoom using their Keller ISD email accounts, which should prevent any outsiders from joining.

All meetings on Zoom also now include a waiting room, where the host will allow each student into the session while banning anyone unfamiliar.

The Crowley ISD also is using Zoom, but the school district did not immediately respond to inquiries.

The two largest school districts in Tarrant County, Fort Worth and Arlington, said they use other applications for their distance learning but teachers can use Zoom to check in on their students.

The Fort Worth ISD has sent its staff information about the security issues, and Arlington is having its teachers tape instructions and email them to students rather than holding live instruction.

Aledo, Carroll, Grapevine-Colleyville and Mansfield school districts do not use Zoom for online classes.

"Carroll ISD students are allowed to use Google Chat at this time to communicate," said Julie Thannum, assistant superintendent for board and community relations. "Zoom is not a district supported or recommended service, nor has it been."

WebEx is used in Aledo and Grapevine-Colleyville, while Mansfield uses Microsoft Team.

"It allows our teachers to easily connect with our students in secure manner," said Donald Williams, associate superintendent of communications and marketing. "The district is also using Teams to stay "virtually" connected with each other during this time of closure."

School systems in New York City and Washington, D.C., stopped using Zoom because of security concerns. Zoom CEO Eric Yaun recently told CNN that the company grew too fast for to keep up with the security issues.

He emphasized the need for a passcode to make meetings secure.

"We moved too fast," Yuan said. "We had some missteps. We have already taken actions to fixed those missteps." — Fort Worth Star-Telegram Tribune News

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