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What is Zoom bombing? Tech expert explains after 2 incidents during online lessons at Triad schools

One hacker made obscene gestures. Another went on a racist rant. Both incidents happened during online lessons at two Triad schools.

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — Only three days into the new school year, Triad schools report at least two cases of hacking during online learning.

According to tech experts, it's called "Zoom bombing" or "Zoom raiding," where hackers interrupt the lesson plans - intentionally causing commotion during a virtual meeting. 

For both Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools and Alamance Burlington Schools, these cases were obscene and inappropriate. 

RELATED: Winston-Salem/Forsyth County Schools investigates inappropriate activity in virtual class

Although no students roamed the halls or sat at desks inside Southeast Middle School in Forsyth County - or at Graham High School in Alamance County - disruptions derailed two classes on Tuesday. 

Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools says someone yelled obscenities and made inappropriate gestures during a virtual art class at Southeast. A spokesperson for the district says the individual was on a Southeast Middle student - but did attend another school. 

At Graham High, Alamance-Burlington Schools is investigating after an unknown instigator used inappropriate, disrespectful language and used derogatory racial slurs. A district spokesperson says the individual is not an ABSS student - but believes the incident may be part of a wave of similar events happening across the state. 

"What you were seeing is what we call 'Zoom bombing,'" said Ron Pierce, president of Trinity Solutions, Inc., a Greensboro IT company, "Simply put it is somebody who is not supposed to be in a Zoom conference shows up and decides that they are going to make a spectacle of themselves."

The tech expert says as more people rely on Zoom, and other video chat platforms for meetings, and now for school, this form of hacking is ramping up. 

"It is going to be something, unfortunately, that I think you were going to see the school systems are going to deal with," Pierce said. 

While no platform is foolproof, he says, there are ways to make these online lessons more secure. One of the best ways on Zoom is putting up a virtual buffer called the "waiting room." This feature allows teachers to look over who is trying to get on the call - and only admit students in the class. 

"Waiting room says that you cannot get into this meeting unless the person who is running the meeting lets you," Pierce explains, "It's just like the teacher has the classroom door closed, and they are standing there monitoring the door and opening the door for their students coming into the classroom. It's the exact same thing."

Pierce says prevention will be up to the districts but encourages parents to tell their kids about "Zoom bombing" - and to leave the lesson if it's been hacked.

Full statement from Winston-Salem Forsyth County Schools:

"This is a totally new way of learning.  Our tech team is constantly working with software providers and our instructional teams on ways to improve the student experience and increase safety.    We are working with our technology platform partners to come up with solutions to prevent something like that from happening.

Incidents like the one yesterday are certainly not acceptable and we are working on ways to improve the security and understand how that happened.  We take that seriously.  We are also reminding our students and parents that links for these meetings should only be used by the students involved in the class and not shared. We are asking students and parents to remain vigilant about not sharing links and passwords of any kind.  We are asking teachers to make sure they keep a close eye and know exactly "who" is being admitted into their class meeting as they begin class sessions on the systems that give them the ability to limit or control admittance. 

We are also sending teachers tip sheets of ways to secure their "rooms" and what to do to "mute" students, or remove someone from a meeting that they are not invited to.  This is an evolving and learning process for us all."

Full statement from the Alamance-Burlington School System:

"[Tuesday] afternoon, we became aware that one of our classroom Zoom sessions at Graham High School was involved in what appears to be a deliberate hacking incident involving an unknown individual as the instigator, not an ABSS student. We believe that the incident may be part of a wave of similar events happening in North Carolina and across the nation known as a Zoom raid with a purpose of disrupting classroom instruction. It appears to be a challenge of some sort.

The incident at Graham High continues to be under investigation. It involved inappropriate, disrespectful language and derogatory racial slurs that in no way reflect our district or school expectations for anyone on our campuses, student or adult.  Appropriate disciplinary action for anyone involved that is associated with ABSS will result according to published ABSS guidelines for conduct.

After an initial investigation, the principal contacted families of students in the class to notify them that the incident occurred. Students are reminded not to share their online links for any class sessions with others and to report any unacceptable behavior or inappropriate language to their teacher or to school administrators.  In addition, the ABSS technology division is working to increase the security options available for teachers hosting online classroom sessions to prevent further incidents.

Alamance-Burlington Schools is committed to maintaining a safe, secure and respectful learning environment for students and teachers. Our high expectations for appropriate behavior stand whether in-person in classrooms or while students are learning off-campus."

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