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Use of Zoom program is safe here

Letcher County should be safe from the people who have been intruding on public meetings held on the platform, the chief executive officer of Mountain Comprehensive Health Corporation said.

Churches and other public groups meeting via online video chats such as Zoom have been subjected to racist and xenophobic tirades by intruders, and pornographic images — some animated, and some live and in-person. The incidents have become so common over the past few weeks, a new term has been coined to describe them — “Zoom bombing.” Zoom is an online meeting company whose popularity has skyrocketed during the coronavirus age.

But MCHC CEO Mike Caudill said the medical nonprofit pays for a different version of the software, which most people find free on the Internet.

“We use a licensed version of the program, so we’re paying for more extra security,” Caudill said.

The company is also setting up additional lines to handle the number of calls. He said there have been no problems he is aware of with bandwidth. Caudill said MCHC is also putting together a list of places with WiFi hotspots where people who don’t have Internet service at home can go to get online for medical visits.

While Caudill said some people have been a little concerned about accessing a doctor in that way because of the new hacking phenomenon, he said he hasn’t seen any indication it would be a danger due to the increased security. He said the only cases he has seen where people were subjected to offensive words and pictures were public meetings, not private conferences between individuals.

Ceri Weber had just begun to defend her doctoral dissertation at Duke University when the chaos began: Echoes and voices interrupted her. Someone parroted her words. Then Britney Spears music came on, and someone told Weber to shut up. Someone threatened to rape her.

Hackers had targeted the meeting on Zoom. The harassment lasted 10 minutes.

As tens of millions of people turn to video conferencing to stay connected during the coronavirus pandemic, many have reported uninvited guests who make threats, interject racist, antigay or anti-Semitic messages, or show pornographic images. The attacks have drawn the attention of the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.

“It seemed like someone was just being silly,” but then the intrusions “started to get more serious and threatening,” Weber recalled. “I was really in the zone and kept presenting.” She said she was more concerned about others in the chat who could have been scared. She was interrupted despite having selected “mute all” in the settings for the meeting she conducted from her home in Durham, North Carolina.

A Massachusetts high school reported that someone interrupted a virtual class on Zoom, yelled profanity and revealed the teacher’s home address. Another school in that state reported a person who accessed a meeting and showed swastika tattoos, according to the FBI.

The agency’s field office in Boston recommended that users of video-teleconference platforms prioritize their security by ensuring that hosts have sole control over screen-sharing features and meeting invitations.

In New York, Attorney General Letitia James sent a letter to Zoom with questions about how users’ privacy and security are being protected.

Zoom has referred to trolls as “party crashers,” which some critics have taken as a sign the company is downplaying the attacks.

In a statement issued last week, the company told The Associated Press it takes the security of meetings seriously and encourages users to report any incidents directly to Zoom. The company suggested that people hosting large, public meetings confirm that they are the only ones who can share their screen and use features like mute controls.

Information for this report was gathered by The Mountain Eagle and The Associated Press.

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