What started out as an informative and helpful meeting regarding Delta College students’ needs, quickly turned into a traumatizing event for all participants.
In the first ASDC town hall event for the school year, during a screenshare switchover between Associated Students of Delta College (ASDC) President Colm Fitzgerald and Dr. Angela Tos, dean of Student Enrollment Services and Student Development, an unknown meeting participant took over the screen and displayed disturbing images of child pornography.
The Collegian is not describing the content in detail due to the graphic nature of the images.
The event, which was part of the campus Mustang Week activities, was hosted on Zoom. The platform has been used extensively by Delta College since the switch to mostly online-only delivery for classes in March.
The participants were discussing student mental health before the explicit images were displayed.
“We want our students to be well. We want them to be well first and foremost,” said Tos just before the Zoom bomber commandeered the screen.
The situation was handled promptly, with screen sharing being turned off by Fitzgerald. There were about 40 people in attendance.
“I want to take a moment since we’re talking about wellness. That was disturbing, and I recognize that it was disturbing. I’m sorry that that happened, everyone. If you would like some debriefing or follow-up based on how you feel because of that, please contact me by email,” Tos said to the crowd.
The speakers tried to regroup and continue, but the image poster taunted the crowd in the chat box. President/Superintendent Dr. Omid Pourzanjani ended the event after a second chat-related post from the taunter about the images appeared.
Before Pourzanjani ended the event, Tos told meeting participants she was on the phone with the Delta College police department.
Delta College Police Sgt. Jim Bock addressed campus police’s response to the incident in a follow-up with the Collegian.
“First and foremost, I cannot stress how absolutely sickened we were, as an entire agency, to receive this call. Nearly all of us have children and to think that someone could post such disturbing images made our hearts sink. Upon receiving the call, we immediately opened an investigation,” said Bock.
Bock added that Delta is not alone in experiencing Zoom bombings involving child pornography.
“The FBI has fairly recently reached out to people across the country seeking information from those who were exposed to child sexual abuse material while in a Zoom-type conference meeting. It appears that many of these occurrences, nationwide, have happened during public meetings in which the meeting and its link were shared across social media platforms,” said Bock.
He admitted that this investigation is not a cut-and-dry procedure.
“Our goal, of course, is to find the person responsible and prevent further occurrences in the future, but this is an extremely difficult task when it is perpetrated through the internet. Internet crimes are generally much more complex than in-person crimes and unfortunately take more time to get results,” said Bock.
Delta College offered counseling services to those present on the call during the incident.
Fitzgerald said ASDC takes responsibility for the incident occurring.
“This definitely is something that could’ve been avoided, and it should have been. It’s the ASDC’s bad that this incident [occurred]. The safety and security of the students that attend our events is so primitively understood that it’s unspoken,” said Fitzgerald.
He also offered his own solution for ensuring that an incident like this doesn’t occur again.
“It’s a two-pronged approach. The first approach is we have to secure the Zoom meetings that we have, and that will be done I think most likely from the webinar mode. Then the second thing is [developing a Discord server] while we’re temporarily securing our Zoom meetings,” said Fitzgerald.
Fitzgerald said he supports the use of Discord because of its user permission controls.
“You can make it, for example, so that anybody who joins the Discord has to join for at least ten minutes to even say anything,” he said, adding that administrators can require server users to agree to rules before joining. “The permissions of Discord are much more secure and intuitive.”
Fitzgerald’s desire to find a more secure server to host online meetings stemmed from a personal past experience.
“I’ve been the victim of an international hacker similar to this when I was 13 from playing video games. Somebody went crazy and stole my family’s identity and sent pizzas to our house and sent a bomb threat to my school,” said Fitzgerald.
Delta is currently working on changing its operations for video-based web meetings.
A campus wide email was sent out from Pourzanjani through Director of Marketing, Communications, and Outreach Alex Brietler that included a link to Delta’s Zoom security page which highlights tips on avoiding Zoom bombings in public meetings in the future.
Here are some of the tips the page suggests:
- Password protect your zoom meetings
- Do not use “Join Before Host”/ Use a waiting room
- Allow only signed-in users to join
- Lock the meeting after it starts
- Turn off file transfer
More details about keeping Zoom meetings safe can be found at deltacollege.edu/coronavirus/tips-avoiding-zoom-bombing