How to Keep 'Zoombombers' from Disrupting your Online Meetings or Classes

As you may have heard, several school districts, including New York City, are banning the use of Zoom video conferencing…

Apr 7, 2020

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by Larry Magid

UPDATE: Zoom just launched a Security Toolbar that you can easily access during a meeting. Scroll down to”during a meeting” section under three places where you can set controls.

As you may have heard, several school districts, including New York City, are banning the use of Zoom video conferencing because of security and privacy concerns. But — while no platform is 100% hack-proof, Zoom does offer tools that can protect your online meetings or class sessions from intruders.

Zoom was designed to be used mostly by businesses, including large companies with IT departments. And their documentation seems to be written for professionals, not regular folks. So here is a simplified guide to protecting your sessions on Zoom.

After multiple media reports about “Zoombombing” and other abuses by uninvited participants at meetings, personal video chats and online classes, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan apologized in a blog post and said “we recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s – and our own – privacy and security expectations,” and then announced a number of changes, including turning on most privacy settings as the default. Still, you should check your Zoom settings and make sure they’re to your liking. You might want to turn on or leave on some privacy settings or relax others, depending on your needs and concerns.

There are three places where you can set controls.

  • The settings menu (which you access by clicking My Account in the upper right corner) allows you to set the defaults for all your meetings. But they can be overridden for individual meetings.
  • Schedule a meeting (near the top of the screen) allows you not only to schedule a meeting in advance but set privacy and security rules only for that meeting. Note that the Schedule a Meeting option is different from Host a Meeting, which instantly creates the meeting using your default settings.
  • During a meeting there are a limited number of things you can do, including turning off people’s microphones (muting) and ejecting them from the meeting. See update below on an additional tool, but you can also can access in-meeting controls by clicking on participants, selecting a participant at the bottom of your screen. That brings up a list of participants. You can click on any participant’s name and “more” to turn off their video, put them in a waiting room (which temporarily removes them from the conference) or remove them. At the bottom of that screen there are buttons to mute all, unmute all and “more,” which gives you other options including to lock the meeting.

UPDATE: Zoom has just added a new a security toolbar icon that’s visible at the bottom of your screen during a meeting (look for the shield). The icons lets you lock the meeting so new new people can enter, enable the waiting room, (even if it’s not already enabled), remove participants and restrict participants’ ability to share their screens, chat in a meeting, rename themselves, and annotate on the host’s shared content,

Start with general settings

So, start by going into your general settings menu, which you can access by clicking on My Account in the upper right corner (from the web). And, if you schedule a meeting, review these settings in the schedule screen to make sure they’re appropriate for that particular meeting.

Important privacy and security tools

  • Require a password. All participant must know and enter a password to attend your meeting
  • Enable a waiting room: You can require all participants to wait until the host lets them in either individually or all at once. This gives the host the ability to review who’s in the waiting room and only admit authorized participants.
  • Only allow authenticated users. This is a further restriction that allows only users who have been approved and authenticated in advance.
  • Restrict screen sharing or limit it to specific applications (like Microsoft Office). Screen sharing has been used by intruders to display pornography or other inappropriate content.
  • Participant video on or off. You can turn it on for trusted participants and turn it off for anyone who you think might be abusive.
  • Join before host. Default is off. If off, it prevents all participants from interacting until the  host joins. The off default is most secure.
  • Require a password for instant meetings. On by default. It will generate a random password that you must share with participants.
  • Mute participants upon entry. If you turn it on, no one can speak until you unmute them during the meeting.
  • Require a password for Personal Meeting ID (PMI). A Personal Meeting Room is a conference “room” that’s permanently reserved for you, that you can access with your Personal Meeting ID (PMI) or personal link. You can require a password for entry.
  • Lock down the meeting after everyone invited has arrived. You can do this by clicking participants icon and then “more,” during the meeting.

Other options include

  • Enable/disable a participant or all participants to record
  • Temporary pause screen-sharing when a new window is opened
  • Only allow individuals with a given e-mail domain to join

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