Zoom calls are being interrupted to broadcast child abuse images, users say

'Zoombombing' attacks see strangers break into group video calls and show often distressing images and videos

Andrew Griffin
Friday 24 April 2020 15:27
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People pass walk by the Nasdaq building as the screen shows the logo of the video-conferencing software company Zoom after the opening bell ceremony on April 18, 2019 in New York City
People pass walk by the Nasdaq building as the screen shows the logo of the video-conferencing software company Zoom after the opening bell ceremony on April 18, 2019 in New York City

Zoom calls are being interrupted by attackers who broadcast child abuse imagery, users say.

The reports are just the latest example of the phenomenon of "Zoombombing", where strangers break into calls and show often distressing images and videos.

The National Crime Agency (NCA) has now confirmed that it is investigating the reports and following up with other instances of such attacks.

The BBC reported that several users of video calling app Zoom had recently experienced incidents where their meeting had been interrupted by abuse footage.

It said one of the meetings in question had been publicised on social media - something a number of online safety groups and Zoom itself urge users not to do.

Zoombombing is the name given to incidents where a stranger accesses a meeting uninvited and displays offensive material.

NCA deputy director Charles Yates said: "We can confirm we have received this report and we are now making further inquiries to establish the circumstances.

"We are also aware of a number of other reports of similar instances and the NCA is working with partners in the UK and abroad, law enforcement and private sector, to respond to these cases.

"Operators of these platforms need to do all they can to ensure their services aren't exploited or compromised in this way, particularly at a time when live streaming applications have reported significant increases in their use.

"Child sexual abuse remains a priority threat for the NCA. We are continuing to pursue high-risk online offenders to ensure they are arrested and children are safeguarded."

Zoom has been the subject of security concerns over some of its features, including previously not requiring a password to access a meeting by default.

Concerns have also been raised after the service inaccurately suggested on its website that it used end-to-end encryption when it does not, and in another incident admitted that some meeting data may have been routed through servers in China, sparking privacy fears.

In a statement on the Zoombombing incidents, a company spokesman said: "This incident is truly devastating and appalling, and our user policies explicitly prohibit any obscene, indecent, illegal or violent activity or content on the platform.

"We are looking into this specific incident to ensure the appropriate action is taken. Zoom strongly condemns such behaviour and recently updated several features to help our users more easily protect their meetings."

The video app announced on Wednesday that a new version of its software would be released shortly which fixes many of the security issues raised about the platform, including upgrading encryption, making using passwords a default to access a meeting and allowing hosts to quickly report malicious users in meetings.

In response to the China concerns, Zoom confirmed that users will be able to choose the data centre their data is routed through as part of the update.

"We encourage users to report any incidents of this kind either to Zoom so we can take appropriate action or directly to law enforcement authorities," Zoom added.

Additional reporting by agencies

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