SINGAPORE — Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) has lifted a temporary ban on using video conferencing tool Zoom to conduct online teaching, after hackers last week crashed a virtual lesson and showed teenage students obscene images.
A ministry spokesperson said that the restrictions were lifted after added security measures were implemented.
Responding to queries by Yahoo Lifestyle SEA, Aaron Loh, director of MOE’s educational technology division, said, “MOE takes security breaches very seriously and has filed police reports on the two breaches that took place last week.”
The Zoom app shot up in popularity as millions of people worldwide found themselves having to work, study or socialise from home during the COVID-19 pandemic. Schools across Singapore closed from last Wednesday (8 April) as part of “circuit breaker” measures put in place to curb the spread of the coronavirus while teachers have been conducting online lessons from home for students, including livestream video conferences.
Yahoo Lifestyle SEA reported last week that two unknown Caucasian men intruded into a Zoom lesson conducted for a class of secondary school students. They screen-shared images of penises to the class of 39 students and asked the girls to “show us your boobs”. The teacher overseeing the lesson quickly terminated the lesson.
MOE had said there was a second breach of a separate Zoom lesson, but declined to share further details.
[Update on 14 April 2020] Zoom said in a statement sent to Yahoo Lifestyle SEA on Tuesday (14 April): “Zoom was deeply upset to learn of the incidents and strongly condemns such behaviour. Zoom is committed to providing educators with the tools and resources they need on a safe and secure platform. Zoom has worked together with MOE so that they can manage the service and provide a seamless meeting management experience for educators.”
Loh said MOE would allow teachers to progressively resume the use of Zoom, but with controls in place. MOE had worked with Zoom to strengthen the secure use of the platform by consolidating security settings into a “security button” to make it easier for users to activate the settings. MOE was also centrally managing teachers’ default security settings on Zoom to further secure the platform across all school users.
MOE would also centrally restrict certain features of Zoom for teachers until they were more familiar with security protocols, such as disabling screen annotation and screen-sharing, as well as the use of the whiteboard feature, to avoid abuse or misuse.
Teachers have to submit an acknowledgment of compliance of security measures before they would be allowed to carry out live lessons using Zoom, Loh added.
MOE said on its website that it was resuming the use of video conferencing platforms like Zoom despite recent security and privacy concerns because “video conferencing platforms are very useful for students to engage in live lessons” and “students are motivated to learn in such a social setting”.
Besides Zoom, teachers also use other video conferencing platforms such as Google Meet, Facebook Live and Cisco WebEx, MOE added. There is no requirement for teachers to restrict themselves to Zoom.
Zoom’s controversial rise
Zoom became the go-to video chat app for people during the coronavirus outbreak as it has user-friendly features and allows users to talk to up to 99 other people simultaneously. The company’s chief executive officer Eric Yuan said in a blog message on 1 April that Zoom’s daily users ballooned to more than 200 million in March from 10 million at the end of December last year.
There have been various reports of security breaches and privacy issues related to the app. “Zoombombing” or “Zoom raiding”, in which uninvited mischief-doers hack into or hijack online meetings to harass participants, has become an organised phenomenon involving thousands of perpetrators as the number of users surged globally. Some of these trolls have shared pornography inside meetings or spouted racist hate speech. Abusers have also disclosed Zoom meeting codes on platforms such as Instagram or Discord, and coordinated raids on video conferences.
While Zoom is popular with consumers and businesses, some companies and countries have banned it due to concerns over security and privacy. New York City banned its schools from using Zoom for remote teaching. Google and SpaceX banned the use of Zoom among their employees, while the governments of Taiwan and Germany have banned Zoom for official use.
Zoom has promised to improve its security and privacy features.
Tips to make your Zoom chat more secure
don’t share the Zoom meeting link or the meeting ID on public platforms
don’t use the personal meeting ID; allow Zoom to create a random number for each meeting
set a meeting password
set screen sharing to "host only"
limit recording permissions for call participants
create a “waiting room” for the call, which allows the host to manually give users entry to the call
disable file transfer
disable "join before host"
disable "allow removed participants to rejoin"