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Hackers take over a fifth grade virtual learning class, post 'disgusting' messages

Posted at 10:37 PM, Sep 10, 2020
and last updated 2020-09-11 07:09:22-04

BALTIMORE — Jaylen Neale, who is a fifth grader at The Bel-Air Edison School’s Brehms campus in Baltimore, is still adjusting to virtual learning.

But, when he screamed for his mom’s help during his science class on zoom, it wasn’t because he was struggling with the periodic table; it was because hackers took it over.

“When I came down, I saw that they were putting up, F you, unmute me [and] I got a few things to say. They were standing up to unbutton and show areas they should not be showing to kids that’s in the fifth grade," Jaylen's mom Shantel Rose said.

“That stuff was really nasty," said Jaylen. "I was looking back and forth. I was trying to unmute the call, but I wanted my mom to hear so she can talk to the principal about it.

Rose said she and other parents immediately moved their kids away from the computer, once they saw what was happening. She also said the teacher quickly muted everybody on the zoom call and turned off the video, but she added the damage was already done.

“It’s heartbreaking for them to watch that," she said.

Rose said she posted about the incident on Facebook and parents with kids in other schools said it also happened to them.

"As we go into the new school year and everybody is online, it does not surprise that we are going to see more zoom or video conference type mischief because it’s a target of opportunity," said Dr. Richard Forno, who is a cybersecurity expert and also the assistant director with the UMBC Center for Cybersecurity.

Zoom has faced criticism for security flaws linked to what's now called zoom bombing, which is when hackers hijack work or person meetings, but they also target virtual classrooms. The company promised to fix the issues, but hackers have still found a way to continue to wreak havoc.

Dr. Forno has this advice for anyone who uses the popular video conferencing app.

"Making sure that the software itself is configured appropriately whether it's done at the school district level or by individual teachers," he said. "Make sure things like the waiting room are enabled that can make it more difficult for unauthorized people to enter that room.”

Rose said she’s worried it could happen again. She’s hoping the school makes sure their classes are more secure moving forward.

She also said the school still does not who did this, but she believes it was some high school kids playing around. Rose said this was a joke that was far from funny.

“It’s disgusting. It’s disgusting," she said. “It’s not cool. It’s not funny. It’s stupid. Find something else to do."

The school sent statement about the incident. You can read it below.

We are proud of the way our teacher and principal responded to this unfortunate situation. We are working with families directly impacted to provide support. We are also working with City Schools to put more preventative measures in place so these kinds of things don’t happen again in our virtual classrooms or any others around the city.