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8 Ways to Defuse Zoom Bombing

Remember Zoom bombing? It was all over the news as the pandemic began. Unfortunately, it is still with us, particularly in these fraught times. When your meeting or class is small, it’s easy to keep an eye on who has connected and what they are doing. But in bigger meetings, there are more chances for people to cause havoc. So pay attention to your options when setting up a meeting. Here are eight ways to keep unwanted behavior from disrupting your class.

(NOTE: Pitt IT provides two videoconferencing tools for use by the University community. Zoom is recommended for academic purposes, while Teams is the preferred app for non-classroom activities. See the Pitt IT Zoom Security Guide for detailed recommendations for a wide variety of meeting circumstances. See the sidebar for security recommendations for Teams.)

  1. Use a unique meeting ID, instead of your Personal Meeting ID.
    Your PMI never changes, which is convenient for open or unscheduled meetings, like open office hours. The downside is that once someone has your PMI, they can join any session using your PMI as the meeting ID. Just as unique passwords protect your online accounts, unique meeting IDs protect your Zoom meetings. So create a unique meeting ID for each class or meeting, and make it available only to invited participants.
  2. Create invitation-only meetings.
    You can tell Zoom to only admit invited participants. That way, even if someone else gets their hands on the meeting info, they can’t get in. To limit admission, you must first enable the option in your account: sign into pitt.zoom.us, click Settings > Security, and toggle on “Only authenticated users can join meetings.” Then, schedule a meeting through the web portal, making sure to click “Require authentication to join” from the security options. The @pitt.edu profile will limit the meeting to those with Pitt credentials. (To limit the session to specific people, create/add an Outlook calendar invitation from the Manage My Meeting window and add your students or attendees. As a bonus, this will add the session to their Outlook calendar, too.)
  3. Enable a Waiting Room or Lock the meeting.
    Zoom bombers often sneak in after a meeting has begun, when people are less likely to notice them. So it’s helpful to limit access to the meeting using a waiting room. Alternately, you can lock a meeting, so no late comers can enter once you’ve started (including invited participants). To enable a waiting room in-meeting or to lock the meeting, open the Participants pane and chose More > Enable Waiting Room / Lock Meeting from the bottom.
  4. Disable screen sharing for all participants.
    Don’t give people the opportunity to hijack your meeting by taking over the display. Select this option when creating the meeting by selecting Who can share? > Only Host from the meeting options. You can enable this option during the meeting using the in-meeting controls (by clicking the arrow next to the Share Screen icon). 
  5. Mute all participants upon entry.
    Having open mics can be a problem, even when no one is trying to disrupt the meeting. No one wants to hear someone else’s phone ringing, dog barking, or a truck rolling by outside. People shouting offensive or disruptive statements is even worse. In classes that aren’t discussion-based, mute people by default. You have the option to let people unmute themselves, or you can manually unmute people. Comments and question can also be submitted in the chat, or participants can use the Raise Hand feature. You can also mute all participants during the meeting from the Participants pane.
  6. Turn off file transfer and annotations.
    File transfer allows people to share files through the in-meeting chat, while annotations let participants mark-up content during screen sharing. Unfortunately, Zoom bombers use these tools to draw offensive words or images on screen or to drop inappropriate GIFs into the chat. Disable those features by default when creating the meeting, unless you know you’ll need to use them.
  7. Disable private chat.
    Zoom chat lets participants message the leader, the entire group, or each other privately. Private chats can distract students from the class. Even worse, it opens the door to personal harassment from one attendee to another ... and you won’t even see it. You can disable private chatting when creating the meeting or from the Chat panel in-meeting.
  8. Know how to kick someone out.
    You can expel a disruptive person with a quick click of a button. But if you aren’t sure how to do it, they will be able to disrupt the meeting a lot longer while you figure it out. So memorize these instructions: to kick someone out, go to the Participants pane, hover over the name of the person until the options appear, and choose Remove.

These tips may be a bit overkill for small, interactive sessions, but they are best practices for larger sessions. Whether you’re teaching on Zoom while pandemic restrictions remain in place, or you choose to offer on online meeting even after we return to in-person classes, make sure you take control of who gets into your Zoom sessions and what they can do.

-- By Karen Beaudway, Pitt IT Blogger