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Singapore bans the use of Zoom app for online classes for students following ‘breaches involving obscene images’: Here is what happened

A host of privacy concerns related to virtual meetings of top government officials during the coronavirus pandemic has compelled India also to turn to Vidyo.

Singapore government has suspended the use of Zoom Video Communications Inc’s conferencing app for online education after hackers hijacked a lesson and showed obscene images to students. Singapore’s Ministry of Education (MOE) said on April 9 (Thursday) that it is currently investigating the breaches, which it described as “serious incidents”.

Singapore teachers are just the latest to be staggered by the act, in which strangers join conversations and shout offensive slogans, show obscene and distressing images or post objectionable messages.

In the latest incident which forced the Singapore government to impose the restriction, in what is known as “Zoombombing”, two hackers hindered a geography lesson just a day after Singapore shut schools as it re-introduced a partial lockdown to stop the spread of coronavirus. Lessons have instead gone online, with teachers using tools such as Zoom to speak with their students.

A parent, who introduced herself as Ms Loh, told CNA that her daughter, who is in Secondary 1, was in a home-based Geography lesson on Zoom when obscene images appeared on the screen. Two men asked female students who were participating in the online class to show themselves, she added.

Read: Taiwan government bans the use of Zoom software over ‘cybersecurity concerns’

Ms Loh said that her daughter, who studies in a school in the eastern part of Singapore, told her about the incident. “I am really glad she shared with me the incident. She seemed to try not to make a big deal of it, but I told her she should be afraid of such incidents, because this is not normal, and maybe even illegal,” she said.

Ms Loh said that the teacher immediately terminated the session, but “the damage was done. The class, or at least my daughter, saw the lewd photos and heard what the hackers asked,” she added.

“As a precautionary measure, our teachers will suspend their use of Zoom until these security issues are ironed out,” said Mr Aaron Loh, divisional director of the Educational Technology Division at MOE. 

Zoom’s popularity in educational institutions, government and private sectors surged during lockdowns in many countries. However, numerous security concerns related to the app have emerged. From “zoombombing” or hackers entering private chat rooms to selling of user data, the app has faced several criticisms.

A host of privacy concerns related to virtual meetings of top government officials during the coronavirus pandemic has compelled India also to turn to Vidyo, a video conferencing application vetted by the National Informatics Centre (NIC).

Prior to this, there were reports that Google has barred employees from using Zoom on company computers. The company had alerted employees last week that it would disable the service, citing security vulnerabilities.

Read: Is China using Zoom teleconferencing to spy on us?

The Taiwan cabinet had also asked its government agencies to stop using Zoom Video Communications Inc’s conferencing app and other video software “associated security or privacy concerns”. An advisory was issued by the Taiwan government on Tuesday proscribing the country’s government agencies from using Zoom while urging the usage of alternative apps from Google and Microsoft.

Besides, the governments of other countries have also forbidden their agencies from using Zoom. The New York City officials have restricted the usage of Zoom by schools for remote teaching and Australia’s Defence forces and its MPs are barred from using the services provided by Zoom.

Acknowledging the security concerns with his services, Zoom founder and CEO Eric Yuan has apologised for the company’s privacy and security flaws and assured that they are looking into each and every one of them and addressing them as expeditiously as they can.

Soon after the usage of Zoom increased multifold in the wake of coronavirus lockdown in most part of the world, “ZoomBombing” became an issue as people started using the software’s screen-sharing feature to interrupt meeting with inappropriate content, including violent images and pornography. According to The Intercept, Zoom video calls are not end-to-end encrypted as the company claimed and are linked to China. A few days ago, Citizen Lab researchers discovered that some of the calls through the service were routed through China.

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