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Anti-Semitic hackers are exploiting quarantine to infiltrate Jewish online meetings

Cindy Goldberg, a school board president, was waiting for a virtual meeting to begin on Zoom Tuesday night when hackers started posting cartoon images of Hitler, photos of Nazi soldiers and swastikas to parents, board members and other staff for the school district sandwiched between Los Angeles and Santa Barbara.

“Awful doesn’t begin to touch it,” said Goldberg, 56, in a phone interview. “It’s horrific. It’s disgusting. It’s disheartening.”

The hackers also streamed graphic pornography and used the n-word in the meeting of the Conejo Valley Unified School District, threatening family members with sexual violence. The barrage lasted only for about a minute and a half, but, Goldberg said, “it felt like an eternity.”

The phenomenon Goldberg and the other board members, district staff and online viewers witnessed is known as “Zoombombing,” when uninvited attendees post hateful and graphic material, often including pornographic, racist and anti-Semitic images in Zoom video conferences. As life moves online in the time of coronavirus, Zoombombing is increasing.

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This week, Zoom was the number one downloaded application on the Apple App Store: it was downloaded 2.13 million times in a single day, according to tracking firm Apptopia. As many companies have transitioned to telecommuting, Zoom has become an indispensable tool for working from home — and for spreading anti-Semitism and other hatred.

Zoombombing has affected synagogues, schools and even the restaurant chain Chipotle, which was Zoombombed by a participant who broadcasted pornography to hundreds of attendees during a public conference.

Ultimately, district staff in Conejo Valley were able to close the meeting. Local law enforcement is investigating the incident, and Zoom has been notified. Based on the fact that material was targeted to individual board members, it is likely that the perpetrators were local residents. There were anywhere from one to three participants spreading hateful imagery and messages.

Goldberg said when she was running for Board of Education president, she considered not emphasizing her last name on campaign materials. She ultimately decided not to, but an episode like the one that occurred Tuesday night “makes you wonder.”

Zoom has posted guidance for how to avoid unwanted visitors on their platform, including only allowing users to join the meeting with the email to which the invite was sent, using the right privacy settings and disabling the video feature. The company encouraged users in an emailed statement to report such incidents here.

Goldberg attends a Conservative synagogue and one of her three children wears a kippah. After Tuesday’s incident, she said she wants him to wear a baseball hat to cover it when he walks the streets.

“The mom in me thinks, ‘Nope, it’s not safe,’” she said.

Molly Boigon is an investigative reporter at the Forward. Contact her at boigon@forward.com or follow her on Twitter @MollyBoigon

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