About 10 minutes into an online presentation on anti-Semitism, the anti-Semites showed up.
That wasn’t part of the plan.
The March 30 “web talk” sponsored by the Canadian Anti-Semitism Education Foundation (CAEF) was intended for its supporters and was to focus on the topic, “The IHRA, One Antidote Against Anti-Semitism,” said Andria Spindel, the organization’s executive director.
Employing the Zoom platform, which enables online video meetings for multiple participants, the talk featured speaker Yifa Segal, executive director of the International Legal Forum in Tel Aviv.
About 45 people had signed on when, early into Segal’s presentation, participants noticed very odd behaviour from a couple of the others taking part.
Participants – the legitimate ones – heard someone say “sieg heil.” That was followed by rude and personal comments aimed at Segal. The N word was painted on the screen in orange, followed by “I hate blacks.” Obscene and pornographic images were also posted.
Then it appeared that the intruders were taking over the entire meeting.
Segal, who was giving the briefing, was unaware of the interruptions, but not long after they began, the web talk was cancelled, Spindel said.
“I knew we’d been invaded. I knew we lost control,” she said.
It turned out one of the intruders has appeared in other Zoom attacks, Spindel said.
Spindel said it is likely the meeting was hacked by white supremacists. The event was open to anyone who clicked a link that had been sent to members of CAEF’s mailing list or by linking in while the event was in progress. There was no advanced registration, she said.
The incident was brought to the attention of B’nai Brith Canada, which contacted Toronto Police Services. B’nai Brith also notified Zoom, in order “to raise concerns about the security of users who could be similarly targeted by hackers.”
“This incident comes a day after the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) published an article exposing a trend of ‘Zoom-bombing,’ in which events happening on the app have been hacked and disrupted in similar ways,” B’nai Brith stated in a news release.
World Israel News, meanwhile, reported that “online trolls have taken to disrupting Zoom meetings of Jewish groups with offensive imagery and text.”
One Zoom-bombing included a Torah lesson in which “a participant unmuted himself and yelled, ‘Hitler did nothing wrong!’ Another participant changed his Zoom background to a picture of a child holding Hitler’s manifesto, Mein Kampf, and others began shouting ‘Heil Hitler.’ ”
Spindel said she doesn’t know how the hackers learned about the Segal webinar, but speculated a posting on CAEF’s Facebook site may have alerted the hackers to the webinar.
Michael Mostyn, CEO of B’nai Brith Canada, noted that “there are always security risks associated with using online forms of communication. Hatred is not taking any time off, and racists are as eager as ever to target the Jewish community and other minorities. Please take proper precautions when using the Zoom app.”
Referring to the upcoming Passover holiday, Mostyn said, “B’nai Brith is encouraging any individuals planning on using Zoom technology for their seders to take security precautions that are within their own controls. This includes creating and using passwords in Zoom meeting rooms and never publicly posting the Zoom link you will be using online. There are also many alternative video-conferencing platforms that can be explored.”
As for Segal’s presentation on anti-Semitism, Spindel said they’re hoping to re-do the webinar “with all the security precautions in place.” These might include ensuring webinars are registration-based and the Internet address is not publicized; employing a host to manage comments and eject users, if necessary; turning off the chat function; or disabling screen sharing.