Online Classes Disrupted By Hackers; Schools Fight Flood Of Obscene And Abusive Messages

Online classes, necessitated by Coronavirus-induced lockdown, have become vulnerable to cyber criminals who often post obscene, vulgar and abusive content during lectures.

Online Classes Disrupted By Hackers; Schools Fight Flood Of Obscene And Abusive Messages

In the midst of the Coronavirus pandemic and the subsequent lockdown, when the schools and colleges are conducting online classes, teachers and students are troubled by hackers who sneak into online classrooms, often displaying vulgar content on the screens.

A prominent school in Kolkata ditched online classes after hackers sneaked into several lectures and displayed obscene videos on the screen and threatened the students and teachers. 

A parent told Outlook that the hackers used abusive language and threatened students with rape and murder. As a result, teachers had to suspend the online classes.

The Coronavirus-induced lockdown has left schools and colleges with no other option but to conduct online classes. But with educational institutes going online, the risks and vulnerabilities have increased accordingly. 

Cyber law experts say the need is to discover and adopt cybersecurity hygiene habits.

Dr Pavan Duggal, advocate and cyber law expert says, "The solution lies in adopting cybersecurity as a way of life for teachers and students. The realisation that hackers are trying to get into classes is the starting point of a journey of self-discovery of basic cyber hygiene habits. There is a need for the teacher to be vigilant at all times. There is a need for using an ID specific to each class. Activating the waiting room features helps the teacher to take control.  Disabling the option that lets students join the class before the teacher will help further. It would be great to disable screen sharing among students, who are non- hosts. Once the teacher disables the remote control function, file transferring, autosave chat features and annotations, the same will enable to strengthen the cybersecurity of the online class. The teacher must lock the virtual class from outsiders. Once the class starts, taking small cyber hygiene precautions can help to make our online classes far more secure from potential attacks by hackers." 

Earlier this month, the Karnataka government issued an order banning online classes up to Class 5. According to the order, schools affiliated to different boards, including ICSE, CBSE, state boards and international boards, were directed to stop holding online classes for students from Kindergarten to Class 5.

In April, hackers hacked into an online Geography class of a school in Singapore who were using a video-conferencing app. The hackers disrupted the class and displayed on screens obscene images. After this incident, Singapore’s Ministry of Education announced that the schools would suspend their use of the particular online for the purpose of holding online classes. 

The National Commission for Women (NCW) in April wrote to Gujarat Director General of Police after a hacker breached into an online class of a university and started masturbating. 

Such incidents are not one-off in nature. In Bengaluru, principal of a private school filed a complaint with the Criminal Investigation Department after a hacker hacked into the Class 7 online classes and used vulgar language against students.

Several private schools in Kolkata last week said they have asked their teachers and students to avoid using the Zoom app for online classes or meetings, a fortnight after the ICSE schools' forum in the state urged them to conduct sessions on the platform. The Centre had issued an advisory, flagging the video-conferencing software as unsafe and vulnerable to cyber-crimes.

Nabarun Dey, the general secretary of the Association of Head of ICSE Schools (Bengal Chapter), said, “We have come to know that inappropriate messages pop up during demonstrations, following which we cautioned the schools against the use of the Zoom application.” He also noted that most schools have complied with the directive and shifted their session to another platform.

As these incidents continue unabated, many schools in Delhi have shifted to other video-conferencing apps. Vice Principal of a Delhi school, who spoke on condition of anonymity, says, “During some online classes, anonymous persons used abusive language in messages and and teachers were unable to figure out or identify the person behind it.”

While the schools have shifted to other platforms for online classes, the privacy and safety concerns remain unaddressed.