Antisemitic Intruders Target Online Meetings Of Winnetka Schools

Winnetka, IL - Winnetka police are investigating recent reports of so-called Zoombombing incidents at two local schools, with hackers hijacking online student learning by posting pornographic images, racist rants and antisemitic symbols, authorities said Monday.

The first incident involved hackers interrupting a Carleton Washburne School eighth grade Google Hangouts Meet session last week, with two unidentified visitors joining the video chat via audio and “using hateful, antisemitic, and racist language,” Washburne Principal Andrew Fenton said in a March 31 email to parents.

The online student gatherings have become popular as educators nationwide conduct e-learning programs until at least the end of April due to coronavirus-related school closures.

“An act of this nature is deplorable and simply not tolerated in our schools,” Fenton said.

Teachers moderating the video chat “acted quickly to end the conversation, and many students implored those making the hateful comments to stop,” Fenton said, describing the hack as “an isolated incident.”

A second online attack last week targeted an optional mental health Zoom seminar for student athletes at New Trier High School that was hosted by a speaker from Loyola University, New Trier athletic director Augie Fontanetta said in an email to parents.

In this case, the hackers took over the Loyola speaker’s screen and displayed pornographic images and a swastika, Fontanetta said.

Multiple students also reported hearing someone shout antisemitic and racist slurs, and though the speaker "tried to shut down the session as quickly as possible, the damage was done,” Fontanetta said.

“I am horrified that this occurred and cannot apologize enough to our students who had to endure such a hateful display,” Fontanetta said. “These racist and antisemitic images and slurs are harmful and go against all of the values New Trier tries to teach and model with our students to create a safe and respectful learning environment for everyone.

“This way of interacting with students is new to all of us, and each day we work with our students, teachers, coaches and technology staff to implement the highest security settings for our virtual classes and meetings,” Fontanetta added.

At Washburne school, where officials have alerted Google to the incident, and are also working with Winnetka police, Fenton said in his parent email that “the voices appear to be those of adolescents rather than adults.”

But Winnetka police Deputy Chief Brian O’Connell said Monday that investigators are not assuming that either of the recent hacks into online school meetings was merely “a simple, youthful prank.”

“We take these school incidents very seriously, and they both involve computer hacking into a platform by someone who is unauthorized to gain access,” O’Connell said.

Students and anyone who is part of an audio or video chat group organized by a school or business should never share the link to a virtual meeting, and should avoid sharing passwords and IDs in text messages or other electronic conversations, O’Connell said.

“These types of cybercrimes are new, and they’re challenging, but not impossible to solve," O’Connell said.

Source: Chicago Tribune