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Officials Vow Virtual Meeting Hackers Will Be Prosecuted



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Unscrupulous hackers who have interrupted video conferences being held among Newtown groups at least three times in recent days will be prosecuted “to the fullest extent of the law,” according to First Selectman Dan Rosenthal, and the Newtown Police Department is poised to work with other state and federal law enforcement agencies as its officers and detectives move closer to identifying those involved.

Newtown Chief James Viadero told The Newtown Bee that his department, which is the point agency in this latest multi-event investigation, has consulted with the State’s Attorney’s office and been granted ex parte warrants to secure evidence. Detective Lt Richard Robinson is seeking to speak with anyone who might offer additional information now, before potential arrest warrants are finalized.

To protect the integrity of the investigation, Viadero said he is not releasing any further particulars.

The first incident occurred during a web conference featuring US Congresswoman Jahana Hayes. Hayes, whose 5th District includes Newtown, was subject to hateful racial slurs, derogatory music, and repeated messages supporting President Donald Trump after hackers gained access to a Zoom meeting hosted by the lawmaker Monday evening, October 12.

The infiltration and hack brought rapid condemnation from Rosenthal, who witnessed the incident, and State Senator Tony Hwang.

“Racism has no home anywhere,” Rosenthal said, “and if we do not speak out in disgust when it happens to a high-profile individual, who will speak out when it happens to our neighbors, our friends or, most importantly, our children?”

Hwang also condemned “the hateful and vile language that was directed at Representative Hayes and the disturbing images posted on social media. I denounce hate in all of its ugly forms and offer my support to our elected officials.”

Incidents with similar displays of racism subsequently occurred during a meeting of the Newtown Nonprofit Council on October 22, and during a meeting with several dozen Newtown High School students the following day.

The latter incident prompted Superintendent of Schools Dr Lorrie Rodrigue to issue an e-mail message to the NHS community, recognizing, “This is not one isolated situation in our district as other concerns have been brought forward in recent weeks. Incidents like these are not only disruptive but highly offensive to students and staff, becoming the topic of discussion on social media.”

Rodrigue went on to remind parents, students, and the community that ongoing investments are being made in the district “to stand up to racism, harassment, and bullying.”

“We take these incidents seriously and condemn these acts as counter to our beliefs and values as a school community,” the superintendent added.

Following the latest incidents, Rosenthal also reiterated his warning that “I intend to make sure that any offender is prosecuted to fullest extent of law — we need to show that racist acts will never be tolerated.”

The first selectman said he along with most of the community are taken aback by this “outrageous, disgusting, and cowardly behavior over past few weeks.”

“I’m confident that Chief Viadero and the Newtown Police Department are doing everything in their power to investigate these hacking incidents,” the first selectman assured.

Precedent in Connecticut has already shown that these types of internet meeting hacks can be solved and prosecuted — including the possibility of leveling state and federal charges.

In early April, a teen in Madison was arrested after perpetrating a virtual conference hack. Teachers reported the unidentified teen would join the online classes and intentionally disrupt them with “obscene language and gestures,” according to Madison Police Captain Joseph Race.

The teen was arrested and charged with committing fifth-degree computer crime, fifth-degree conspiracy to commit a computer crime, and breach of peace.

Similar incidents across the country prompted federal agencies to also issue alerts and warnings.

“You think Zoom bombing is funny? Let’s see how funny it is after you get arrested,” stated Matthew Schneider, United States Attorney for Eastern District in Michigan. “If you interfere with a teleconference or public meeting... you could have federal, state, or local law enforcement knocking at your door.”

As individuals continue the transition to online lessons and meetings, the FBI recommends exercising diligence and caution in your cybersecurity efforts. The following steps can be taken to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats:

*Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.

*Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted, publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.

*Manage screen-sharing options. In Zoom, change screen sharing to “Host Only.”

*Ensure users are using the most up-to-date versions of remote access/meeting applications. In January 2020, Zoom software was updated to add passwords by default for meetings and to disable the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.

*Ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security.

Any victim of a teleconference hijacking or any cyber-crime is urged to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. Additionally, if you receive a specific threat during a teleconference, please report it to tips.fbi.gov — or call the FBI office in New Haven at 203-777-6311.

The DOJ official said that breaking into Zoom meetings and then hurling insults easily falls under the same laws that punish hacking and harassment. Charges may include — to name just a few — disrupting a public meeting, computer intrusion, using a computer to commit a crime, hate crimes, fraud, or transmitting threatening communications.

All of these charges are punishable by fines and imprisonment.

The State of Connecticut also tips to help foil virtual meeting hackers at portal.ct.gov/government/work-from-home-technology-resources/zoom-guidance.

While the act is often referred to as “Zoom bombing,” related to the popular online meeting platform, one incident in Newtown occurred on a different platform, Rosenthal said.

Anyone with local information for Lt Robinson can reach him or leave a message at 203-270-4255.

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