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Kansas City Council Temporarily Moves Meetings Off Zoom After Hackers Interrupt Meeting With Profanities

Councilmembers Teresa Loar and Kevin O'Neill were caught off guard when hijackers took over a city council meeting conducted over Zoom.
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Councilmembers Teresa Loar and Kevin O'Neill were caught off guard when hijackers took over a city council meeting conducted over Zoom.

While the interruption was initially met with laughter and confusion, city staff quickly moved to end the meeting after the hijackers used a racial slur.

Kansas City officials got a rude interruption during a public meeting conducted over Zoom this morning.

Members of the the finance and transportation committees were holding a joint meeting Tuesday to discuss several long-overdue traffic safety measures when two guests began talking over councilmembers. The meeting was streaming online and broadcasting on public access television.

“Hello … where am I,” the first voice said, as members of the committee chatted in the background, “From Ukraine, hello.”

"I think we should end the call," Mayor Pro Tem Kevin McManus suggested.

"It's like a Saturday Night Live skit," councilwoman Teresa Loar said.

Councilmembers initially laughed at the interruption, until the two uninvited guests dropped several profanities and a racial slur, at which point city staff successfully ended the meeting.

All remaining committee meetings this week have been moved off Zoom.

More meetings are being held over the online platform amid the pandemic, and while it allows members of the public to join meetings, Zoom has been shown to be vulnerable to hacks.

This newest type of harassment has been dubbed “zoombombing” and often involves hijackers taking control of the screen and posting hate speech and offensive images such as pornography.

The FBI warned back in March to be careful.

According to NPR, Zoombombers have disrupted an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting in New York, Sunday school in Texas, online classes at the University of Southern California and a city meeting in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"We have been deeply upset to hear about these types of incidents," a spokesperson from Zoom told KCUR. "Zoom strongly condemns such behavior and recently updated several features to help our users more easily protect their meetings."

As health officials warn of future coronavirus outbreaks that could lead to social distancing measures, organizations like schools and local governments will have to figure out how to keep these online platforms secure while still allowing the public to interact.

Slow news days are a thing of the past. As KCUR’s news director, I want to cut through the noise, provide context to the headlines, and give you news you can use in your daily life – information that will empower you to make informed decisions about your neighborhood, your city and the region. Email me at lisa@kcur.org or follow me on Twitter @larodrig.
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