Cybersecurity experts explain how to protect online meetings from being hijacked

The Tampa teenager accused of hacking prominent Twitter accounts appeared in Hillsborough County court Wednesday.  The judge kept Graham Clark’s bail at $725,000 during the bond hearing, which took longer than expected due to multiple interruptions.

The virtual conference to discuss Clark's case was hijacked. Hackers interrupted the judge with music, barking dogs, and even pornography.

The Zoom call was open to the public, meaning anyone with the meeting ID could join.

The disruptions got so out of control, the judge was forced to stop, then re-start the hearing.

Graham Clark

“Access to the courts in Florida is meant to be open to the public, so I’m trying my hardest to make these proceedings open to the public,” explained Judge Christopher Nash.

Most government meetings in Florida must be open to the public under the state’s Sunshine Law. Many are being held virtually to avoid spreading COVID-19, but that means many may be open to virtual attacks.

“Because it’s open, because you can’t require someone to reveal their true identity, you get people who are going to play pranks or do something worse and take advantage of the fact that this is a public forum,” said Ron Sanders with Cyber Florida.

The person hosting or setting up the virtual meeting can take some steps to minimize threats, by using different features of the platform.

“Zoom... really stepped up their safety and protocols,” Patrick Craven with Center For Cyber Safety and Education said.  “Then you do have control over who's speaking, who can be seen at certain times, so that it helps avoid those types of situations.”

Regardless of what teleconferencing platform is being used for public meetings, experts say more needs to be done to safeguard virtual gatherings and the proceedings of governments.

"I do think the laws need to be amended to recognize the fact that, because of cyber threats, meetings that were 'open' before may need to be closed in some respects," said Sanders.

After Wednesday’s hearing, the judge said the next Zoom court date in October for Graham Clark will be password-protected.