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Medford talks security after Zoom bombing incident

A day after a man exposed himself to Hedrick Middle School students during a Zoom class the Medford School District was working to tighten security around its virtual classrooms and assure parents that its comprehensive distance learning is mostly safe and about to get safer.

Natalie Hurd, the district’s communications and public relations specialist, said during a conference call with reporters Tuesday that there have been 19,101 Zoom meetings districtwide and that Monday’s incident was the first “Zoom bombing” that turned criminal.

“So, while this was an awful situation,” Hurd said, “we’re just really glad that largely we’ve had no issues. There’s always going to be something, and this was an awful incident that we wish had not occurred, but out of 19,000 zooms, this one had happened and we’re going to take is seriously, but we’re glad that for the most part things have gone largely well.”

Hurd, who declined to say how many students were in on the Zoom meeting and which grade level was represented, said the district’s information technology staff consulted with Zoom representatives most of Monday afternoon and will implement a few new security features that “we think will eliminate this from happening again.”

She added that the new system, which will be tested later this week and rolled out as early as Monday, will require users to log in through a “single sign-on system.”

“So essentially,” she said, “they’d have to go in through a portal, and in doing so anybody outside of that portal essentially would not be able to replicate it. So we’re really pleased that we think we have a solution to this and we’re going to be starting to pilot it with some of our staff. And if it goes well and we’re able to work out the kinks, we would be rolling it out next week.”

Detectives from the Medford Police Department, assisted by the Southern Oregon High-Tech Crimes Task Force, are working on the case. Medford police Lt. Mike Budreau said it could take “several weeks” to pinpoint a suspect because it will likely require several grand jury subpoenas to follow the trail from an IP address to a physical address and, hopefully, a suspect.

“Furthermore,” Budreau said, “the high-tech task force is telling us that it’s not uncommon for individuals to cover their digital tracks and make it very difficult to find the address in the end, or the IP address associated with the account.”

For now, investigators have very little to go on outside of what the video revealed: the suspect is a Black man. There’s also a strong likelihood that the man is not local. The high-tech crimes task force consulted with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Budreau said, which indicated that many Zoom bombing cases lead to suspects outside the jurisdiction where the meeting’s participants are logging in. “They’re hacking in,” Budreau said. “It’s a big issue and something that’s going on across the country.”

If a suspect is eventually charged, it would likely be for the crime of furnishing sexually explicit material to a minor, which is a class A misdemeanor. The suspect would likely be charged a count for every student exposed, Budreau added.

Hurd said the incident serves as a wake-up call.

“These are unfortunate reminders that we have to continue to just keep an eye on the security and work with our vendors to make sure that we have the best and the most up-to-date safety features in use,” she said. “Things change so quickly in the tech environment that we really are just working to keep up with that.”

Joe Zavala can be reached at 541-821-0829 or jzavala@rosebudmedia.com.

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