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MONMOUTH — At least two people invaded a Zoom public hearing of the town’s School Reuse Committee on Thursday with suggestive comments and loud noise, forcing officials to bring the meeting offline.

Attendees to that meeting were the victims of what’s become known as “Zoombombing,” when a virtual vandal joins public meetings to cause a ruckus. The term has popped up during the pandemic, as a result of many meetings that would be conducted in person being moved to online conferencing platforms like Zoom.

Monmouth committee members were discussing the future use of the former Monmouth Academy during the public hearing.

In January, KTOO reported that officials in Juneau, Alaska, are working to make the virtual vandalism a criminal offense. That report said that city meetings have been interrupted a dozen times, sometimes with racist or pornographic material.

After a comment from committee chairman Tim McDonald on Thursday evening, a high-pitched voice stated: “I feel so hot and spicy.”

“I think we’re getting bombed,” McDonald said after the remark.

Shortly after, one of the members of the meeting’s picture turned to an upside-down burning cross and another turned to a video of a man taking his shirt off and dancing.

Multiple voices were heard screaming, drowning out any comments from the committee before the meeting was brought offline. The meeting resumed as normal later that night with no other interruptions.

Douglas Ludewig, chairman of the town’s Board of Selectman, attended Thursday’s meeting and said his internet cut out right when the incident took place. Ludewig said there have been no other incidents of “Zoombombing” in the town before.

“We’ve never experienced it and didn’t expect to,” he said, adding that he may read up on how to prevent it in the future.

Town Manager Linda Cohen said the only thing the town could do is “use a waiting room, and then if it happens, stop and restart the meeting.”

“We’re all learning about these platforms and putting security measures in as best we can,” Cohen said.

The Boston division of the Federal Bureau of Investigation warned of “teleconference and online classroom hijacking” in a March 2020 press release. Guidance in that release states that links should not be made public, but that may be complicated for municipal meetings, which are largely public.

Dr. Betina Tagle, assistant professor of cybersecurity and computer information systems at the University of Maine at Augusta, said Zoombombing could be discouraged by using a waiting room in the meeting and vet guests. Even with some restrictions, Tagle said that interruptions may still happen.

“Unfortunately there’s not a whole lot that can be done,” she said, adding that some astute Zoombombers could use false names to access the meeting. “The best suggestion is just to be cognizant of it.”

Tagle said there have been information security concerns with Zoom, and it may not be the best environment to share confidential information.

Maine Municipal Association spokesman Eric Conrad said calls about Zoombombing have been less frequent in recent months compared to the early months of the pandemic, when many governmental bodies and organizations began using the video conferencing platform for the first time. Considering the 486 municipalities in Maine that often hold Zoom meetings, Conrad said, Zoombombing is a fairly infrequent occurrence nowadays.

“We certainly aren’t getting calls like we did last spring,” he said. “Our members are getting smarter about it.”

Conrad said municipal officials have reported to MMA that more people are able to become involved in municipal politics due to meetings moving online, which would discourage them from taking links away from public forums where they could be seen by Zoombombers.

Conrad said the municipal association has posted guidance on prevention of Zoombombing on its website. A video posted on the association website comes directly from Zoom, which details all of the security measures available to the host of meetings.

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