Sixty children taking part in a fitness class on Zoom were subjected to footage of child sexual abuse streamed into the session by a hacker. The class was being hosted by a sports club in Plymouth, Devon.
Devon and Cornwall police believe the hacker gained access to the virtual class after the details of the event were published on online forums. The force is trying to track down the hacker and is working with Plymouth city council’s social care team to identify everyone who saw the footage.
Det Insp Lesley Bulley, who is leading the investigation, said: “We are progressing enquiries to identify the suspect in this distressing offence. We are working closely with Plymouth safeguarding children’s partnership and I request that if you have been affected by this then you come forward so we can provide the necessary advice and support.”
The force has issued advice to people using video conferencing, including ensuring that the host is the only person able to share material and that the meeting is locked to prevent unauthorised access.
Grahame Mace, a cyber-protection officer, said: “Keeping in touch with our friends and family is vital during this period of lockdown. But please ensure when setting up video conferencing sessions that you follow the guidelines on keeping your sessions private.
“First and foremost understand what security settings you have implemented and are available for your software, don’t leave yourself or others vulnerable, lock it down and keep the criminals out.”
The NSPCC children’s charity said there was a worrying pattern of meetings held on Zoom being “bombed” with images of child sexual abuse.
Following similar incidents across the UK and worldwide, the NSPCC is urging parents to supervise their children when using Zoom, and urging conference organisers to take steps to secure meeting details and passwords.
Other Zoom meetings that have been targeted include a wine-tasting event in Manchester. The incident left some participants in tears.
Andy Burrows, the NSPCC’s head of child safety online policy, said: “There appears to be a deeply disturbing trend emerging. While the responsibility for this lies with those uploading this terrible footage, it’s important to take precautions to lessen the risks posed to children and adults, including not sharing full meeting details and passwords on social media and only providing them to people you trust.
“Zoom needs to urgently act to protect their users, while all tech firms providing video conferencing services must immediately set out how they are responding to these very real risks.”
A spokesperson for Zoom said: “This incident is truly devastating and appalling, and our user policies explicitly prohibit any obscene, indecent, illegal or violent activity or content on the platform.
“We are looking into this specific incident to ensure the appropriate action is taken. Zoom strongly condemns such behaviour and recently updated several features to help our users more easily protect their meetings.
“We encourage users to report any incidents of this kind either to Zoom so we can take appropriate action or directly to law enforcement authorities.”