LEWISTON — City officials are investigating an incident of videoconference hijacking, or “Zoom bombing” that took place Monday during a Finance Committee meeting.
City Administrator Denis D’Auteuil confirmed Wednesday that the meeting was hacked, and that “there were several racial slurs said as well as pornographic material displayed before staff was able to shut the meeting down.”
D’Auteuil and Police Chief Brian O’Malley said the incident is currently under investigation in an attempt to identify the individuals responsible for the incident.
“The city takes these types of incidents seriously and the incident was immediately reported to our (Management Information Services) department for further investigation into how the hack occurred,” D’Auteuil said. “Upon initial review and confirmation of the content of the video by MIS, the city has turned the matter over to the Police Department for further investigation to determine who was behind the hack and where the hack originated from.”
Following the meeting Monday, City Councilor and Finance committee member Safiya Khalid posted on social media about the incident, stating, “Tonight the finance committee I’m on was hacked. Extremely traumatized by the racial slurs. Still feel nauseous.”
D’Auteuil said the audio was difficult to make out during the incident, but that the racial slurs “did not appear to be directed at any individual.”
“With that said, I would like the (Police Department) to complete their investigation of the matter to be sure,” he said.
D’Auteuil said the city has also implemented additional security measures through its Zoom accounts and updated directives on public meetings through Zoom in effort to prevent similar incidents from reoccurring.
Since March, Lewiston has continued to hold all of its municipal meetings via Zoom — the video conferencing program that became ubiquitous with the COVID-19 pandemic — but has so far avoided the practice of “Zoom bombing” or Zoom hijacking.
It has became a phenomenon since public meetings for municipal and school officials went remote in March, and continues to be prevalent. There are several news stories from across the country on Tuesday alone reporting similar incidents, from middle school classrooms to virtual court proceedings.
In late March, the Federal Bureau of Investigation released a warning about teleconferencing and online classroom hijacking, along with ways to mitigate the threats.
D’Auteuil said he’s unsure why the Finance Committee was specifically targeted. Monday’s agenda included an introduction for the city’s new Public Works director, and awarding bids for snow plowing and removal rentals and tennis court repairs.