Amid 4G ban, Kashmir teachers flag ‘Zoom’ app for privacy, porn attacks; DSEK says ‘can’t ban it’
Srinagar: Scores of female teachers of reputed private schools in Srinagar have refused to conduct online classes using ‘Zoom’ video conference citing privacy concerns associated with the application.

A female teacher at a well-known school in Srinagar told The Kashmir Monitor that they are made to use ‘Zoom’ application to deliver online classes for an entire day even as there are reports that the application is under scrutiny over privacy and pornographic hacks.

“Although because of 2G, the connection is not that smooth, we conduct online classes using Zoom through our phones in which we store a lot of personal data including videos and photographs,” said the teacher.

She added that after reading how ‘Zoom’ has been flagged for its data privacy, she and “at least 30 other female teachers” have shared their fears with the school administration.

While the school has issued some guidelines on how to use the application in a secure way, it continues to ask its teachers to conduct online classes through it.

The Computer Emergency Response Team of India (CERT-In), the national agency to combat cyber-attacks and guarding the cyber space, has already flagged the application earlier this month.

In an advisory issued on April 3, CERT-In said the unguarded usage of ‘Zoom’ application can be vulnerable to cyber-attacks, including leakage of sensitive office information to cyber criminals.

The agency suggested some measures for enhancing the security of ‘Zoom’ meetings which included: Keeping the software patched and up-to-date and always set strong, difficult-to-guess and unique passwords for all meetings and webinars.

To this, the female teachers in Kashmir say they are not able to update the application regularly owing to the slow-internet connection.

“We are being made to use the application for hours, we have been told to keep the software updated but at 2G speeds, it becomes very difficult to even connect to the students, let alone updating the application,” said a teacher of a major missionary school in Srinagar.

GN Var, Chairman Private Schools Association J&K, said while they are aware about the security risks associated with the application, it has also helped the schools resume some form of academic activity.

“Because the high-speed internet is banned, any heavy software that the schools have developed on their own is difficult to use. If any teachers are facing this issue, they can send their complaints to us through email and we will ensure the use of application is stopped,” he said.

Var suggested ‘Google Classroom as an alternative to ‘Zoom’.

As per him, at least 125 schools in Kashmir are currently using ‘Zoom’ to conduct online classes although low-speed internet is playing a spoilsport.

The application is also widely used by government schools as well.

In fact, on April 7 Chief Education Officer Kupwara, Abdul Hamid Fani, in an official statement, claimed that ‘Zoom’ application was “created by the government to reach out to students more effectively in the district.”

Director School Education, Kashmir, Dr Younis Malik told The Kashmir Monitor that they “cannot ban” the use of the application.

He too suggested Google Classroom for those having privacy concerns with ‘Zoom’.

Across the globe, the number of ‘Zoom’ users has ballooned from about 10 million to hundreds of millions with people isolated at home under coronavirus precaution.

At the same time, ‘Zoom’ has been flagged by several countries for similar reasons pointed out by teachers in Kashmir.

As per recent reports in BBC and The Guardian, teachers in Singapore have suspended using the application after incidents of obscene images appearing on screens and male strangers making lewd comments during the streaming of a geography lesson with teenage girls.

The same has been replicated in many places across the world coining the term ‘Zoombombing’.

Devashish Sharma, Chief Technology Officer at Flock, a leading work communication and collaboration platform, said it was crucial for businesses to have to right security apparatus in place to avoid confidential organisational data falling into the wrong hands.

“The recent incident where hackers posted pornographic content on the user screens of video conferencing app Zoom, shows us how cybercriminals are working overtime to find vulnerabilities and steal user data. In such a situation, it is vital that communication platforms support end-to-end encryption and multi-factor authentication to avoid such untoward incidents,” Sharma said in a statement on Tuesday.

In US, the FBI has also warned about reports of people intruding on Zoom calls with pornographic or hate images.

Last week former J&K Chief Minister Omar Abdullah too highlighted the concern on Twitter

“Schools & places of learning in India (minus J&K which has only 2G so doesn’t use these apps) need to be careful with the apps they use these days for distance learning,” he tweeted sharing a BBC story on how teachers in Singapore stopped using ‘Zoom’ after ‘lewd’ incidents.

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