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Cyber-prankster ‘draws cartoon penises’ in university seminar

Incident at UCL demonstrates importance of online security

Universities are being urged to ensure that their online meetings are as safe as possible after a person hijacked a University College London meeting and drew cartoon penises on a virtual whiteboard.

Earlier this week, Michael Moutoussi, a clinical lecturer in neuroscience at UCL, was due to give an online talk on the importance of computational psychiatry to clinicians. However, shortly after the event began, it was interrupted by an unwanted guest who proceeded to sabotage the meeting by drawing phalluses on the shared whiteboard.

The practice of disrupting virtual meetings is known as “zoombombing”, after the online meeting software compay Zoom, which was the platform being used by UCL. Research Professional News has contacted Zoom for a comment.

Moutoussis described the act as “nihilistic vandalism” but added that “in retrospect it was quite funny, and there is such a need to laugh at the moment, a need to have a giggle”.

“From you journalists we need more than warnings and moral indignation—we need humour too,” he told Research Professional News. “However it did mean several days of hard work wasted, and a missed much-needed slot to network and promote the work of myself and colleagues. We will certainly take measures to make sure it does not to happen again.”

John Chapman, head of the security operations centre at education technology body Jisc, said that there had been a number of stories this week about security concerns relating to collaborative tech.

“Criminals always gravitate towards popular sites and services and try to take advantage of current events,” he said. “To help students, universities and colleges to stay safe we have put together some tips to help protect against unwanted visitors.”

The tips, which include checking security settings and protecting information about how to join calls, is available on the Jisc Twitter feed.