Politics

Senate committee Zoom hearing derailed by porn hacker

The Senate chamber at the Statehouse in Montpelier seen on Feb. 21, 2020. Photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

A Vermont Senate Committee on Agriculture Zoom hearing, which was being livestreamed on Youtube, was interrupted by a hacker Thursday who screenshared pornographic videos before reaching into his pants.

The sudden outburst came as the committee had been in the midst of discussing school lunch access and how farms were faring during the COVID-19 crisis. 

The first sign of trouble began with a sudden outburst of “p---- ass” and a racial slur before a video from the site Pornhub began to play.

“Something is going screwy,” said Committee Chair Bobby Starr, D-Essex/Orleans.

“We gotta stop, stop,” said Vice Chair Chris Pearson, P/D-Chittenden. “We gotta abort the meeting.”

An unknown individual then took down the video, adding “no, don’t turn us off. Stay on, stay on.”

“Really? I don’t think we want this on YouTube,” Pearson responded as a live video of a man groping his genitals began.

Another voice, appearing to be female, told Pearson she did want it on YouTube and another male voice continued: “It’s going on YouTube bro, I’m recording for my YouTube channel.”

The screen then went white as someone began drawing a crude phallic symbol and appeared to begin writing a racial epithet before the committee assistant cut the feed to the conference. 

The video of the livestream remained on YouTube for several minutes before it was taken down.

Kevin Moore Jr., the Vermont Legislature’s director of information technology, said in a statement his team has set up protection protocols for online conferencing “which clearly failed” Thursday.

A screenshot of an image a hacker displayed during a Senate Agriculture video meeting Thursday.

“We have been reviewing security and additional controls for a couple days now. An implementation plan was actually circulated moments before this incident occurred,” Moore said.

“We’re working on root cause at this time. I suspect confidential meeting information was shared, but this is not yet confirmed,” he added.

Vermont’s Legislature has been conducting business via phone calls and online Zoom video-conferencing in an attempt to continue operating during the coronavirus state of emergency.

However, in recent days Zoom’s privacy and security practices have been scrutinized.  

Over the last few weeks, internet trolls have exploited a Zoom screen-sharing feature to hijack meetings, which have included posting white supremacist messages and other practices which have become known as “Zoombombing,” the New York Times reported on March 30.

Grace Elletson contributed reporting.

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Kit Norton

About Kit

Kit Norton is the general assignment reporter at VTDigger. He is originally from eastern Vermont and graduated from Emerson College in 2017 with a degree in journalism. In 2016, he was a recipient of The Society of Environmental Journalists' Emerging Environmental Journalist award. Kit has worked at PRI's weekly radio environmental program, Living on Earth, and has written for the online news site Truthout.

Email: [email protected]

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