When administrators decided to move the UC Berkeley faculty and student body towards “remote learning” in this last month, many obstacles were expected. While standard issues such as poor connection, accidental screen-sharing, and private Zoom-chat messages accidentally being sent to the whole class have been cropping up, nothing could have prepared the Berkeley community for the largest cyberattack crime ring known in our campus history. The ring acts in isolated incidents, now called “Zoombombing” by staff and students alike, where an attacker disrupts a lecture or discussion with an inappropriate comment, picture, or series of noises. These attacks have disturbed many in the Cal community, and after many complaints, the Berkeley Police Department began work on tracking the hackers down. However, work has been slow in finding who or what could be responsible for the outbursts, since the Berkeley PD Cybercrimes Division lacks essential information to build a suspect profile.
“When you look at an activity like ‘Zoombombing’,” Berkeley PD Chief of Cybercrimes Tenniesse Rackket remarks, “there is a clear pattern of attacks, but no identifiable motive. The lack of a motive has really hampered our efforts to find the criminal responsible for these events.”
After discussions with many Cybercrimes officers, I can understand their frustration. After all, what reason would someone have to waste not only their own time, but the time of other frustrated students and faculty, through these disruptions? While they definitely harm the flow and morale of an online lecture, Zoombombers are usually booted out of the call in less than a minute, so the effect of such an attack is short lived. Furthermore, the Zoombombers remain anonymous, usually entering a meeting with a satirical or otherwise fake screen name.
“The anonymity associated with such attacks confuses the narrative behind them,” Cybercrimes Sgt. Volleigh Ball laments, “If the attacker is not gaining any money, resource, or even notoriety from their effort, then what could possibly be the point?”
Weeks of Zoombombing have finally led officers to track the IP address of future attacks, leading to a shocking discovery: the overwhelming majority of these incidents have been traced back to Berkeley’s own Washington Elementary School computer lab. When officers arrived on the scene to investigate, they caught one Zoombomber in the act, allowing them to infiltrate the ring and put a stop to these events.
We were able to meet with this “Zoombomber Zero,” and get his thought process behind the attacks. Zoombomber Zero, who has chosen to remain anonymous to preserve his chances at getting into a chartered middle school, said his motive was simple: “I ran out of Legos to play with after my mom took them away, so I started looking for other things to do. I saw a bunch of website names on my sister’s college class notes, and typed them into my LeapFrog Tablet search bar. When I found out they were for her meetings, I told all my friends so we could prank the older kids.”
With the help of Zoombomber Zero and his entire manifesto laid out, the Berkeley PD Cybercrimes Division should have no problem wrapping this case up.