Warren focuses on hack-proof meetings | News, Sports, Jobs
WARREN — A hack of Warren City Council’s Zoom meeting, in which the perpetrators made crude, racist, sexist and profane statements, has council members looking for ways to prevent it from happening again .
Councilman Ken MacPherson, D-at Large, who led the meeting on Tuesday, took responsibility for arranging the meeting in such a way that it could be hacked by outside forces. He led the Zoom meeting through his personal account.
The meeting aimed to review the charter and statutory forms of municipal government for future discussion. The address of the meeting has been made public so that anyone can join.
MacPherson described being overwhelmed by the pirates’ input. Once he started, he couldn’t stop it immediately without closing the Zoom line.
Several people watching the presentation online couldn’t see the end of it because MacPherson shut it down. The meeting ended offline.
Although accepting responsibility for authorizing the attack, MacPherson said it shows why the city needs to purchase software programming or a system with better safeguards.
“I spoke to a vendor about the Swagit app which is designed for public group meetings, which is used by other communities and allows residents to join meetings while offering safeguards to prevent hacks” , said MacPherson. “Swagit is top of the line. There are other meeting apps that can also be considered.
MacPherson said he contacted Warren’s information technology department after the meeting to discuss options the city might have to improve its ability to meet over the internet, while maximizing the public’s ability to participate.
MacPherson explained that Beachwood has a software package that can be used for public meetings, with safeguards to prevent the kind of hacking that happened last week.
But Whitney Crook, Beachwood City Council clerk, said the city council does not have special software for public meetings held online.
“There are backup settings on Zoom itself that we use,” Crook says. “When people watch our meetings, they can’t come in unless I allow them.”
Crook said the city’s IT department may have software that she is not aware of that is available for use.
Jennifer Ozenghar, Youngstown City Council’s first assistant clerk, said there have been online Zoom meetings for much of the pandemic.
“We didn’t have any special software” she says. “People received invitations, so no one could attend the meetings. Meetings were muted and (people were) not allowed to join unless they came through me.
Ozenghar said the meetings were also simulcast live on YouTube, so residents could watch them as they were happening or later.
“The public could be present, but not participate”, she says.
Warren’s Director of Security Eddie Colbert pointed out that the city throughout the pandemic hasn’t had the kind of hacking in a meeting last week because the city’s technology department city information was involved.
Colbert said the IT department is working on getting a program for the city council that, if implemented, could allow it to hold online meetings more securely.
Council Chairman John Brown suggested Wednesday that council members should not have council-sanctioned online or Zoom meetings without first going through him or the council clerk.
Frank Lindsay, chief information officer at Kent State University on the Trumbull campus, said people with public meetings should require attendees to wait in a separate line waiting room where they can be put muted or allowed to participate in meetings.
Lindsay said meeting organizers shouldn’t use their personal Zoom ID number.
“I would allow Zoom to generate a number specifically for the particular meeting,” he said.
Additionally, Lindsay said providing access codes to users will help organizers identify who was at the meeting.
“Meeting hosts should also ensure that their computer software is fully updated with the latest patches and that virus protection is enabled,” he added.