Copyright © 2020 Albuquerque Journal
Bruce Candelaria has had to relive the moment several times.
And, despite the trauma, Candelaria said he will keep telling the story until those responsible are brought to justice.
On May 7, Candelaria was on a Zoom call with dozens of colleagues and small-business owners talking about issues being faced during the pandemic. Twenty minutes into the video call – which was not password-protected – someone hacked in with “the worst kind of child sexual violence you could imagine.”
“It caused a number of people – all of us – to recoil from this inhumane, criminal activity,” he said.
Later, one participant in the video call said the same child sexual abuse material had been hacked into another Zoom call they had been on in recent weeks.
“This material was, on the scale of human nature, if you just go to the very bottom,” said Candelaria, president of the Hispanic-American Institute. “I really can’t think of anything that’s worse, of sexual violence against an infant. This really taxes your faith in humanity.”
Frank Fisher, an FBI spokesman in Albuquerque, said more than 280 such incidents have been reported in the past few months worldwide, coinciding with an uptick in the use of Zoom calls during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The FBI has since unveiled a website where such incidents can be reported in the hopes of catching those responsible, who can face anywhere from five to 20 years in prison.
“This is very serious for us. We consider child sexual abuse material a violent crime and every time the material is viewed, the depicted child is revictimized,” Fisher said. “We also think that this is putting people on these conference calls into very difficult positions. Nobody wants to see this stuff. … To subject them to this is intolerable.”
Fisher said anyone who falls victim to this crime needs to contact the FBI immediately. He said that those affected should not delete any computer logs “without further direction,” and that the FBI can assist in removing the content and offer victim assistance to those affected.
To prevent more of these cases, the FBI is asking those hosting Zoom meetings to not make meetings public and to require a password, use the waiting room feature to control who joins, share the Zoom link only with specific attendees and change screen-sharing options to “Host Only.”
Candelaria said that although the meeting was shut down immediately following the incident, the damage was done.
“I certainly was traumatized by it,” he said.
When the incident was reported to Zoom, he said, the response was along the lines of, “We received your message and are looking into it.”
Candelaria said the Hispanic-American Institute terminated its Zoom account and looked for meeting alternatives but couldn’t find anything else to their needs. The nonprofit has since resumed using Zoom with meetings that are password-protected.
But for Candelaria, the sense of security is shaken.
“We were very much on edge with our subsequent meetings, and we had our consultant ready to take down an entire meeting if an incident like this occurred,” he said. “Clearly, we have all been put on guard with regard to the use of these kinds of tools. I certainly feel vulnerable; our staff and our participants in our calls feel violated.
“But we’re not going to take this lying down. We’re cooperating as fully as we can to make sure that this person or persons are brought to justice.”