Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Jerry Schalow participates in a Zoom conference call Thursday morning. On the screen and speaking is Mayor Gregg Hull, reporting what he’d heard about some senior citizens in the area who are genuinely concerned about COVID-19, and could use help shopping. Gary Herron photo.

The Facetime feature on cell phones and Skype on computers are nice for one-on-one conversations, but sometimes there’s a need to see and talk to more than one person.

Now, enter Zoom, a computer program that lets people see and talk to multiple users in multiple places over the internet.

In light of COVID-19, it’s being used by more people and more often every day. The FBI warns users to take precautions to avoid giving opportunities to cyber-intruders who might disrupt meetings and school lessons.

Still, many Rio Ranchoans have found Zoom helpful.

Who would’ve thought, maybe only a few months ago, that a varsity baseball coach would have a team meeting — from the comfort of his living room?

Such has been the case for Rio Rancho High School baseball coach Ron Murphy, who filled up the screen of his computer with the faces of his varsity players recently, with his junior varsity and freshman team coaches doing likewise last week.

“At this time, I don’t know if anyone would miss their kids and players like now — and vice versa,” Murphy said. “It’s a way to not completely lose touch.”

This evening, in fact, Murphy will participate in a family reunion, expecting at least 55 family members to check in and chat.

“What a great idea for this situation,” he said. “You can talk to your (out-of-state) kids.

“It was real simple; my cousin in New York had told me about it,” Murphy said. “I tried it: You get on there, set up a meeting and a time, send the link or give them a password. You can do it for free up to 99 people.”

Thanks to cyberspace, Sandia Vista Elementary Principal Pat Di Vasto has been staying in touch with old friends.

“I use Google (Meets and Hangouts) and Zoom; Zoom I’ve been using for friends — some I’ve been friends with for 50 years,” she said. “Friday evenings we do calls, catch up, share a glass of wine while we’re talking. That’s a nice way to stay in touch.”

Di Vasto has also been staying in touch with the district office and her Sandia Vista teachers.

“I’m working every day,” she said. “I’m doing work remotely with other principals and folks in the district office. They’re setting up a distance-learning plan, which needs to get approved by the PED. I’m having an all-staff meeting Monday with my staff. Google Meets (calls) you can record; Google Hang Outs, you can’t. It’s a great way to communicate.”

RRPS spokeswoman Melissa Perez said district employees have been using Google software and platforms such as Zoom for remote video meetings to be sure they’re following the governor’s instructions and public health orders, while still functioning.

“RRPS staff members are hard at work for our students and our community,” she said. “Most of our staff is working remotely from home, and we have a very small group of essential employees who are working shifts at the district office each weekday to ensure we answer the hotline calls and work on essential functions (payroll, finance, communications, etc).”

Jerry Schalow, president and CEO of the Rio Rancho Regional Chamber of Commerce, has been deluged with Zoom conference calls.

“Monday through Friday, I have three Zoom calls a day,” he said. “It’s a matter of getting things done — it’s just different.

“Zoom is hugely different from all the other platforms,” he said. “Board meetings, client meetings — beyond that, it allows us to do Facebook live. Zoom really meets the needs of business.”

The chamber had a “virtual Visionaries meeting” on April 1, with a board of directors Zoom conference call lined up for April 21.

“I had used it for various meetings across the country, in lieu of flying out, but not to this amount and learning all the different capabilities,” Schalow said. “This thing — you can have 100 people on the line and you’ll have their pictures up there for each one. When they speak, you can set the settings and makes them bigger, which is really cool. The other version you can use only shows them talking.

“We upgraded ours — we had used the free Zoom before — but upgraded for some of the features.”

In a phone call to the Observer office on Wednesday, Mayor Gregg Hull noted he was “All by myself …It seems like a lot of the offices are exactly that way (all but empty).”

“I had my first Zoom call the other day,” Hull said. “It was interesting, doing it over an internet platform other than a conference call.”

The big difference he noted was the ability for a presenter to show a PowerPoint presentation.

“I think it’s a useful tool during social distancing when we’re trying to flatten the curve,” Hull said, “and being able to see the information in front of us.”

Could Zoom be a way for the governing body to conduct meetings during the pandemic?

“Right now, we’re looking at it — it could be a possibility,” he said, understanding that there would be a way to also stream the meetings and thus not violate the Open Meetings Act.

“It’s my understanding there are ways to tap into that feed,” he added.

FBI cautions Zoom users

As large numbers of people turn to video-teleconferencing (VTC) platforms to stay connected in the wake of the COVID-19 crisis, reports of VTC hijacking, also called “Zoom-bombing,” are emerging nationwide, according to an FBI news release. In other states, the FBI has received multiple reports of conferences being disrupted by pornographic and/or hate images and threatening language.

Frank Fisher, spokesman for the FBI Albuquerque Field Office, said Tuesday that no Zoom-bombing had been reported in New Mexico.

As individuals continue the transition to online lessons and meetings, the FBI recommends exercising due diligence and caution in cybersecurity efforts. The following steps can be taken to mitigate teleconference hijacking threats:

  • Do not make meetings or classrooms public. In Zoom, there are two options to make a meeting private: require a meeting password or use the waiting room feature and control the admittance of guests.
  • Do not share a link to a teleconference or classroom on an unrestricted publicly available social media post. Provide the link directly to specific people.
  • Manage screen-sharing options. In Zoom, change screen-sharing to “host only.”
  • Ensure users are using the updated version of remote access/meeting applications. In January, Zoom updated its software. In the security update, the teleconference-software provider added passwords by default for meetings and disabled the ability to randomly scan for meetings to join.
  • Lastly, ensure that your organization’s telework policy or guide addresses requirements for physical and information security.

If you were a victim of a teleconference hijacking, or any cyber-crime, report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at ic3.gov. Additionally, if you receive a specific threat during a teleconference, please report it at tips.fbi.gov or call the FBI Albuquerque Field Office at 889-1300.

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