Pornographic videos were shown in several Harris County courtrooms Tuesday in what county officials are calling a “Zoom bombing” incident.
“Several Harris County Courts at Law experienced zoom bombing — or unauthorized screen sharing — of explicit images during the daily docket this morning. The incidents were quickly reported to court administrative staff, and the feeds were immediately shut down,” Holly Huffman, spokesperson for the Harris County Office of Court Management, said in a statement.
Huffman said the incident had been reported to the Harris County Sheriff’s Office Judicial Threat Unit for investigation, and that increased security measures have been put in place for Zoom links at all county courts.
Up to seven misdemeanor courtrooms were affected, according to ABC13, which first reported the incident.
“This is the first instance of unauthorized screen sharing during a County Court at Law proceeding since the 2020 implementation of zoom proceedings in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. We have provided thousands of hours of online court proceedings since then with no such issue,” Huffman said.
Huffman said the county is reviewing their security measures “to strike a balance between ensuring public access to the judiciary and preventing such an incident from happening again.”
How the hack managed to happen to multiple courts was the talk of the day within the corridors of justice in Harris County on Tuesday, often accompanied by a chuckle with a wisp of bewilderment.
ABC13 has confirmed that at least three and possibly up to seven of the misdemeanor courts in Harris County were hacked with pornographic videos.
The COVID-19 pandemic led to Zoom court hearings to become commonplace in Harris County’s court systems. Judges would turn on a Zoom video link daily, making court proceedings accessible to attorneys and citizens who cannot make it there in person.
In the middle of the docket, the images began popping up on several of the court’s video screens.
“I saw 10 or 12 seconds of it, in the middle of the courtroom,” Tyler Flood, an attorney who saw the porn, said. “It was crazy. The entire huge screen got taken over by it. The camera was really zoomed in. Shocking!”
Several court coordinators, who did not want their names used, also confirmed to ABC13 that they saw porn on their computer screens. The coordinators said their judges simply turned off the Zoom, and court continued in real life.
At least one attorney shared an email stating that Zoom sessions for the court she was expected to conduct business in had been cancelled for the day because of the porn hack.
Flood, who is a past president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, hopes the unwanted, graphic intrusion does not lead to the end of Zoom in court.
“Because that has been one of the only good things that came from COVID,” he said. “As for the porn…’I wish I could un-see it.'”
Zoom bombing was pretty common early on, as everyone turned to Zoom and their security controls weren’t up to the task. My best guess here is that someone shared the Zoom links – I’m assuming that each of the courts in question had their own Zoom session and thus their own meeting links, though this is not clear from the story – with whoever was responsible for this. The “increased security measures” probably means that you get admitted into a “waiting room” and have to be admitted by the host, hopefully after they have verified that you belong on the call. Again, I’m just guessing here. Of all the cybersecurity incidents that could have affected the courts, this is pretty low on the risk list. I hope they’re reviewing other security controls to make sure nothing worse is likely to happen.