The coronavirus lockdown has left millions of employees and students worldwide to find alternative ways to continue their tasks with the help of technology. And video conferencing applications have saved the day. 

However, platforms like Zoom aren't as secure as one would think. The company has been facing global scrutiny over its lax security protocols and weak protocols concerning keeping its users' private information safe. 

A student takes classes online with his companions using the Zoom APP at home
(Photo : REUTERS/Albert Gea)
A student takes online classes at home, with his companions, using the Zoom APP during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in El Masnou, north of Barcelona, Spain April 2, 2020.

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Video-Conferencing: How to keep an online party safe and secure  

As "zoombombers" have become a persistent issue, some organizations have even banned the use of the application such as Google, SpaceX, NASA, the Taiwan government, Singapore's Ministry of Education, and up until recently, NYC public schools.

While video apps like Zoom are convenient and free to use, it doesn't mean that people should compromise their security and privacy in the process. You always need to make sure that you and your data are always protected and secure. 

We must understand that none of these video conferencing apps are perfect; all of them have security and privacy vulnerabilities. Thus, when choosing which one to use, pick the one that is "better at some things" than others. One will be better at security, the other has better privacy protection, while another may have better call features.

Secure what you know

In an email to Engadget, Luta Security founder and CEO Katie Moussris said that users could only secure what they know. "The best tip is that you can only secure what you know. As a host, try to pick one platform and learn its features as well as you can because that will help you set your calls up most securely and help you help your participants stay secure."

If you're left with no choice as to which application to use because your company or contact has already chosen one, make sure to take the time to examine and customize your account settings instead.

Earlier this year, Zoom was bombarded with privacy and security complaints, and the company was forced to tackle it. Zoom has been working to fix many of these issues, but there are still a lot of questions about the data Zoom collects, how it stores them, and how they keep it secure.

Now, tech giants like Facebook. Google, Microsoft, and even Telegram have been trying to compete with Zoom. Telegram announced its plan to "offer secure group video calls" later this year while Facebook rushed to release Messenger Rooms. Although it is similar to Zoom, it promises to have a more stringent privacy and security structure.

While FaceTime is a very secure option, given Apple's well-established privacy record, its group video call is limited to only 32 participants. Meanwhile, Skype launched last month its "Meet Now" feature, which doesn't require an account to use. And Google quickly changed Google Hangouts to Google Meet to accommodate 100 people.

Check your settings

A life drawing class is held over livestream due to social gathering restrictions to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney
(Photo : REUTERS/Loren Elliott)
Ben Mulcahy, founder of Darlinghurst Life Drawing studio, organises a life drawing class for art students over a Zoom internet livestream due to social gathering restrictions implemented to curb the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), at Darlinghurst Life Drawing studio in Sydney, Australia, April 16, 2020. Picture taken April 16, 2020.

Whether you're using the app on a desktop or a mobile device, make sure to check all the settings before using it. This is important to protect yourself from hackers, companies with weak security recommendations, and any other privacy and security issues.

Some security options are not "enabled by default." An end to end encryption is the "gold standard" to prevent any cyber-attacks.

"These are features like adding passwords to video conferences, actually enabling E2E [end-ro-end] encryption, or some other checkbox that makes things harder, but more secure. But you're not some kind of casual dilettante, and besides, you have secrets to keep. You go and click around in those non-default security options," said Tod Beardsley, director of Research at Rapid7 to Engadget via email.

Click through all settings, inspect the user profile and everything else to check if anything needs to be updated. Switch off anything that gives too much permission and allows third-party data sharing, particularly with advertisers. Similarly, do not allow any contact with strangers. It's useful to have passwords on everything.

Be more vigilant and careful whenever you're online

All this may sound like a lot of work, but it will be worth it. "All of that gets you to a good place when it comes to knowing that your video conference is secret from everyone but for the people in it," says Beardsley.

Keeping your video conference application updated is one of the primary tips to stay secure against hackers because companies regularly fixe security flaws through updates.

It is also important to note that the app's settings for desktop are different for mobile devices like Zoom. Usually, desktop settings are more detailed and provide more control than mobile apps. Thus, make it a habit to check your settings and be more vigilant with every little detail. Ultimately, all these discussions boil down to three vital tips:

- Secure the meeting room with passwords and require authentication.

- Avoid screen sharing.

- Remove unwanted participants.

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