Zoom security: Your meetings will be safe and secure if you do these 10 things

Is Zoom video conferencing safe to use or isn't it? That all depends on how well you follow these best practices.
Written by Charlie Osborne, Contributing Writer

As the novel coronavirus spread across the globe, the business landscape was forced to make a number of swift changes.

Lockdowns and social isolation measures, restricted travel, and the closure of firms not considered to be "essential" services proved to be a catalyst for home working, of which many of us were woefully unprepared to accommodate. 

At the time of writing, there are 1.9 million coronavirus cases worldwide. The United States, Spain, Italy, and France are the hardest hit. 

Stringent measures that prevent employees from going into offices have required many companies, large and small, to adopt remote and virtual alternatives to stop operations from grinding to a complete halt. 

Email and the use of Virtual Private Networks (VPNs) aren't enough; workers and management need to be able to hold meetings, too. 

There is a range of virtual conference solutions out there, including Skype, Microsoft Teams, BlueJeans, and GoToMeeting. (ZDNet's top enterprise picks can be accessed here).

Enter Zoom. 

A few weeks ago -- although it may seem like a lifetime -- Zoom was not a well-known virtual conference option in the enterprise space. Almost overnight, however, it seemed everyone had adopted the platform as the go-to option to hold lessons, business meetings, and sensitive discussions.

Over 2020, the company has added 2.2 million new monthly users, outstripping the entire 2019 new user base of 1.19 million.

Zoom's explosive surge in popularity, however, has created security ramifications. You could almost feel sorry for the company -- with its unexpected growth, the spotlight has also been shone on Zoom's security practices, some of which have fallen short of modern expectations.  

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In July 2019, a researcher disclosed a severe security issue in which Zoom opened up webcams to persistent spying and compromise; a bug that stayed in place even if the software was uninstalled due to a leftover local web server.

Now, more issues have been uncovered, including security flaws in the Windows 10 build of the platform's software, iPhone user data being sent to Facebook whether or not they had an account with the social media network, and a bug in URL generation that permitted attackers to eavesdrop on private conferences. 

Zoom has also acknowledged that the company's "end to end encryption" marketing practices masked the truth. AES-256 encryption was meant to be implemented to keep video calls secure, but instead, a substandard AES-128 key in ECB mode was actually in use. Encryption remains a sticking point that the company insists it is working on. 

Google, SpaceX, the New York City Department of Education, the Taiwanese, Australian, and German governments, to name but a few agencies, have banned employees from using the software until Zoom's security posture improves. 

TechRepublic: The end of passwords: Industry experts explore the possibilities and challenges

Zoom has tried to clean up its act, and quickly. To try and prevent Zoom-bombing -- the hijack of meetings and a practice the US Department of Justice recently deemed a crime -- meeting ID numbers will no longer be shown in address bars. 

A dedicated security tab has also been introduced to streamline the process of changing security settings for hosts and meeting attendees. 

Zoom has also promised an upcoming change to where data is stored. Starting April 18, paid subscribers can opt-in or out of specific data center regions. China, too, has been geofenced to stop information outside of the country from being transferred to the area. 

We've covered the basics and some useful tips for experienced users in a guide here. To maintain the security of your next meeting, our recommendations are below:

1. Password protect your meetings

The simplest way to prevent unwanted attendees and hijacking is to set a password for your meeting. Passwords can be set at the individual meeting, user, group, or account level for all sessions. In order to do so, first sign in with your account at the Zoom web portal. If you want to set up a password at the individual meeting level, head straight over to the "Settings" tab and enable "Require a password when scheduling new meetings", which will ensure a password will be generated when a meeting is scheduled. All participants require the password to join the meeting. Subscription holders can also choose to go into "Group Management" to require that everyone follows the same password practices. 

2. Authenticate users

When creating a new event, you should choose to only allow signed-in users to participate. 

3. Join before host

Do not allow others to join a meeting before you, as the host, have arrived. You can enforce this setting for a group under "Account Settings." 

4. Lock down your meeting

Once a session has begun, head over to the "Manage Participants" tab, click "More," and choose to "lock" your meeting as soon as every expected participant has arrived. This will prevent others from joining even if meeting IDs or access details have been leaked. 

5. Turn off participant screen sharing

No-one wants to see pornographic material shared by a Zoom bomber, and so disabling the ability for meeting attendees to share their screens is worthwhile. This option can be accessed from the new "Security" tab in active sessions. 

6. Use a randomly-generated ID

You should not use your personal meeting ID if possible, as this could pave the way for pranksters or attackers that know it to disrupt online sessions. Instead, choose a randomly generated ID for meetings when creating a new event. In addition, you should not share your personal ID publicly. 

7. Use waiting rooms

The Waiting Room feature is a way to screen participants before they are allowed to enter a meeting. While legitimately useful for purposes including interviews or virtual office hours, this also gives hosts greater control over session security.

8. Avoid file sharing

Be careful with the file-sharing feature of meetings, especially if users that you don't recognize are sending content across, as it may be malicious. Instead, share material using a trusted service such as Box or Google Drive. At the time of writing, Zoom has disabled this feature anyway due to a "potential security vulnerability."

9. Remove nuisance attendees

If you find that someone is disrupting a meeting, you can kick them out under the "Participants" tab. Hover over the name, click "More," and remove them. You can also make sure they cannot rejoin by disabling "Allow Removed Participants to Rejoin" under the "Settings: Meetings - Basic" tab.

10. Check for updates

 As security issues crop up and patches are deployed or functions are disabled, you should make sure you have the latest build. In order to check, open the desktop application, click on your profile in the top-right, and select "Check for updates."

Have a tip? Get in touch securely via WhatsApp | Signal at +447713 025 499, or over at Keybase: charlie0

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