Videoconferencing security and best practices

With so many businesses requiring employees to work from home and schools forced to implement distance-learning alternatives to entire student bodies that are under stay-at-home orders, videoconferencing has exploded. Increasingly, organizations are turning to Zoom to enable the necessary videoconferencing capabilities that make these shifts possible. But, is that the right move?

Zoom was founded in 2011; by 2013, it boasted one million participants. It has quickly rushed up the videoconferencing charts past titans like Skype, GoToMeeting and Webex.

Zoom became so popular because it was easy to use, offered a robust and free solution for up to 100 participants and was reliable. With the COVID-19 crisis looming large, businesses, school systems and families turned to Zoom help them.

Hitting the brakes

But as with many other apps and online services that rose to popularity, vulnerabilities were discovered and exploited by people with ill will. Some of their goals were simple pranks, others were more nefarious.

The news cycle was relatively quick to jump on it and the headlines sounded dire. Examples: “‘Zoom is malware’: why experts worry about the video conferencing platform” and “Zoom Users Beware: Here’s How A Flaw Allows Attackers To Take Over Your Mac Microphone and Webcam.”

Social media had a field day, reporting a small fraction of the facts and broadcasting certain doom for anyone who used Zoom. What was also remarkable was the speed with which Zoom founder Eric Yuan owned the problems and started working on solutions. On April 1, he stated, “We recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s—and our own—privacy and security expectations. …” All engineering resources in the organization were shifted to closing the gaps. The app updates started rolling out nearly immediately.

Now, the default is that meetings are password protected. Meeting IDs are no longer in the app toolbar, which made them easily screenshotted and shared with unauthorized individuals. If you are a Zoom user, you received updates and patches nearly every day the week of April 5, 2020.

How to Zoom safely

1. Don’t share your meeting link on social media or other public forums. Anyone with the link can join the meeting.

2. If you have a PMI (personal meeting ID), don’t use it for public events. Zoom allows you to generate a single-use meeting link for each meeting.

3. Utilize the “waiting room” feature. Permit people in one at a time.

4. Do not give up control of your screen and prevent others from sharing their screens. This puts you in the driver’s seat with content shown to meeting participants.

5. Allow only signed-in users to join.

Online resource Visit Zoom’s blog for a full list of best practices.

If you are communicating highly sensitive information during Zoom meetings, review the current state of security often. Changes are rolling out quickly. You may find that the Zoom of today doesn’t meet your security requirements, but by week’s end, it might!

Best practices for videoconferencing

Virtual meetings are the norm now that the COVID-19 outbreak has driven most everyone from attending a gathering in a closed room. Here are some guidelines to share with your remote teammates to get the most out of your meetings.

First and foremost, everyone can see you, all the time. This is not an audio conference. Just because you are not speaking does not mean others in the conference can’t still see you.

Be punctual and courteous. Introduce yourself and take note of other attendees’ names so you can address them personally. Turn off ringers for your other phones. Treat this just like you would an on-site meeting.

No multitasking – we can see you. Look at your screen, pay attention to others and when speaking make sure to look at your camera.

If it is improper for a face-to-face meeting, then it doesn’t work for video either. Don’t click your pen, tap on your desk or anything else annoying or distracting. Avoid yawning, gum chewing, etc.

Make sure you have good light. Adjust lighting or use a portable light source to make sure you have good light shining at you from the front. You can overdo it too, so experiment until you find a good balance. Try pointing a strong desk lamp at the wall you’re facing. You get good front light without having to look directly into a harsh light.

No eating! Glass of water or coffee, OK. Glass of wine, bottle of beer, NOT OK. NO Smoking!

Dress appropriately. Video allows us to do face-to-face meetings right from our virtual office. We all know the joy of virtual office work: Shorts and a T-shirt, anyone? Maybe a ball cap? But virtual office-appropriate dress rules exist to reflect the fact that we may, at any time, be called upon to join a videoconference. Business casual at all times is the new rule. If you have a planned customer call, you should consider dressing the same as you would for an on-site meeting. You might relax that one step, maybe no tie for a meeting you would have worn one to, but remember, they can still see you!

Do video calls from your desk or other appropriate location. Lying on the couch (or anywhere) with your PC on your chest or stomach doesn’t present a flattering view.

Mind the background. Not only can everyone see you, but they see what’s around and behind you too. Yes, your pool and patio (stainless kitchen, bathroom, etc.) are lovely but not appropriate for a business call. If you have a cluttered workspace, make sure it’s not showing up on camera.

Test your audio/video before a scheduled call so you can show up on time.

Steer clear of high-traffic areas. Sometimes it’s hard to avoid, but do not position yourself where your children, spouse, pets, etc., will be parading through the view of the camera on a regular basis.

Closed unused applications. Video can be CPU/memory intensive.

Avoid creating pixelation. Do not wear stripes or anything with a heavy pattern. If you have vertical miniblinds do not have them in the background. Minimize your hand gestures and body/head movements as well.

Consider posting your comment/question in the chat window.

Picture in Picture (PiP) is your best reference; you can see yourself and your surroundings just as others on the call can. Pay close attention to what you see there, and make adjustments as necessary.

DO NOT video while driving!