Zoom meetings are going viral because they’re actually quite awesome. So, what’s the catch?

There’s a lot of good stuff happening on Zoom, but remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, what’s the catch?

Zoom meetings will require password by default from May 9, enhanced encryption coming on May 30.

Unless you’ve been living under a rock or something, chances are you must have heard about Zoom, assuming you have access to the internet that is. There’s a very high possibility that you might have used it too. It doesn’t matter who you are, what you do, everyone’s using Zoom lately. For those unaware, Zoom is a cloud-based video conferencing application and while it was initially intended for ‘enterprise’ customers, it’s somehow taken over the whole world by storm in the wake of the novel coronavirus outbreak.

Zoom meetings have suddenly become the in thing as more and more people are cooped up inside their homes in these unprecedented times. Businesses are using it, schools are using it, random folk are using it. To the tune that even Zoom wasn’t expecting, say a few months ago. The video conferencing app has shot up from an average of 10 million daily users to a ‘whopping’ 200 million daily users in just three months, according to data released by the San Jose headquartered company.

In simple terms, people have been picking Zoom over Skype, Teams and Hangouts, you know, the more conventional video conferencing lot. There’s a reason why that is, even though it’s totally subjective. Zoom is actually quite awesome, which is why so many people are using it.

Zoom meetings: The good

  • It’s easy to use
  • It does not require you to sign-in to log-in to a video call unless you’re the hosting party
  • It’s available across all major platforms, Windows, macOS, Android and iOS
  • It offers high quality HD video and audio
  • Frequently used collaboration tools like text chat and screen sharing are available on Zoom
  • The application supports virtual backgrounds
  • Both free and paid versions are available
  • Free Zoom allows video conferencing with up to 100 participants for up to 40 minutes. You’re free to have as many meetings as possible. There’s no time limit on one-on-one meetings though.
  • Premium Zoom bumps up the participant count to 1,000 and there are virtually no time limits (you’re free to host 24-hour meetings in this case). Plus, the host is free to record the call either on their local storage or on the cloud. Zoom will charge you extra for the latter.
Zoom is actually quite awesome, which is why so many people are using it.

That’s a lot of good stuff, but remember, there’s no such thing as a free lunch. So, what’s the catch? Well apparently, there are quite a few, something that Zoom CEO Eric Yuan has publicly acknowledged and apologized for, himself. The bigger concern is, as the platform is being subject to more and more intense scrutiny — since popularity also comes at a cost, obviously — more and more loopholes are also being discovered every other day. Some of them may be minor, some catastrophic.

Zoom meetings: The Bad

Before Zoom came under the radar, it seems, not every user knew — or knowingly ignored — that you could password protect your meetings. Without password protection, there’s a high possibility that your Zoom meetings could be ‘Zoom bombed,’ meaning hackers could eavesdrop any moment. According to security researcher Brian Krebs, hackers have already designed a program called zWarDial that can ‘guess’ Zoom meeting identification numbers to the tune of 100 IDs in an hour and up to 2,400 IDs in a day. In the event that these meetings aren’t password protected, miscreants can just drop in uninvited using these IDs — and even broadcast offensive material, like pornography.

There’s a simple solution to avoid this, which is to password-protect your meetings, something that is enabled by default on Zoom. You can do it from anywhere — mobile, desktop, it doesn’t matter.

Here’s how you can do it:

Zoom app > Meetings > Edit > Require meeting password > Enter password to use for your meeting

Zoom meetings: The ugly

Zoom bombing is just the tip of the iceberg though. Apart from Zoom bombing, the platform was also until recently marred by an issue that allegedly put users’ LinkedIn profiles at risk of potential exposure even when they were using it anonymously. Zoom has also been allegedly found leaking user emails and photos that apparently stems from an issue in its company directory. Plus, video calls made on the platform aren’t end-to-end encrypted as previously thought.

An even bigger issue is that some Zoom calls were until recently being ‘mistakenly’ routed through China — for non-China users.

“In our urgency to come to the aid of people around the world during this unprecedented pandemic, we added server capacity and deployed it quickly — starting in China, where the outbreak began. In that process, we failed to fully implement our usual geo-fencing best practices. As a result, it is possible certain meetings were allowed to connect to systems in China, where they should not have been able to connect,” Zoom CEO Eric Yuan has acknowledged in a blog post.

In the absence of strict data privacy laws, in China, there’s growing concern that the government could get access to the contents of these Zoom calls as and when necessary, and Zoom might be forced to oblige accordingly.

Zoom has since fixed the issue and confirmed that “we will prevent these kinds of problems in the future.”

In Zoom’s defense

Clearly, Zoom is a privacy nightmare. But at least, Zoom is not being defensive about it. Even during an intense crisis, the company seems to be thinking about end-users. Which is nice?

“For the past several weeks, supporting this influx of users has been a tremendous undertaking and our sole focus. We have strived to provide you with uninterrupted service and the same user-friendly experience that has made Zoom the video-conferencing platform of choice for enterprises around the world, while also ensuring platform safety, privacy, and security. However, we recognize that we have fallen short of the community’s – and our own – privacy and security expectations. For that, I am deeply sorry,” the company CEO recently wrote in a (different) blog post.

One of the first few steps that it has taken to address its problems is to freeze the development of any more features, for 90 days. Zoom will instead devote all its resources to secure its platform first. The company will also conduct a comprehensive review of its platform with both third-party experts and users to better understand the challenges that have come up with its tremendous growth over the last few months. It will enhance its bug bounty program to detect issues quickly and it will host weekly webinars to provide privacy and security updates to its community.

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