Unless You Prefer 'Zoombomb' to Zumba
Or Enjoy Being Added to Calls without Your Knowledge
A New York chef I've never met in person but have followed on Facebook for several years recently posted this to her stories page: "No pedicures, no haircuts, no makeup. The world is about to get ugly (smiley face)...But people can still be beautiful in all the ways that matter. We can still smile, we can still pray, and we can still contact one another to let them know how much we care, how much we love them, and how grateful we are to have them in our lives."
During these times of adversity, many of us have turned to video-conferencing platforms like Zoom to do just that. It's been a lifeline for schools, businesses, family members, and friends who want to reach out to one another. Connect.
From the standpoint of technology, Zoom is user-friendly, stable and reliable. It has connected us with doctors, family members, friends and coworkers. Even shrinks and therapists are using it to talk their clients through mental health issues that arise when social-distancing threatens to become social isolation. Or worse, when you're quarantined with someone you're not especially fond of.
Unfortunately, bad actors have entered the virtual landscape, disrupting our attempts to connect during the current storm. These intruders are hackers who exploit Zoom's vulnerabilities in order to shout racist, homophobic messages or interject pornography into video-conferenced classrooms, prayer meetings, and family gatherings. The phenomenon has added a new word to the 21st century lexicon: "zoombomb."
The problem is serious enough that both the FBI and the New York Attorney General have launched investigations into Zoom's privacy safeguards, following several instances of "zoombombing" now that millions have come to rely on the platform during the coronavirus pandemic.
So before you jump in to the Zoom ecosphere (or even if you already have), here are a few things I've found via the BBC, which may help you maintain your cool, your privacy and your security while using Zoom:
1. The platform has been vulnerable to hackers in the past. There have been reports of users being added to calls without their knowledge.
2. Trolls have been known to send spoof messages including porn during video calls. Remember the photo bomb? Meet its video cousin, the 'ZoomBomb.'
3. If you record a video call, it can be seen by anyone at Zoom.
The information below comes from the Electronic Frontier Foundation which has compiled a list of Zoom's privacy issues:
Transparency is fine, but some things should remain private, don't you think?
Zoom, which is used by 60% of the Fortune 500, uses sophisticated encryption to protect the security of its calls. It exceeds industry standards in this area. But in July of 2019, Wired reported a flaw that gave hackers easy access to your webcam. In January of 2020, the company announced that it had fixed a vulnerability that could have let hackers join video calls. And yet, as recently as March 27, 2020, The Guardian reported that "zoombombers have exploited Zoom's privacy settings" now that the app has become more popular during these days of confinement.
On March 30th, however, New York's Attorney General asked Zoom to provide a list of security measures the company has put in place to handle the tsunami of new users since the pandemic. On that same day, the FBI's Boston District, which includes Maine, New Hampshire, Massachussetts, and Rhode Island, advised users to take the following precautions as it continues its investigation into Zoom's data-security and privacy practices:
Zoom has promised to cooperate with both investigations. The company remains aware that pranksters and trolls are always looking for ways to make mischief on its platform. It has posted the following statement at the top of its security page: If you think you may have found a security vulnerability within Zoom, please submit a vulnerability report or contact our security team directly at firstname.lastname@example.org.
What then to do in this Wild, Wild West of videoconferencing? Simple. Follow the FBI guidelines. Do not rely on older versions of Zoom's default privacy settings, which are configured for environments in which the users trust one another. Instead, you must select your own privacy settings. For those in large public meetings, Zoom strongly encourages users to change their settings so that only the host can share the screen. To disable screen-sharing controls is to invites chaos.
For those in private meetings, however, Zoom recommends that you keep the default password protections in place. As the Guardian article points out, Zoom has also posted its own list of tips to help users avoid zoombombers and other abusers.
When things are too easy, people get lazy. User-friendly access to video-conferencing is an instance where we can't afford to be. Not when jerks wearing swastikas shout racist remarks during classroom invasions. Before using the Zoom platform or app, take time to adjust your privacy settings.
Technology has been a lifesaver during the pandemic. Let's keep our connections safe and secure so we can continue to use it's power to support and love one another as much as possible during these crazy times.
Tech Writer David Pogue on Working at Home without Losing Your Mind
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