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Hawaii News | Tech View

Column: Staying secure and sane in videoconferencing era

As most companies struggle to retain business and mind share in the time of COVID-19, the videoconferencing platform Zoom seems to have won the lottery. It saw its user base jump from 10 million a month to more than 200 million, and its name has nearly become a generic term for a group video call.

With this massive influx of attention has come scrutiny for its security practices, from past missteps involving hidden software installations to the latest hobby of online pranksters, “zoombombing.” Even local meetings have been disrupted by screen-sharing takeovers featuring shocking videos. It’s enough to drive some away from the platform completely.

And while some companies and agencies have banned the use of Zoom outright (both the Department of Education and the University of Hawaii have set strict policies), the service is nearly ubiquitous. Fortunately, there are some security tips that can help reduce the chances of a security breach or disruption.

First, keep your Zoom software up to date. Although the company was caught somewhat flatfooted at the start of the pandemic, it has now released numerous security patches, often many times per week. If you’re not prompted to update, you can always re-download a fresh copy from its website at zoom.us.

Second, if you’re organizing a Zoom event, use all the tools at your disposal. Set a password for meetings so hackers need to do more than guess your meeting number. Use a waiting room for smaller or more sensitive meetings, where attendees have to be manually approved to enter. And limit the people who can share their screen, the preferred weapon of zoombombers.

Finally, never reuse a password on different serv­ices. This is not a Zoom issue, but a near-universal security failure. If you use the same password everywhere online, you need only one service to be compromised for all your accounts to be at risk. Remembering different passwords is hard, but untangling the mess a hacker can make of your life is much harder.

If you’re eager to try a different service, there are many out there, though few are as easy to use and as affordable as Zoom. Larger companies holding meetings with hundreds of attendees are more likely to use Citrix services like GoToMeeting or its competitor Webex, which offer more controls and security assurances (with more complexity and costs to match).

If you’re videoconferencing with your smartphone, look to your hardware manufacturer for built-in options. Apple’s FaceTime works elegantly for up to 32 people, though those people all have to have Apple devices. Google Meet, which used to be for paid clients only, is now free for everyone, and supports up to 16 people per video call.

Businesses using Microsoft Office 365 get Microsoft Teams, which just increased its video grid to nine from four people. And oft-forgotten Skype recently leapfrogged FaceTime by supporting 50 concurrent users. Popular chat tool Slack supports 15 users, while Discord can handle 50.

Of course, having too many meetings was a problem we struggled with before working from home, and videoconferences are even easier to schedule and can be just as exhausting as the real thing. Fortunately, you can use these tools for fun, as well.

A Zoom pau hana among friends, or a weekly catch-up call with your social club can be good for your mental health.

There are lots of apps aiming to make group video calls fun: Houseparty, Marco Polo, Rave and the forthcoming Clubhouse are worth checking out. Just remember to check out and take a break now and then.


Ryan Ozawa is communications director for local tech company Hawaii Information Service, and hosts an open discussion forum at HawaiiSlack.com. You can follow him on Instagram and Twitter at @hawaii.


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