It’s led to a massive surge in users, but the work from home ethos during the current COVID-19 crisis has resulted in a bad couple of weeks for popular video conferencing app Zoom.
Soon, it seemed that people were jumping on an opportunity to lash out at Zoom. Security researchers reported vulnerabilities in Zoom users’ Windows and Mac computers, confirmed some user data was being sent to China, and found Zoom video recordings exposed in an unsecured cloud database online.
Zoom–which has seen an extraordinary growth of 10 million to 200 million daily users in a matter of months as COVID-19 took hold–is quickly trying to make its service more secure and private. Last week, it announced a number of new security measures, and confirmed that features such as passwords and waiting lists to enter rooms would now be on by default.
As I acknowledged yesterday, some people have to use Zoom for a meeting or chat. Sometimes, your workplace insists on using Zoom, or in my case–online exercise classes utilize the app. Taking these situations into account, I’ve written a guide on how to use Zoom securely as possible.
Zoom’s incredibly functional, but ideally you’d use something else–at least until Zoom has had time to properly deal with its security and privacy issues. Please be aware that most of these aren’t quite as functional as Zoom, but they each work for a different type of video chat use.
Apple’s FaceTime is a perfect alternative to Zoom, as long as everyone who’s part of the meeting or chat has access to an Apple device. FaceTime is stable–I haven’t experienced any lag while using it–and it allows you to add multiple people to your video chat. Unlike Zoom, FaceTime uses end-to-end encryption, which means even Apple doesn’t have the key to view your chats, according to Apple.
Already beloved of the security community, Signal is a highly private and secure app. Think of it as a WhatsApp alternative, and like WhatsApp, Signal offers video functionality. As with Apple’s FaceTime, Signal is protected by end-to-end encryption, powered by the open source Signal Protocol.
But as is often the case with highly secure apps such as Signal, it does lack some functionality. Unlike Zoom, Signal doesn’t support group chats, so it is really for use when you are having a one to one–perhaps with your therapist.
Skype and Microsoft Teams
Skype is a solid Zoom alternative mainly because it is nearly as functional. It’s very stable, supports large group chats, you don’t need an account to use it, and it’s easy to create your own meeting and control who’s allowed in. One caveat though: Although video calls are encrypted, Skype isn’t end-to-end encrypted, so for those super sensitive calls, you are better with an option such as Signal.
Microsoft Teams is the video meeting choice for businesses using Office 365. It “enforces team-wide and organization-wide two-factor authentication, single sign-on through Active Directory, and encryption of data in transit and at rest,” according to Microsoft.
Jitsi is a very cool and secure open source app that’s recently launched to the market. It offers multiple video chatting features, and people joining your chat don’t have to create an account.
All information that leaves your device is encrypted but again, it’s not end-to-end encrypted, and I have found the app can become a little jittery when multiple people join the chat. Still, it’s improving all the time, and is certainly something to try out if you are looking at an alternative to Zoom.
You’ve probably already heard of group chat app Houseparty, which hit the headlines during the coronavirus lockdown after rumours started circulating of a hack. Thankfully these rumours are unfounded: Houseparty was not hacked, but the firm thinks it’s a smear campaign and has offered $1 million to anyone who can prove this to be true.
Houseparty isn’t super secure, but it’s very functional for casual chats and you can lock it down. Forbes spoke to ESET security researcher Lukas Stefanko to see if there were any major cybersecurity concerns and he said there was nothing to be worried about. Just ensure you take advantage of the ability to lock rooms to stop uninvited guests from crashing your party.
What to do
No one of these video chat apps is perfect, but they can each be used for different purposes. Fancy a chat with multiple Apple-using friends or family? FaceTime is ideal. Got a big party situation on the go? It has to be Houseparty.
I’m hoping Jitsi becomes more stable as the service grows, because I like its ethos and it’s pretty secure. Signal is my absolute favourite, but until it supports group chat, I’ll stick to FaceTime.