The Safety.com Guide to Zoom Security Issues | Safety.com

The Safety.com Guide to Zoom Security Issues

The COVID-19 pandemic and social distancing are forcing us to be online more than ever, so we need to consider taking precautions to protect our virtual privacy and security. Zoom, a video communications tool founded by Eric Yuan, has become one of the most widely used, and most controversial, video conferencing platforms for remote learning and work-from-home collaborating. Zoom has become so popular largely because it is easy to install and use across a range of devices, and it also offers playful backgrounds and filters that can bring some whimsy into the often sterile format of online communication. Some consumers have expressed concerns regarding the security of using Zoom for virtual gatherings, so we have developed a guide to help you stay safe. 

Being aware of the potential security issues on Zoom will help you plan your usage accordingly. Since your security needs may vary based on how you use Zoom, we’ve developed some best-practices based on whether you are a parent, a teacher, or a student. If you have a family computer or device that will be used for multiple purposes, make sure to share this advice with other users in your household. 


Adults and/or Parents

Like any application, Zoom brings the potential for viruses and hacking. Possibly because it is free and so easy to use, Zoom may have more viruses and hackers, frequently called “zoom bombers” than other applications. Whether you are using Zoom for work conferencing or for your child’s distance education, we think you may want to protect yourself from these internet dangers.

We talked to Application Developer, Sam Juozapaitis, about what parents and general users should know about Zoom. When asked about staying safe while video conferencing, he said to keep your computers up to date and try not to turn off those annoying auto-updates, but instead set them to happen outside working hours, like on Wednesday at 1am. Software updates are important to keeping your devices secure, and the same goes for your virus protection. Juozapaitis said that whether you use a built in program like Windows Defender, or a paid program like McAfee, you need to keep them turned on and let them do their job.

Juozapaitis also cautioned that “if online learning and working from home continues, the accounts you have to make for websites, apps, and tools will surely increase.  Don’t use the same password for every account, or for any account.” 

He went on to say that if a two-factor authentication is allowed, you should turn it on, even if it’s inconvenient, as it not only means “you provide a username password combination, but you have to also provide another form of authentication, such as a code that is sent through text message or email,” Juozapaitis advised. Keeping track of passwords might be a hassle, but there are plenty of free apps in your play store or app store that can help you manage them. 

These best-practice tips will certainly keep you safer as a user, but certain security issues, such as the criticized lack of end-to-end encryption, are out of your hands. Luckily, Zoom developers are actively working to address the issue of Zoom-bombing. After the huge increase in Zoom use, and the resulting spike in security problems, Zoom instituted a 90 day period of problem solving early in the year, and they continue to work on privacy and security. 


Teachers 

When you are planning to instruct diverse students with differing needs in an online format, the last thing you want to worry about is your privacy and security. Most of your online instruction will require video conferencing with large groups and screen-sharing, so it’s important to take a couple of precautions to avoid over-sharing private information with your students. 

Using Zoom for large class meetings can feel overwhelming when you are worried about making sure all of your students are connected, but if you skip security steps to make it easier for your students to join a meeting, then you could open yourself up to more Zoom-bombers. 

Firstly, you should always require a password for joining your class session. You should share this password in your virtual classroom format, like Canvas or Google Classroom, and consider changing it from time to time. Secondly, use Zoom’s waiting room feature for prospective meeting participants, and only allow students to join the group call if you recognize their first and last names. Students may want to use funny names or nic-names, but you must be firm on this security measure. Initially, this Zoom learning curve may be high for your students, but once they understand the routines, they will be able to video conference easily. 

While teaching on Zoom, you will likely need to share your screen with students to deliver instructional details. Juozapaitis told us that accidents can easily happen while screen-sharing and he advised that “you shouldn’t have anything going on in the background or anything on a separate monitor that you wouldn’t want shared to the other meeting participants.”  Even if you never intend to share a particular tab, perhaps one with personal information or gradebook details, you never know when you might get flustered and accidentally miss-click.  


Students

Online learning poses plenty of challenges, but safety should not be one of them. Remote learning will likely be practiced for every level of school from kindergarten through college, but there are a few best-practice security steps that will benefit students at any age.

To join a Zoom class, you will need to make your own personal account. You should never share your account or passwords with anyone, and since Zoom accounts are free, there is no reason that you should share. Once you have an account, you should only enter meeting codes or join meetings that come directly from your teacher or someone that you know and trust. Your environment also needs to be secure, so don’t login to unsecured networks. Ask your parents if your home network is secured with a password, or use an ethernet cable. Lastly, if your teacher allows it, you may like playing around with Zoom backgrounds. Not only are they fun, but they also provide you a bit of privacy and help keep your classmates out of your room while you are trying to learn. 


Too long, didn’t read?

Video conferencing poses some security risks, but there are steps you can take to stay safe. We’re going to be Zooming together for a while, so go ahead and use that funny background, but keep yourself safe with passwords, virus protection, and good internet sense.


Contributing Writer

Mary Blowers

Mary Blowers is a freelance journalist who has covered home security, safety, and other topics for Safety.com and elsewhere.