Video conferencing apps – how safe are they? with Soraya Nair

Artech House Assistant Acquisitions Editor Soraya Nair presents a thoughtful and thorough analysis of the safety of video conferencing apps. She spoke with Artech House Series Editor, Rolf Oppliger, to get his take on the subject:

With so many people now working from home and relying on video conferencing apps to be able to carry on working and to also sociallise with friends and family, it brings up the question, how secure are these apps?

Since the quarantine has been put into effect, the app Zoom, has seen a major spike in downloads.

UK Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, has been seen using Zoom to hold cabinet meetings, which then raised questions about whether or not this was a secure thing to do.

Zoom, however, has defended their data and privacy rules and has openly shared any information needed to the necessary people, such as the Ministry of Defense.

Recently, there has also been speculation that the social networking service, Houseparty, has been hacked and is giving people access to its user’s private information. Houseparty is an app designed to enable group video chatting with the ability to play games. Houseparty has denied that any hacking has taken place and has now even offered a $1M reward for any proof of what they believe is a smear campaign against them.

I spoke to our Series Editor and Author, Rolf Oppliger about this:

SN: What are the biggest security flaws that are likely to come up with apps like Skype and Zoom?

RO: I don’t see a lot of problems in using video conferencing apps. The only things to consider is that no confidential information is leaked, given the fact that the background of a person can be seen on a video and people tend to be more open when they are interacting in a conference. But these are merely social concerns. From a technical perspective, most of these apps do not use end-to-end encryption, and this means that the service provider can potentially eavesdrop on the communication.

SN: What are some privacy concerns people could encounter?

RO: Again, information leakage seems to be the major concern.

SN: Are there any tips you would give companies like Skype, Zoom or Houseparty to increase the security?

RO: Put in place end-to-end encryption.

SN: What video conferencing apps would you/do you use?

RO: I’m using Skype for Business and Microsoft Teams, and I’m likely to use Zoom in the future (for teaching). I’m still looking for a conferencing tool that supports
end-to-end encryption. WhatsApp supports 4 participants, and Snapchat up to 16. Unfortunately, I don’t have any information about the internal working principles of these tools.

In summary, I think that end-to-end encryption is going to be the major selling point for future apps. Everything has happened so fast recently that most companies working in this area are not ready to deploy their products.

While we navigate building a new routine amid the coronavirus, it is important to remember to stay safe in the online world and avoid being susceptible to any cyber-attacks by following advice from experts like Rolf.

Other simple things you can do to keep your accounts safe is to keep your passwords different with each account and do not use any devices that aren’t your personal ones, if you can.

Rolf Oppliger is the founder and owner of eSECURITY Technologies and works for the Swiss Federal Strategy Unit for Information Technology (FSUIT). He is the author of several Artech House books. You can pre-order his new book, End-To-End Encrypted Messaging here: https://us.artechhouse.com/End-to-End-Encrypted-Messaging-P2079.aspx

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