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‘Zoombombing,’ coronavirus and security leaks-should you be worried?

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‘Zoombombing,’ coronavirus and security leaks-should you be worried?

Samah Akhtar
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The coronavirus pandemic has not only changed the way we socialise but also the way we work. At the forefront of the change is Silicon Valley based video conferencing app Zoom. 

Zoom launched in 2013 and has steadily become the preferred video conferencing app for businesses, overtaking the likes of Skype and Google Hangouts. The app was doing well for itself, but its popularity surged once coronavirus made millions scramble to work efficiently from the safety of their homes. Zoom was downloaded 2.13 million times around the world, last week on 23rd March, the day UK announced its lockdown.

While many business struggle to cope with the economic fallout of the pandemic and lay off employees using Zoom (ironically) the app’s shares have gone up in value. Zoom Video Communication’s share price climbed from under $70 in January to $150 past Monday. The doubling of Zoom’s stock value has not gone unnoticed by investors which is currently valued at $42 billion. That number is eight time the market cap of International Consolidated Airlines Group, owner of British Airways.

Zoom’s founder and chief executive Eric Yuan who owns 20% of the company’s shares has seen a $4 billion growth in his net worth, bringing it up to $7.9 billion.

But the app seems to be experiencing more than a few hiccups 

Zoom’s calls aren’t exactly end-to-end encrypted, a form of internet communication that guarantees the most privacy, but according to Zoom’s own privacy terms, it can access unencrypted video and audio from meetings. A previous privacy policy also gave the company permission to mine messages and files shared during meetings for the purpose of ad targeting, according to The Intercept.

Instead of end-to-end encryption, Zoom offers transport encryption. This means that while your information will stay private from anyone spying on your Wi-Fi, it will not necessarily stay private from Zoom itself. The company also does not publish its transparency report, unlike Google and Facebook, to let users know how the company is protecting their data.

Zoom’s statement on the above mentioned concerns can be read here

Enter ‘Zoombombing’

‘Zoombombing’ is when public Zoom meetings are joined by trolls who broadcast Nazi imagery and porn videos to the rest of the members in the room. The only way to solve this is to shut down the Public Zoom events that have been infected with ‘Zoombombing’. Another way to solve the issue is by selecting to password protect meetings and limiting the screen sharing settings to the meeting host, but this will of course hamper effective communication. 

On Monday, New York Attorney General Letitia James sent Zoom a letter, stating her office was “concerned” about Zoom’s security practises during a time when its users are increasing exponentially. The New York Attorney General’s office also wanted to know what data the app collects about its users and why, and how it was following legal requirements to get consent from minor users, according to Vox.

Leaked email adresses 

In a report by Vice, it was brought to notice that the video conferencing app leaked the personal information of at least a thousand users, including their photos and email addresses, which gave strangers the ability to start a Zoom call with them.

This particular issue lies with the “Company Directory” settings in Zoom, which automatically allows people to join each others contact lists if they have signed up with an email address that shares the same domain name. 

“If you subscribe to Zoom with a non-standard provider (I mean, not Gmail or Hotmail or Yahoo etc), then you get insight to ALL subscribed users of that provider: their full names, their mail addresses, their profile picture (if they have any) and their status. And you can video call them,” shared a Zoom user with Vice’s Motherboard, which first alerted them to the problem.

There is more, Zoom recently updated its IOS app version after Motherboard discovered it was sending analytics data to Facebook.

So, should you be worried?

The main problem with Zoom is its lack of transparency, which is making users uneasy, considering the app still remains the goto option for many who are working from home-and will continue to work from home for the foreseeable future. The app’s sketchy privacy settings are also leaving public rooms vulnerable to hackers and trolls, password protected rooms are a better option. Due to its ever increasing popularity, Zoom will probably come under fire again as users discover more flaws and loopholes. 

But for now, UK’s prime minister Boris Johnson considers it safe enough to host a cabinet meeting (password protected of course).

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