10 top tips to help you use Zoom safely

Zoom logo on a building

Zoom's privacy and security issues have been in the headlines for a number of weeks now, causing concern for lots of users. But many people have no option but to use the software after it has been selected by the company they work for.

If you find that you have to use Zoom, there are steps you can take to ensure your experience is as safe as possible. Security firm Kaspersky has offered up a series of tips to boost your security and privacy on the platform.

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Zoom has already taken some steps to address concerns that have been raised in recent weeks, and the company says that it will continue to make improvements to the video conferencing software. But even when this happens, there is a lot you can do to lock things down.

Here are Kaspersky's top tips:

  1. Protect your account

A Zoom account is just another account, and in setting yours up, you should apply the basics of account protection. Use a strong and unique password, and protect your account with two-factor authentication, as this makes your account harder to hack and means it is better protected, even if your account data leaks (although so far that hasn’t happened).

There's at least one more Zoom-specific catch: After you register, in addition to your login and password you get a Personal Meeting ID (PMI) - avoid making it public. As Zoom offers an option to create public meetings with your Personal Meeting ID, it's quite easy for that ID to be leaked. If you do, anyone who knows your PMI can join any meeting you host, so look to share this information prudently.

  1. Use your work e-mail to register with Zoom

A weird glitch in Zoom (which at the time of this writing wasn't yet fixed) causes the service to consider e-mails of the same domain -- unless it's a really common domain such as @gmail.com or @yahoo.com -- as belonging to one company, and it then shares their contact details with each member of that group. For example, users who registered Zoom accounts using e-mails ending with @yandex.kz, which is a public e-mail service in Kazakhstan experienced this. It may happen again with e-mail addresses belonging to smaller public e-mail providers.

So, to register with Zoom, use your work e-mail. Sharing your work contact details with your real colleagues should not be a problem. If you don't have a work e-mail, use a burner account with a well-known public domain to keep your personal contact details private.

  1. Don't fall for fake Zoom apps

As Kaspersky security researcher Denis Parinov discovered in March, the number of malicious files incorporating the names of popular video conference services (Webex, GoToMeeting, Zoom, and others) in their filenames had roughly tripled in comparison with the numbers he found month by month over the previous year. That most likely means malefactors are ramping up their abuse based on the popularity of Zoom and other apps of its kind, trying to disguise malware as videoconference clients.

Don't fall for it! Use Zoom's official website -- zoom.us -- to download Zoom safely for Mac and PC, and go to the App Store or Google Play for your mobile devices.

  1. Don't use social media to share conference links

Sometimes you want to host public events, and in many places online events are the only option available these days, which means Zoom is attracting more and more people. Even if your event is truly open to everyone, you should avoid sharing the link on social media.

If you knew anything about Zoom before reading this post, you've probably heard about so-called Zoombombing. It's a term Techcrunch journalist Josh Constine coined to describe trolls disrupting Zoom meetings with offensive content. Right now, several chats on Discord and threads on 4Chan (both popular with trolls) are discussing targets for their next raids.

Where do the trolls get information about upcoming events? That's right, they find them on social media. So, avoid publicly posting links to Zoom meetings. If for some reason you still want to, make sure you don't enable the Use Personal Meeting ID option.

  1. Protect every meeting with a password

Setting up a password for your meeting remains the best means of ensuring that only the people you want in your meeting can attend it. Recently Zoom turned password protection on by default -- a good move. That said, don't confuse the meeting password with your Zoom account password. And like meeting links, meeting passwords should never appear on social media or other public channels, or your efforts to protect your call from trolls will be in vain.

  1. Enable Waiting Room

Another setting that gives you more control over the meeting, Waiting Room -- recently enabled by default -- makes participants wait in a "waiting room" until the host approves each one. That gives you the ability to control who joins your meeting, even if someone who wasn't supposed to participate somehow got the password for it. It also lets you kick an unwanted person out of the meeting -- and into the waiting room. We recommend leaving this box ticked.

  1. Pay attention to screen-sharing features

Every normal videoconference app offers screen-sharing -- the ability of one participant to show their screen to the others -- and Zoom is no exception. Some settings that are worth keeping an eye on:

  • Limiting screen-sharing ability to the host or extending it to everyone on the call. If you don't need other people to show their screens, you know which option to choose
  • Letting multiple participants share screens simultaneously. If you can't immediately see why your meetings would need this capability, you'll probably never need it; just keep it in mind in case you ever need to enable it.
  1. Stick with the Web client if possible

The various Zoom client apps have demonstrated a variety of flaws. Some versions let hackers access the device's camera and microphone; others let websites add users to calls without their consent. Zoom was quick to fix the aforementioned problems, as well as other, similar ones, and it stopped sharing user data with Facebook and LinkedIn. However, given the absence of a proper security assessment, Zoom apps are likely to remain vulnerable, and they may still employ shady practices such as data sharing with third parties.

For this reason, we recommend using Zoom's Web interface instead of installing the app on your device, if possible. The Web version sits in a sandbox in the browser and doesn't have the permissions an installed app has, limiting the amount of harm it can potentially cause.

In some cases, however, even if you want to use the Web interface, you may find that Zoom has gone ahead and downloaded the installer, and there's just no other option to connect to the meeting but to install the client. In that case, you can at least limit the number of devices on which Zoom is installed to just one. Let it be your secondary smartphone or, say, a spare laptop. Choose a device with next to no personal information. We know that sounds somewhat paranoid, but it's better to be safe than sorry.

If your company already uses Skype for Business (previously known as Lync), then you have another option. Skype for Business is compatible with Zoom and can handle Zoom conference calls just as well -- without the aforementioned flaws.

  1. Don't believe in Zoom's advertised end-to-end encryption

Zoom gained its market share not only for its prices and feature set, but also because it touted the product's end-to-end encryption. With end-to-end encryption, all communications between you and the people you're calling are encrypted in a way that only you and the people on the call can decrypt them. All other parties, including the service providers, cannot.

Sounds cool, but it's next to impossible, as security researchers have pointed out. Zoom had to acknowledge that in its case, the other end means the Zoom server -- meaning the video is encrypted, but Zoom employees, and potentially law enforcement agencies, have access. The text in chats, though, seems to be really encrypted end-to-end. The encryption fudging is not necessarily a reason to abandon Zoom for good -- other popular video conference services lack end-to-end encryption as well. But you should keep it in mind and avoid discussing personal or trade secrets on Zoom.

  1. Think about what people can see or hear

This one applies to every videoconferencing service, not just Zoom. Before you jump on the call, take a moment to consider what people will see or hear when you join the call. Even if you're home alone, they may expect you to be fully dressed. Basic grooming is probably a good idea.

The same holds true for your screen if you plan on sharing it. Close any windows you'd rather others not see, whether it's a surprise gift you’re buying online for another person on the Zoom call or a job search your boss doesn't need to know about. We'll leave other examples to your imagination.

Image credit: Michael Vi / Shutterstock

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