Zoom is now a household name for work-from-home employees. Here is your guide to Zoom basics, including its security vulnerabilities and video conferencing alternatives such as Microsoft Teams.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, more people are working from home. With workforces scattered to the wind, many businesses have had to adapt to virtual meetings as the new normal, which has been a massive boon for the video chat and conferencing software Zoom.
In February 2020, Zoom added more users than it did in the entirety of 2019. Major media platforms started using Zoom to stream broadcasts from at-home anchors, and “Zooming” quickly became eponymous with video chats and virtual meetings.
SEE: How to use Zoom: 15 tips and tricks (free PDF) (TechRepublic)
Zoom’s explosive growth came with increased focus on security and privacy issues that went largely unnoticed before. Major companies and governments around the world have been banning Zoom from work use, and half a million sets of user credentials have even been found for sale on the Dark Web.
Zoom has pledged to fix a long list of security issues, but that hasn’t stopped a third of users from getting cold feet. So, is Zoom still a video conferencing app worth using? If so, who should use it when so much personal and business security could be at risk? Learn more by reading this Zoom basics guide.
What is Zoom?
Zoom is video conferencing software for Windows, macOS, iOS, Android, and Linux. It supports one-on-one calls, as well as group meetings that can hold up to 100 users for free or 500 users with an additional purchase.
Zoom, the company, was founded in 2011 by Eric Yuan, and the Zoom application was released in 2013. Zoom has been lauded for its simple interface, ease of use, and accessibility to non-tech savvy people, which has aided in its steady climb as a video conferencing app of choice for small businesses, enterprises, and individuals. By 2017, Zoom had grown into a unicorn company by reaching $1 billion in valuation.
Along with its desktop and mobile apps, Zoom offers solutions for enterprise conference rooms, browser extensions, and a web client that allows meeting participants to attend meetings without having to install the Zoom app.
Zoom has attracted many users by having a robust free tier, which allows meetings of up to 100 people without restricting any app features, instead limiting meetings for free accounts to 40 minutes.
Is Zoom safe to use?
With the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom saw a massive spike in users because of stay-at-home orders. By the end of March 2020, security issues started being reported.
TechRepublic sister site CNET has a total rundown of all the security flaws discovered in Zoom since March; here are some of the highlights.
March 26: An investigation finds that Zoom is sending user data to Facebook without permission. Zoom removed its Facebook data collection the following day.
March 30: Another investigation finds that Zoom is not using end-to-end encryption, Zoom bombs are first reported, and multiple flaws in both the windows and macOS versions of Zoom are reported.
April 1: Zoom is treating email addresses with the same domain (e.g., ISPs, but not email-only services like Gmail) as if they belong to the same company, allowing countless users access to names, photos, and email addresses of other users. Zoom issues a public apology and freezes all feature rollouts to focus on security fixes.
April 2: A data mining feature is discovered that allows some users to gain access to LinkedIn profiles of other Zoom users.
April 3: Recordings of thousands of Zoom meetings, many containing private information, are found freely viewable and unsecured on the web. Zoom issues another apology, and reveals it’s using AES-128 encryption instead of the much more secure AES-256.
April 5: Zoom admits in a statement that some calls were being accidentally routed through a whitelisted server located in China.
April 6: The first collection of Zoom accounts is found for sale on the dark web.
April 13: A further 500,000 Zoom accounts are found for sale on the dark web, with many costing as little as a few cents.
April 16: Two new privacy bugs are discovered: One allows an attacker to view and download Zoom meeting videos stored in the cloud via an unsecured link, and a second lets deleted meeting recordings be viewed in the cloud for hours after deletion.
Zoom has issued numerous apologies and pledged to improve its security.
SEE: All of TechRepublic’s cheat sheets and smart person’s guides
Some of the security issues, like Zoom bombing, can be addressed by users taking steps to protect their meetings, and Zoom has enabled by default many of the security features needed to do so. Other issues like poor encryption, lack of end-to-end encryption during meetings, and account theft can’t be stopped by good Zoom user habits.
What are alternatives to Zoom?
Zoom has a lot of competition, and its recent missteps have opened some very large windows for those competitors to step in and capture some of its market share. TechRepublic recently wrote about 10 Zoom alternatives, and some of those options have even added Zoom-like features recently to draw away security-conscious users.
Free video chat options similar to Zoom include:
Microsoft Teams, the Office 365-integrated video chat platform, has been extended for free to anyone with an email address, and Microsoft has lifted meeting user limits to help those affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Skype video calls can be attended by up to 50 people (half that of free Zoom accounts). For small business teams, this makes it an ideal option.
Google Hangouts is free for individual users. Google’s enterprise product, Meet, is reserved for G Suite customers, though those outside an organization can still attend, but not host, meetings.
Why should businesses choose Zoom?
The allure of Zoom isn’t only in its myriad features, but also in its incredible usability. Zoom is designed with non-tech people in mind: Its interface is simple, signing up is quick and hassle free, and it works well with minimal user input. Anyone looking for a video conference solution for teams with people who don’t like, or are unfamiliar with, modern tech will find Zoom a great solution.
Any business using Zoom or considering using it should keep an eye on tech news about security issues, and be sure to follow best security practices to protect your calls from unauthorized entry.
Is Zoom free?
Companies and individuals canat its website. Organizations considering a premium tier of Zoom can find out more about pricing on its plans page, from which subscriptions can also be purchased.
How do I use Zoom?
Check out the Zoom tips published on TechRepublic, which include: