Zoom video conferencing platform to add strong encryption for calls for its paid customers. The move was discussed on a call with the civil liberties groups and child-sex abuse fighters on Thursday, 28th May 2020. Alex Stamos, Zoom security consultant, confirmed the news on Friday, 29th May 2020. For now, video conferencing with strong encryption is only for paid users. Zoom appointed Alex Stamos and other experts after a series of security failures at Zoom’s end led some organizations to ban its use.
Zoom video calls and security concerns
The number of people using Zoom has skyrocketed amid the pandemic. CEO Eric S. Yuan reveals that back in December 2019, the company had approximately 10 million daily users. By March 2020, Zoom had more than 200 million daily meeting participants . By May, an average of 300 million people per day started attending Zoom video call meetings. This includes both free and paid users.
With so many people turning to Zoom in a matter of weeks at once, a lot of times without registering, privacy and security concerns were uncovered. One of the big concerns was ‘Zoombombing’, where uninvited guests invaded random meetings and disrupted it with pornographic videos or other shock content.
The CEO, in a blog post, acknowledged and apologized for the lack of proper security measures taken. To address these concerns, Zoom implemented a 90-day feature freeze. Through this, the company promised to address the privacy concerns over the next 90 days. Keeping their promise, the video conferencing platform released Zoom 5.0 to address some of the security concerns. Zoom 5.0 has improved encryption, is password protected and has a new security icon to control the Zoom video meetings.
Why just for paid Zoom users?
A researcher with the Electronic Frontier Foundation, Gennie Gebhart, was on the Thursday’s call and addressed that she was hoping Zoom would offer protected video more widely, potentially to the free users as well. Other safety and security experts also warned that criminals and sexual predators have started using encrypted communications increasingly to avoid getting detected.
Jon Callas, a technology fellow of the American Civil Liberties Union, said that the strategy seemed a reasonable compromise. Callas said that those who are doing secure communication believe that they need to do things about the really horrible stuff. He added that charging money for end-to-end encryption is a way to eliminate the “riff-raff”.
Though stronger encryption is only for paying customers, Stamos said in an interview that the plan was subject to change. He added that it is not yet clear if any nonprofits, political dissidents, or other users might qualify to get access to more secure video meetings accounts. The company also says that its encryption is still a work in progress and that modifications are made continuously to improve every Zoom video call users experience.
 Yuan, E (2020) “A Message to Our Users” Zoom Video Communications [Online] available from: https://blog.zoom.us/wordpress/2020/04/01/a-message-to-our-users/ [acessed April 2020]
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