With millions of workers and students at home, we’re more reliant on digital tools than ever. And when those tools go down, it spells bad news.
Zoom, the go-to video conferencing app, went down across the U.S. Monday morning — leaving people unable to join meetings, webinars and classes. By late morning, Zoom had restored service for most users, but this is still a great time to consider an alternative in case something like this happens again.
We compare the top video meeting options to help you find a backup, plus helpful security settings to keep you protected.
Zoom: Zoombombing, begone!
First, let’s dive into Zoom and the security settings you need to enable if you use it.
All you need to use the app is a webcam and microphone, and Zoom’s software will take care of the rest — no additional downloads necessary. Sign up, generate a meeting code and share it with your participants.
That code is what gets people in trouble. Zoombombing, a new cybercrime phenomenon, is when someone finds a meeting code and enters the call to cause some chaos.
A school district in Southern California made the mistake of publishing a Zoom link on a public site. Within minutes, participants were bombarded with racist imagery and hardcore pornography by trolls who joined the call. Tap or click to see how the district reacted.
Add that to a list of other issues. Zoom was caught sharing user data with Facebook, exposing Windows credentials and relying on iffy encryption.
The service is starting to look less attractive for institutions with sensitive data. The Department of Education even went as far as to ban the app for K-12 participants and faculty.
To keep your Zoom meetings safe:
- Consider your meeting links private and only share them with people who will attend.
- Instruct participants specifically not to share the links with anyone else.
- Avoid posting the link on unsecured channels like social media.
- Even though your links are private, the lack of encryption and data sharing means you should treat anything you post like it’s public. Don’t share personally identifying information or photos during meetings or with other participants.
Then, change these settings:
Click Settings on the left-hand side of the Zoom’s site and scroll down to Screen sharing. Switch the toggle to the left to disable the feature, which will block participants from sharing content on their screens. The toggle will go from blue to gray when it’s disabled.
While in Settings, scroll down to the section labeled File transfer. Switch the toggle to the left on “Hosts and participants can send files through the in-meeting chat.” The toggle will go from blue to gray when it’s disabled.
Zoom now automatically enables “waiting rooms” by default. This means you have to approve anyone before they can come into your meeting.
If for some reason you’re not seeing waiting rooms when you fire up a meeting, open the Settings tab and clicking on the In Meeting (Advanced) option. Toggle on Waiting Room.
To address concerns moving forward, Zoom has put a 90-day freeze on feature updates so workers can focus on improving security and privacy.
And this week, the company brought in a consultant to help — Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook. Take from that what you will.
Facebook enters the video conference ring
Back in April, Facebook officially announced its foray into the world of video conferencing with an update to its long-running Messenger app. The new feature, dubbed “Messenger Rooms,” allows users to expand their conversation threads into a live video call, and includes a host of other fun features to lure Zoom users away from the rival platform.
Messenger Rooms allows users to participate in calls with up to 50 other people in private “rooms.” These rooms can be securely locked by the meeting host, who opens the call and starts up the chat. Calls in messenger have no time limit, and hosts are able to boot and add new members at their leisure.
All users will also have access to fun AR features like the kind found on its sister platform Instagram. They include filters, virtual backgrounds and “masks,” which Facebook says can change the way your face looks. Tap or click here for all the details on Messenger Rooms.
Now, Facebook doesn’t just want to be the video conference app of choice for home users, it also wants to take over the market for companies. It’s making a big push for workers around the world to use its Workplace Rooms.
Workplace is a communication tool that connects everyone in your company, even when working remotely. You can use features like Groups, Chat, Rooms and Live video broadcasting to get people chatting and working together.
Facebook said, “Workplace Rooms makes it easier than ever to connect with your coworkers or even people outside your company.” If you do decide to use Facebook, you know it’s had a long history of breaching users’ privacy.
That’s why you’re going to want to strengthen your Facebook settings. Tap or click here for 10 Facebook privacy and security settings to change right now.
Make Skype safer
Skype’s free conferencing calling software, Meet Now, hasn’t been plagued by the same privacy issues as Zoom. It has much stronger end-to-end encryption, but trolls can still get into your meeting if they find the link, though.
Tap or click here to see how you can get other Microsoft work-from-home software for free.
Sharing invites safely
Stick to sharing meeting links within the app itself. When you’re in a call, navigate to the upper left corner where it shows the number of people present and click it.
Click on Share a link for others to join and send an invite to the participants you want to join.
If they are already Skype users, you can send them a direct invite within the app. If not, send it via email. Just make sure to have participants delete the email once they’ve received the link.
Hide your account
If you create an account, you can keep using a call link indefinitely, so you won’t have to share a new code for your recurring weekly meetings. Click here to create your account.
Your account is, by default, publically visible. To hide yourself from the Skype directory:
- From Chats, select your profile picture.
- Select Settings, then select Contacts.
- Select Privacy.
- Toggle Appear in search results off. You can toggle the option back on at any time.
Delete your data
Skype automatically archives and saves files you send. Voice messages, call recordings and generic files will stick around for 30 days. Images, videos, chat threads and messages have to be deleted manually.
Hover over the three-dot icon next to any message or file. Click it and choose Remove to delete it.
GoToMeeting is another secure alternative
GoToMeeting chats are encrypted by default, and you can use it without enabling cookies on your browser. That means no sharing your data with yet another service.
GoToMeeting has some nifty security features, too. Here’s how to use them.
Lock your meetings
Once all your participants have joined, open the Control Panel and click the People Menu. Switch the Meeting is Locked toggle on at the bottom. That’s it.
This will force any new attendees into a waiting room. Only the meeting organizer can let them in.
Organizers can also lock any chat with a password so only invitees can securely join. To enable a password, start up a new meeting and click on the Password tab. Check the “Require a meeting password” box and click Save.
When you send your invitation, you can make the password visible to recipients or leave it blank.
Keep your Google Meet sessions private
Google Meet, previously Hangouts Meet, comes standard for G Suite users. It also features end-to-end encryption and uses longer, more complex meeting codes that are far more difficult for hackers to brute-force.
Just like the other options, trolls can spoil your calls if they’re not properly secured.
RELATED: Need work from home software? Tap or click here to see if G Suite beats Office 365.
Set up intruder warnings
Meet will warn you when a user outside your business or organization’s domain joins in. Here’s how to enable it. You can do this yourself if you have admin access, or talk to the person in your company who does.
- Sign in to the G-Suite Admin Console.
- Click Apps and select G Suite, followed by Google Hangouts.
- Then, choose Chat Settings.
- In this menu, click the checkbox next to “Warn users when having a Hangout outside [your domain].”
This setting automatically warns everyone in the chat if an intruder joins. If this happens, tell everyone involved to sign out immediately, then create a new call.
New calls generate a new link code visible only to those you invite.
Secure your account
Your Meet experience is only as secure as your Google account. Protect it with a strong password. Use a unique combination of characters and numbers that won’t be easy to crack. Tap or click here to see how you can make stronger passwords.
Set up two-factor authentication, too. Visit this page and sign in. Tap Get Started and sign in again if prompted. Then, add your country from the dropdown menu and enter your phone number in the field that appears.
Choose whether you want a verification text message or phone call. Tap Next to send the authentication to your phone. Enter the code you receive and tap Next.
Once Google has verified your code, tap Turn On to enable the service on your account.
Now that you know how to keep the trolls out, you can host video calls and collaborate without fear. With these settings enabled, you’ll be able to formally show them the door before they have a chance to ruin your conferences.
Video calls aren’t the only thing that puts you at risk. Tap or click to see 5 more things you can do to protect yourself from cyberattacks.