In-person meetings have been put on hold for the better part of 2020 due to the prevailing coronavirus pandemic. The world has also witnessed an upsurge in the number of people working from home. These trends have led to many organizations adopting video calls and conferencing for easier collaboration.
Although videoconferencing isn’t a new trend, many people are using it for the first time in the COVID-19 era. And because everyone knows how ruthless cybercriminals can be, this question is among the hottest internet searches in the world right now:
How safe are online video calls and conference calls?
The US government, through The National Security Agency, classifies videoconferencing and remote working as some of the biggest cyber vulnerabilities. The agency fears that users of videoconferencing apps don’t really have control over their data; that most users are unable or unaware of their ability to securely delete data from the service and/or its repositories. Another fear is that some apps share data with third parties and/or affiliates while others keep user data on their end even after users delete it.
However, most online collaboration tools use end-to-end encryption to block out spies and eavesdroppers, multi-factor authentication to lock down user accounts effectively and securely, and open-source code for easier scrutiny and improvement. Going by those factors, it’d be safe to argue that online video calls and conference calls are reasonably safe. However, it is important to take the following precautions in order to stay safe from hackers:
Avoid unauthentic apps
Only download video conferencing apps from Android’s Play Store or iOS official App Store. While at it, check how many users have downloaded an app, how they rate the app, and read as many user reviews as possible before downloading it. There is a reviews’ section below every app on the App and Play store. You can also read reviews on social media and other online review websites, including review articles. That will help you identify unauthentic apps.
Note that even if an app is authentic, it is wise to restrict it from accessing other apps. Turn off all programs that give downloaded apps permission to send you unsolicited ads and that allow third-party information sharing. Turn off any settings that allow video conferencing apps to record you or access your phonebook. Use passwords on your photo galleries, emails, and text messages to ensure that no third party can access them through your app.
Keep your software or application updated
Newer app versions are always more secure because developers factor in the vulnerabilities of the previous versions and reviews from users and peers when designing new versions. That is the same case with video conferencing companies: The patches and fixes they make improve on their service’s functionality and security. Remember to only accept updates from authentic service’s websites or a platform’s official app store.
Guard your privacy
Protect your privacy during a video conference by ensuring that your background doesn’t reveal too much of your home or your family. Remove any photos or valuables from your home office or move them to a corner that the camera doesn’t capture. Also, remember to mute background noises or request your family members not to converse loudly in order to eliminate the risk of people on the other end eavesdropping on family-related sensitive conversations. And because your video conference may be recorded, with or without your knowledge or consent, be careful with the private information you agree to share during the conference. You cannot trust the service’s privacy policies to guarantee the safety of your information. At least not fully!
You can also protect your privacy by encrypting your data using NordVPN. This is a trusted virtual private network service provider that can safeguard your desktop apps, regardless of the OS you use (Windows, macOS, or Linux). This VPN can also keep data spies away from your mobile apps, both for Android and iOS smartphones.
Other key safety tips:
Be careful with how you “share screen”. Ensure that there are no sensitive financial or personal information on the screen before allowing the share screen feature.
If you are the host, keep your meetings in a closed loop by leveraging waiting room features in video conferencing software. Let participants enter a virtual waiting room instead of joining the conference room directly so that you can weed out any suspicious characters before commencing the meeting. That gives you control of the attendance list so that you only admit legitimate attendees.
Lock meetings once all the participants have joined. If a legit attendee has to leave before the meeting is over, only admit them back in through the virtual waiting room.
Don’t advertise meetings on social media because that can attract the attention of data thieves. Only share the invitation link with potential attendees through their personal emails or from within the conferencing software. Remember to request them not to share the links with third parties.
Be careful with the invitation links you click. If you don’t know the sender, don’t accept their invitation because they could be hackers mimicking video conferencing invitations.
In the same breath, be careful with the public Wi-Fi networks you connect to. It is almost impossible to block out hackers from public Wi-Fi.
Use password protection for each meeting. Use any unique ID numbers or security features that allow you to limit access to your video conference.
Hackers and cybercriminals are opportunistic IT experts who will do anything to steal your data. They aren’t heavily built men wearing masks in a basement or abandoned warehouse. So, you cannot keep them out using force. You can only defeat them by limiting their chances of infiltrating your system and limiting the amount of data they can steal in case they infiltrate the system.