Is it still safe to use? Tech Support

Welcome to Tech Support, a segment where I, Dan Howley, serve as your intrepid guide through the sometimes confusing, often frustrating, world of personal technology. 

Here, I answer all of your most pressing questions about the various gizmos, gadgets, and devices you use in your everyday life.

Have a question of your own? Reach me on Twitter at @danielhowley, or email me at [email protected].

Now, on to your questions.

This week’s dilemma:

“Is it still safe to use Zoom?”

Zoom (ZM) has quickly become a key way for friends and family separated by coronavirus lockdowns to stay in touch and, at least virtually, see each other. But the video chat app has been under heavy scrutiny as of late due to a series of serious security lapses.

Is it still safe to use Zoom? The short answer is yes: You just have to ensure your chats are password protected, you’ve got the virtual lobby enabled, and you don’t share your chat data information publicly.

The biggest problem — unwanted users crashing people’s Zoom chats — spawned the term Zoombombing. There are concerns about video chats being saved on the open web, as well as a hacker tool that can find unprotected chats online. Zoom’s decision to put ease-of-use ahead of security has also been criticized.

In this photo taken of a computer screen Wednesday, April 15, 2020, shows the Michigan Supreme Court who broke new ground by hearing two cases via Zoom video conferencing. Justice David Viviano was the only judge in his regular seat in court. At one point more than 180 people were watching live on YouTube. Justice Richard Bernstein, perhaps the most loquacious member, had questions for the lawyers as time was winding down. “Even on Zoom he finds a way” to run out the clock, Chief Justice Bridget McCormack joked. (AP Photo/Ed White)

Oh, but there’s more. The company was also criticized for not enabling password protection or a virtual lobby feature that lets hosts screen people before entering their chats by default. Then there was its Facebook connection that shared your data with the social network. A LinkedIn data mining issue also came to light that let chat members view the LinkedIn accounts of fellow attendees.

Security researchers have also uncovered myriad security flaws including the fact that some calls were being routed through China, which means the Chinese government could view call records if it wanted. A slew of user accounts were also found on the dark web.

Zoom is now facing three proposed class action lawsuits, and Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) is calling for the FTC to investigate the company. What’s more, it lost major users like SpaceX, the New York City Department of Education, and others.

So should you stop using Zoom?

This might shock you, but you can still use Zoom safely and easily without much worry. There are certainly a few steps you’ll want to take before jumping into your next chat, though.

Here’s what you should check out when you launch your next session.

Zoom gives you the option to launch video chats via instant chats or using your personal meeting identification, or PMI. The PMI is basically a chat room you can access at all times.

You can use your PMI for chats that you regularly come back to, and instant meetings for those random times you want to quickly get in touch with people.

Either way, you should ensure that your chat is password protected, and that you have enabled the virtual lobby feature. Those should be turned on by default now — Zoom made the change after its security practices came under scrutiny — but it can’t hurt to check.

To do that, launch a meeting, and look for the small “i” in the top left corner of the screen. Click it, and you should see your meeting password and ID.

You can enable the virtual waiting room feature by clicking on “Security” at the bottom of the screen, and making you see a check mark next to “Enable Waiting Room.” This will let you see who’s trying to access your chat, and either allow them to enter, or kick them out before they can interact with the chat itself.

You can ensure that you have your waiting room enabled via the Security tab at the bottom of the screen. (Image: Howley)

If you see everyone you expect to join your meeting, you can even go ahead and lock the room so no one else can join. To do that, click the “Security” tab, then “Lock Meeting,” so that a check mark appears next to the option.

You can also check your Zoom settings by visiting the company’s website and accessing your profile. From here, you can adjust settings for everything from requiring passwords for both PMI and instant meeting chats; disabling the ability for users to join your chats before you, the host, are in the room; and limiting who can share their screen in chats.

If you’re still nervous about using Zoom, you certainly have a number of other options, like Apple FaceTime and Facebook’s WhatsApp — both of which offer end-to-end video chat encryption.

More from Dan:

Got a tip? Email Daniel Howley at [email protected] or [email protected], and follow him on Twitter at @DanielHowley.

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