“Zoom usage more than doubles in the first quarter.”
“BlueJeans app sees 354% growth rate in New York.”
“Social distancing could change our relationship with FaceTime.”
If there was any doubt that video conferencing software is having its moment as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, these headlines should put that to rest. Since early March, when the World Health Organization declared that the novel coronavirus had spread to pandemic levels, the use of video conferencing software around the world has exploded. And in the months since, it’s become one of the most important tools for businesses, schools and even families to use in order to connect people in disparate locations.
But are video conferencing apps secure? In this article, we’ll fill you in on everything you need to know about which video conferencing tools are the best for your purposes, and how to protect your sensitive data from hackers and malware.
What Is Video Conferencing Software?
Wondering how video conferencing works? Video conferencing software allows people in two or more different locations to conduct face-to-face meetings through the use of video technology rather than just audio. Much more than simply sharing computer screens, the ability to see and interact with people in real-time greatly enhances a meeting and encourages collaboration among participants.
Like most technology, most secure video conferencing tools work mainly behind the scenes. There, software and internet communication tools work together to convert audio input from analog to digital. This allows the data to then be packetized, or compressed, to allow it to move much faster over the internet. This is what allows for clear, real-time communication between people in different locations. When choosing the best video conferencing software for your team, be sure to take note of the compression ratio. This ratio is indicative of how clear your video will be. Higher compression ratios will allow your team to experience more of a real-time video experience, while lower ratios may cause delays and glitches in both audio and video.
Now, as social distancing has become the norm and travel has been drastically reduced, businesses of all sizes are relying heavily on video conferences to bring together teams that may have traveled regularly in the past in order to conduct meetings. This is a huge cost-savings measure that will likely stick around long after COVID-19 is no longer circulating at pandemic levels.
Video Conferencing Security Risks
Nothing good comes without some drawbacks. And despite the huge advantages video conferencing software brings to schools and workplaces, there are several security risks that users must be aware of. It’s important to have strict security protocols in place prior to using these video conferencing tools in order to avoid unwanted visitors.
Fairfax County Public Schools, a large school district in Northern Virginia, experienced security vulnerabilities when it rolled out its distance learning platform this past spring. According to an article in the Washington Post, “there was… harassment and trolling. In some cases, users who logged in to classes found their virtual classrooms had anonymous profanity, racism, and inappropriate photos. The environment horrified parents and students. In one German class, anonymous users who used ‘guest links’ to join the class identified themselves as ‘I LOVE ADOLF HITLER’ and ‘OVEN SURVIVOR #2,’”
Below are some other common occurrences when it comes to the question of can video conferencing be hacked.
- Video meeting links are stolen - when you’re conducting meetings all day long, it can be tempting to reuse the same meeting link over and over. But this can lead to security vulnerabilities, like having the link stolen by someone who shouldn’t have access to your information.
- A third party gains access to data - If you’ll be sharing your video conferencing tools with vendors or other third parties, it’s important to have agreements in place to ensure everyone is following the same security protocols. This is easily overlooked, but it’s one of the best ways to keep your video conferencing safe.
- Meeting bombing - This type of attack is possible when you fail to require a password to log in to your meeting, or have an easy-to-guess meeting ID. This is likely the type of attack experienced by the public school system mentioned earlier.
- Malicious links - another danger that can occur when unauthorized users gain access to your meeting is the posting of malicious links. Because your attendees are likely to trust any information that’s posted in a “private” meeting, they’re more likely to click on a malicious link, which can give a hacker access to sensitive data.
- Spyware - avoid becoming a victim of spyware by keeping your video conferencing software at the latest version and only sharing meeting links on private channels.
What Is End-to-end Encryption?
So what’s the solution to these security risks? The answer lies in end-to-end encryption. “The end-to-end encryption feature is helpful to secure your private data from hackers and other companies that facilitate your communication,” says Shiv Gupta, CEO of Incrementors Web Solutions. According to Wikipedia, “End-to-end encryption (E2EE) is a system of communication where only the communicating users can read the messages.” It works by using a technology called Transport Layer Security to make messages unreadable by anyone except the sender and the recipient. This includes any and all third-parties or intermediaries, like the telecom and Internet providers, as well as the communication service provider.
Without end-to-end encryption, these providers are often able to access and read messages, often by design, in order to allow internal data analytics teams to search the data, and to scan for illegal content. But in cases where data is super sensitive and it’s critical that it not be accessed by anyone but the sender and receiver, end-to-end encryption is an effective way to protect it. If this describes your data, you’ll want to consider nothing less than end-to-end encrypted video conferencing.
- What information of yours is being collected?
- How is your information being used?
- Is your data being shared? And, with whom?
- How much access and control do you have over your data?
The Best Video Conferencing Tools Compared - Which Ones Are Secure?
Looking for a secure video conferencing tool? We’re here to help. Below, we’ve broken down the top 10 video conferencing apps and softwares in order for you to make an informed choice before you introduce it to your team. You’ll find details about the coolest new features, pros and cons of each tool, and we’ll even let you know if there have been any recent security breaches to be aware of.
Arguably the most popular video conferencing software since the beginning of the pandemic thanks to its easy-to-use platform that allows large groups to meet in real-time, Zoom has lots of features that make it an attractive choice if you’re looking for the best video conferencing software. Zoom’s free offering is robust, allowing up to 100 people to meet for up to 40 minutes. Enhanced administration tools are incorporated into Zoom’s mid-level offering at $14.99 monthly, but most larger enterprises may require functionality at the highest level, which is just shy of $20 per month.
Having heard recent news stories about Zoombombing, users may wonder, how secure is Zoom video conferencing? Not to worry - most Zoombombing is less the result of malicious hackers and more a result of loosely shared meeting links. To avoid the issue, the How To Geek site advises to turn off the “Embed Password in Meeting Link for One-Click Join” feature.
- Stand-out features: Easy-to-use platform with up to 100 attendees
- Pros: Users can join from anywhere using a common meeting link
- Cons: Platform has some security limitations
- Pricing plans: Robust free tier/$14.99 enhanced features/$19.99 enterprise plan
- History of security breaches: Many reports of Zoombombing during last Spring’s pivot to online learning as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
- Current security features: TLS encryption, security patches have been applied in response to instances of Zoombombing.
FaceTime is another video messaging app that’s become incredibly popular as a result of the pandemic. But is it an effective video conferencing tool for teams? Possibly not, despite its ease of use and excellent video quality.
- Stand-out features: Crystal-clear video quality, built into all Apple devices
- Pros: Simple, recognizable interface, fully integrated so your contacts already exist
- Cons: Only supports 1:1 meetings
- Pricing plans: No plans. FaceTime can be downloaded from the Apple store for $.99
- History of security breaches: A high-profile story from 2019 reports that a 14-year-old discovered a security vulnerability in FaceTime’s group chat feature, which has since been disabled.
- Current security features: End-to-end encryption
This upgraded version of Google Hangouts hopes to compete with heavy-hitting video conferencing tools like Zoom and Teams. Upgrades include the ability to meet with up to 100 people with real-time video clarity.
Google Meet Breakdown:
- Stand-out features: Fully integrated with G-Suite products for an easily recognizable interface and interoperability
- Pros: Competitive pricing, no software to download, simple to use
- Cons: Must have a Gmail account in order to use
- Pricing plans: $6 basic/$12 business/$25 enterprise
- History of security breaches: None to date
- Current security features: Data is encrypted in transit, meeting recordings are encrypted upon storage
One of the first video conferencing tools, Skype allows groups of up to 50 people to meet. Screen sharing allows team members to share data in real-time, regardless of location. Send chat invites to anyone, even people who don't use Skype, by using a unique link through which they can connect with you.
- Stand-out features: Skype allows you to send invites to anyone, even if they don’t use Skype
- Pros: Can support groups of up to 50 people
- Cons: Users report issues with video freezing and overall poor video quality
- Pricing plans: Free for video conferencing, $2.99 monthly to call cell phones or landlines using Skype
- History of security breaches: “In February 2016, researchers at Palo Alto Networks revealed that a piece of malware called T9000 was specifically targeting Skype users. Once installed the software can record Skype video and audio calls, and upload them along with text chats to a server (comparitech.com).”
- Current security features: End-to-end encryption on private conversations
A favorite among teens and millennials, WhatsApp is a mobile-only video conferencing app with solid performance. Packed with great features, WhatsApp has positioned itself as one of the best video conferencing apps to use for fun rather than conducting business. Security on the platform is good, with some recent security fixes making that even more the case. WhatsApp was one of the first video conferencing tools to incorporate end-to-end encryption to its platform.
- Stand-out features: Multitasking feature allows you to do other things without disruption to your video
- Pros: Adjusts video quality based on internet speed
- Cons: Some users complain the interface isn’t the most straightforward
- Pricing plans: Free basic plan, up to 20 participants and a 45-minute call limit/$14.99 per month business plan, up to 100 participants with unlimited duration/$13.33 per month enterprise plan requires a minimum of 100 hosts
- History of security breaches: A 2019 vulnerability was discovered that allowed hackers to use WhatsApp to implant malicious codes on a phone
- Current security features: end-to-end encryption on all conversations
Integration is the name of the game with newcomer Starleaf. It’s a video conferencing app that works across a multitude of devices and providers and integrates seamlessly with major apps like G-Suite, Slack and Teams.
- Stand-out features: Boasts one of the best uptime guarantees in the industry
- Pros: Seamless integration with your company’s existing tools
- Cons: Uses data from your phone’s data plan
- Pricing plans: Free
- History of security breaches: None
- Current security features: End-to-end encryption on all conversations and ISO/IEC 27001 certification
With Microsoft Teams, the advantages are clear: companies already using the MS Office suite of products will enjoy full integration with Microsoft 365, including a recognizable user interface along with a familiar look and feel. Capable of adeptly handling meetings and town halls with up to 10,000 participants, Teams makes a great choice for enterprise customers. And advanced features like background blur gives this video conferencing tool a professional feel.
- Stand-out features: fully integrated with the 365 suite of products for easy interoperability
- Pros: Lots of advanced features like background blur, chat, screen sharing and recording.
- Cons: not customizable
- Pricing plans: Teams Plan: Free/Business Essentials $5/Business Premium $12.50/Enterprise plan $20
- History of security breaches: a recent discovery proved Teams to be vulnerable to hackers through the use of a simple GIF
- Current security features: Microsoft’s security documentation states, “Teams enforces team-wide and organization-wide two-factor authentication, single sign-on through Active Directory, and encryption of data in transit and at rest.
A Verizon offering, BlueJeans is a solid video conferencing tool if you’re interested in going outside the big three: Zoom, Slack and Teams. With enhanced audio and video features like Dolby voice support, it’s reliable and high performing, despite an otherwise pared-down platform. BlueJeans is one of the only video conferencing tools to provide analytics.
- Stand-out features: Offers analytics
- Pros: Superior, reliable video performance
- Cons: Not as feature-rich as competitors
- Pricing plans: 30 day free trial/Standard tier is $9.99 per month for up to 50 attendees/Pro plan $13.99 per month
- History of security breaches: None
- Current security features: Security safeguards include encryption, the ability to share only a selected file rather than one’s entire screen, and the ability to remove a participant from a meeting.
GoToMeeting is perhaps the only big box video conferencing app that’s fully mobile-friendly. It allows users to start or set up a call from any smartphone, Android or iOS, regardless of location. Users can invite anyone to a meeting, and there’s no software to download in order to join.
- Stand-out features: Offers excellent mobile performance
- Pros: Easy to use with superb graphics
- Cons: No free plan
- Pricing plans: Basic plan is $14 per month, and offers up to 150 attendees
- History of security breaches: None
- Current security features: According to their blog, “All tiers of GoToMeeting include privacy and security features such as Transport Layer Security (TLS) encryption in transit, AES-256 bit encryption at rest of cloud recordings, transcriptions, and meeting notes, SOC2 Type II + BSI C5 certification, TRUSTe Verified Privacy, Risk Based Authentication and are GDPR, CCPA, and HIPAA readiness.”
HIPAA Compliant Video Conferencing Softwares
Prior to COVID-19, telemedicine was emerging as a valuable new technology that, despite its obvious value, had not yet caught on in the mainstream. Six months into a global pandemic, it’s become the lifeblood of the medical world. An article on the Beckers Hospital Review website states that telemedicine enjoyed an 80% year over year growth as a result of COVID, and mentions in addition that as many as 76% of hospitals across the country are currently connecting with patients remotely in some fashion.
With these statistics, it’s undeniable that there’s a huge need for HIPAA compliant video conferencing tools. With video conferencing tools that are HIPAA compliant, doctors can be sure they’re providing their patients with the same level of privacy they would enjoy in a face-to-face appointment.
How HIPAA Works
HIPAA, which stands for The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act was developed in 1996, and soon after became part of the Social Security Act. In short, HIPAA works to protect a patient’s private health care records, which often contain personal information that shouldn’t be accessed by anyone outside of a patient’s medical team.
In the years since its introduction, HIPAA compliance has prompted hospitals and medical offices across the country to modernize their medical recordkeeping, which most often means moving everything to a digital platform. Now that several decades have passed, most of the kinks have been worked out when it comes to digitization of medical information. Now, with the advent of telemedicine, a new challenge comes to the forefront: how to keep this information private and secure when it’s being shared over a video conference between a medical professional and a patient.
The Best HIPAA Compliant Video Conferencing Software
Three video conferencing platforms stand out as the best video conferencing HIPAA compliant tools: Zoom, GoToMeeting and TheraLink. We’ve already introduced two, but now we’ll discuss each from a HIPAA standpoint, and examine the key features that can lend patients peace of mind when it comes to telemedicine.
Zoom for Healthcare
Patients need to know that Zoom for Healthcare is fully compliant with both HIPAA and PIPEDA (Personal Information Protection and Electronic Documents Act) regulations. What makes this video conferencing tool a standout is its ability to integrate with modern medical devices, like digital stethoscopes and cameras. Zoom for Healthcare also allows providers to access and share the patient’s electronic health record securely.
Despite these features, Zoom for Healthcare isn’t as robust when it comes to administrative tasks like scheduling appointments and billing.
Another HIPAA compliant video conferencing tool is GoToMeeting. In addition to HIPAA compliance, GoToMeeting also offers BAA compliance (Business Associate Agreement), which according to SpruceHealth, requires that “every covered entity must have a written agreement with each of its business associates, or else it is not compliant with HIPAA regulations.”
Unlike Zoom and other HIPAA compliant video conferencing tools, all GoToMeeting service levels are in line with HIPAA compliance rather than just one. (For instance, Zoom’s free offering is not HIPAA compliant.) This allows for more flexibility in how the tool is used: staff training and medical conferences can take place on GoToMeeting without concern over security ramifications.
- Chat capability
- Note-taking within the app
- Up to 150 attendees, depending on service level
- No time limits
- Screen sharing
One of the best video conferencing tools HIPAA compliant for mental health and therapy use, TheraLink is fully compliant for patient privacy. With the ability to include more than just person-to-person service, TheraLink is an excellent option for group therapy sessions that have to be held remotely. Compatible with both Windows and Mac computers, along with an app option for iOS and Android devices, it’s easy for patients to access in many different ways.
TheraLink is more than just a video conferencing tool: practitioners can manage their day-to-day tasks like billing, scheduling and payments, as well as the ability to take notes on their findings during sessions.
6 Video Conferencing Security And Privacy Tips
Regardless of whether you’re using a video conferencing tool to teach a virtual classroom full of first graders, or to deliver critical healthcare information to an ailing patient, it’s got to be secure. While much of the responsibility for that security falls on the company that makes the video conferencing software, you as a user can share in this responsibility to ensure the greatest amount of security possible. This is the best way to protect everyone’s private data. Below, we’ve listed 10 tips to make your video conferencing tools more secure.
- Require a meeting password - choose a randomized one that’s not easy to guess, and do the difficult work of changing it every time
- Enable host controls
- Waiting room - create a waiting room so no one is able to access your meeting before you’re present
- Screen sharing - screen sharing controls do just that: keep you in control, rather than an unauthorized visitor
- Communicate if you are recording - this way, everyone in attendance can be on the same page with privacy protocols
- Lock your meetings - keep unwanted guests out
- Don’t share meeting links on public forums - this can lead to annoying attacks like Zoombombing, or more destructive, malicious attacks
- Download the latest version of video conferencing software - companies are constantly fixing and updating security issues through patches, but you’ll need to be running the latest version to reap the benefit
- Kick out unwanted participants - be ready to kick out an unwanted guest at any time (before they cause any harm)
- Disable cookies - disable your browser cookies prior to the call and afterward in order to limit the amount of information a video conferencing software can grab of yours
- Set up security software on your computer - it's always smart to be protected on your end
In conclusion, video conferencing security is more important than ever before, now that it’s one of the main portals of person-to-person communication. But in order to avoid having sensitive data stolen or giving uninvited snoopers a glimpse into your personal life, it’s essential to educate yourself when it comes to video conferencing apps. With just a bit of research, you’ll be able to choose the best video conferencing tool for your needs.