Zoom's Popularity Explodes, But Security Shortcomings Emerge

Security vulnerabilities of the Zoom video conferencing platform used by millions of people worldwide has sparked concern in both the public and private sectors. The company says it takes its users' privacy, trust and security very seriously and is working to ensure that users can stay operational and connected amid the coronavirus pandemic.  


Photo: Reuters

Until the coronavirus started racing around the world, Zoom video conferencing software was mainly used in workplaces. But usage of the platform has surged with people across the globe homebound and attending school or working remotely.

Recently, concerns have emerged over data protection issues and the widespread phenomenon of "Zoom bombing," or hijacking of video teleconferencing to harass participants.

The company is being scrutinized by the New York Attorney General's office, among others.

According to the New York Times, the office sent a letter to the company in which it called the software "an essential and valuable communications platform" but expressed worry about the software's privacy and security settings, including the possibility of malicious third parties gaining access to webcams.

"While Zoom has remediated specific reported security vulnerabilities, we would like to understand whether Zoom has undertaken a broader review of its security practices," the letter said, according to the report.

The company issued a statement saying it would provide the attorney general with the requested information, adding "Zoom takes its users' privacy, security, and trust extremely seriously. During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working around-the-clock to ensure that hospitals, universities, schools, and other businesses across the world can stay connected and operational."

The free service collects user data including names, phone numbers, job titles, and both e-mail and physical addresses.

Zoom's popularity has also exploded in the UK, where British Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a photo of himself using the app.

"In the current unprecedented circumstances, the need for effective channels of communication is vital," the country's Cabinet Office said in a statement. "National Cyber Security Centre guidance shows there is no security reason for Zoom not to be used for conversations below a certain classification."

The British Ministry of Defense said the platform is not being used for high-security meetings.

Meanwhile, admitting that Zoom has fallen short of the online community’s security and privacy expectations, the company's CEO said the company has stopped deploying new features and is focusing on proactively addressing and fixing the various issues.

"We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home. We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived," Eric Yuan said in a blog post.

According to the CEO, Zoom has enacted a feature freeze and shifted all of its engineering resources to focus on its biggest trust, safety, and privacy issues. He said the company is "conducting a comprehensive review with third-party experts and representative users to understand and ensure the security of all of our new consumer use cases."