Keeping your Zoom Call Secure

The security of your online class is important – not only would an instant of Zoombombing disrupt your class, but a security breach could easily overshadow your entire semester. This article explores some of the built-in security features of Zoom that it is important to be aware of to help keep your call secure.

Note: While this article is intended to be informative, security risks are evolving – so also consult your institution’s policies or guidelines. 

Understanding Layers of Security on Zoom

The primary security concern with Zoom has been ‘Zoombombing’, where uninvited individuals, likely with no connection to your institution, are able to gain access and disrupt a class. Such disruption can vary from individuals looking for a ‘laugh’ to those with more malicious intent. Since Zoom inherently involves microphone and webcam sharing, there are clear opportunities for disruption. 

There are three levels of security to reduce the likelihood of disruption to your class:

  • Preventing uninvited individuals from discovering the class: If outside individuals are unaware of the class, then this avoids the possibility of anyone trying to enter the class. 
  • Preventing access to the class using a waiting room or passcode: The next stage of preventing individuals from disrupting the class is to ensure that malicious individuals who are aware of the class are unable to gain entry.
  • Restricting the use of certain features: There may be certain circumstances where it is infeasible to restrict entry to the room: for relatively large open events, it may be necessary to publicize the call, and you may not know in advance all of the attendees. For these situations, the third option of restricting certain features of the call may help reduce the impact if someone undesirable gains entry. 

Preventing uninvited individuals from discovering the class

Perhaps the best way of avoiding security issues is to avoid publicly posting the link to the class on the open internet (including social media): if the link is publically posted, it is possible for malicious individuals to find the call through searching the internet.

Instead of posting the link to the call on publically accessible sites, consider:

  • Private posting: Posting the link on a site only accessible my course sites which require students to be logged in to be able to view the call. 
  • Emailing the link: Emailing out the link to only a defined list of individuals. 

In general, this is the simplest and arguably the best way of protecting a class – in general, if your call is intended only for a defined list of students, then there is no advantage of making the call details more widely know, and doing so includes inherent risks.

The risk that the link ‘leaks out’ is one reason that you may consider individual meeting-specific links, rather than re-using the same meeting link across multiple repeated sessions (especially if you have different individuals in different meetings). If you are re-using a link, it is harder to maintain it secure. if you are using a new one each time (and especially if you are not sharing them far in advance), an old link becoming know at least won’t disrupt future meetings. 

Preventing access to the class using a waiting room or passcode

When setting up the Zoom call, meeting security allows you to specify that students must either enter a passcode to join the call or be let in via the waiting room. These options are designed to help reduce Zoombombing, where uninvited individuals join the call. While each helps lockdown the call, they do have limitations that it is useful to be aware of:

  • Passcode: The passcode will be a random digit that the students need to enter which makes the entry process a little less smooth.
  • Waiting Room: Users must be manually accepted before joining. Although this is smoother and avoids a leak of the passcode, the disadvantage associated is that particularly for large classes (and at the start of the semester) it is difficult to verify whether they are actually students before admitting.
Again, neither of these approaches are magic solutions – a passcode can be shared with uninvited users, and it is difficult to verify identities with a waiting room. There have for example been cases of individuals posing as others in an attempt to gain entry despite ‘waiting room’ verifications. While not perfect solutions, using a passcode or a waiting room can go a long way to preventing uninvited access. 

Restricting the use of certain features

The final way of reducing the likelihood of security issues within the call is to restrict the ability of users to undertake certain features. This is in someway a last-resort, and may not be applicable given that you may need students to be using some of these features, however, can be an appropriate approach in cases where it is not feasible to lock-down the call.

From the security menu at the bottom of Zoom, it is possible to:

  • Limiting the ability of users to share their screen
  • Limit the use of chat
  • Prevent participants from renaming themselves
  • Limiting the ability of users to use their microphone
Restricting Features in Zoom

Limits with locking down the call

While restricting certain elements of calls can be useful to prevent security incidents, there are limitations to this approach, and there are still opportunities for undesirable individuals to disrupt classes. Specifically, as indicated below, both webcams and usernames are a potential way someone could post offensive material. 

It should be noted that further restrictions, such as not displaying guest webcams can be enabled with Zoom Webinar license, which is primarily intended for large events where it is not possible to vet individuals in advance (and sharing webcams may not be desired). These events tend to have limited audience participation. Since these licenses are far more expensive, they are not the norm within the education setting (although universities may have licenses for large events, for example for when more attendees are expected than the standard Zoom license allows). 

Limitation 1: Webcams can't be disabled

Perhaps because webcam sharing is an integral part of Zoom meetingsit does not currently enable you to disable users from sharing their webcam. It is important to be aware of, and serves as a warning not to rely on these security features to lock down your call, since it does leave open the possibility of an uninvited individual from being able to share undesirable material via their webcam feed.

Limitation 2: Usernames can't be disabled

This is another potential source of disruption (e.g., offensive names) – and again, because display names are an integral feature of Zoom, it is not possible to turn them off. (As outlined above, it however possible to restrict the ability of participants to change their names, helping to ensure that once you have admitted someone, they are not able to adjust their display name). 

Summary

Security on Zoom has been a recurrent issue and is potentially an inherent risk of using a videoconferencing platform, particularly with a large number of participants. However, it is possible to add layers of security which at least reduce the risk of participants being able to access or disrupt the call. By following some simple steps it is possible to reduce the likelihood of disruptions to your calls.  

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