Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Virtual Meeting Software

Download the Software | Etiquette | Configuring Hardware
About Webex | About Zoom | Security Considerations

Meetings Have Moved Online

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses routinely had staff meetings, attended conferences and entertained large groups of people.

Meeting online rather than in conference rooms

The COVID-19 Pandemic has Changed Everything

Suddenly the need for physical distancing has changed the rules.

  • Working in office environments is now difficult or impossible.
  • People with health issues or with COVID-19 symptoms need to self-isolate.

Technology Provides Solution

Even if you don't have to be isolated, you're sure to know someone that does.

Most people have cellphones, tablets or computers so they have the technology to “virtually” keep in touch with their friends, family and co-workers. Choose one of these online meeting solutions. You can also keep in touch by phone.

Remote Learning

School has changed for many children. Some may be going back to school, but others are choosing to stay home.

Security Concerns for Children

Children are using remote learning (usually on Zoom), creating new security concerns.

The home-schooling effort is undertaken to keep students safe from corona; with it, however, comes various threats to the online safety of children as well as wider cybersecurity issues.

 

One apparent security risk specific to elementary school kids is their limited ability to recognize suspicious material, especially true for the youngest students. — ZoneAlarm

I recommend reviewing security basics with them as well as creating a written security policy to help prepare them for these challenges.

Part of that discussion needs to be a conversation about what privacy means to them. Online is a very different world than the classroom.

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Virtual Meeting Software

All of these meeting options are free or have free accounts available:

Considerations

Be aware of the limitations of the software. Some free accounts have limitations on the number of participants and/or length of the meeting.

  • Zoom limits free accounts to 40 minutes.
  • Webex limits free accounts to 50 minutes.

Business User?

If you're going to be working with colleagues or on business matters on a regular basis I strongly recommend you choose a paid plan that works for you in your situation that takes security and privacy seriously.

Check the Settings

You should consider the security and privacy of whichever solution you choose. You NEED to pay attention to settings.

Video call apps have the potential to connect us when we need it most. But there's an influx of new users, and they may not be familiar with apps' optional privacy and security features. For this reason, we urge companies to make privacy and security features the default option. — Ashley Boyd, Mozilla's VP of Advocacy and Engagement

Privacy breaches or revelations of confidential information could damage the reputation of yourself or your organization.

Consumer Reports questioned Google, Microsoft and Cisco about the data collection outlined in their privacy policies and sent recommendations on how the firms can improve. No company refuted the findings, but Cisco said "privacy is a basic human right, and we never rent or sell our customers' information." — Forbes

Reviews

Reviews can help you choose the right solution for your situation. You can use more than one (e.g. one for business and one for social).

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Business Meeting Etiquette

If you're using the meeting software for business, don't forget that you're in a business environment and act accordingly.

We've picked up some weird habits while participating in online meetings. “Zoom fatigue” is how some describe this phenomenon.

Be Considerate

Make the best use of your online time together.

  • Distribute an agenda and documents via email before your meeting.
  • Schedule a Q&A at the end of the meeting.
  • Email a post-meeting summary to save time.

Be Professional

Because you're at home, you may forget that you're in a meeting environment.

  • Centre yourself on video and make sure you're paying attention.
  • Use chat to avoid disrupting the speaker.
  • “Raise your hand” if you want to speak.
  • Avoid going to other apps unless it is necessary for the meeting.
  • Mute your microphone except when speaking to avoid background noise.

Remember, it is harder for a speaker to judge whether they are reaching their audience when they can't seem them in real time or if video is turned off. This is important in most online meetings, but doubly so when it is an online class.

Avoid Distractions

You'll want to control your environment as best you can.

  • Notify those that you live with that you'll be in a meeting and unavailable. Close the door, if possible.
  • Turn off your phone and cellphone to avoid interruptions. Remove other devices if they may interrupt your meeting with notifications.
  • Check the background for anything distracting, personal or inappropriate.
  • A virtual background avoids this, but can cause distracting and jittery video.

Identify Yourself

Take care to ensure your ID is clear to the meeting host and participants. Showing up as "user" could leave you stranded in the “waiting room.”

Create an account with the software vendor. In most cases this is free and provides you wish a credible ID (especially if you use your work-related email address for meetings with colleagues).

Test Your Equipment

Ensure your hardware is working and that you can both hear and be heard.

  • Configure your hardware before the meeting.
  • Most software vendors provide a way to test your computer or device.
  • Be sure that your video is running and that people can see you.
  • Mute your microphone when unnecessary to avoid background noise.

These articles can help you to prepare for your meeting:

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Configuring Your Hardware

Before you join a meeting, I strongly recommend testing your software and ensure that the sound and video are working correctly.

Prepare Your Environment

With everyone working from home, including the kids, there is a lot of competition for your WiFi bandwidth. Prepare your environment and take precautions to avoid being disturbed before your meeting, especially if you've experienced issues in previous meetings.

  • Test your system's speed before the meeting.
  • If possible, use a hard-wired connection rather than WiFi.
  • Ensure unnecessary devices are turned off (or on “airplane” mode).
  • Netflix is a heavy bandwidth hog. Discourage use when meeting online.

Headset Strongly Recommended

Having a headset or earphones with a microphone greatly decreases the chance that either feedback or background noise will interfere with your meetings.

Perhaps now is the time to consider those noise-cancelling headphones you've been dreaming about?

Join the Test Meeting

Vendors provide test meetings or hardware testing:

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Webex

Webex is strongly recommended for better security and reliability. Unlike Zoom, media coverage is sparse but positive.

During the Crisis, Webex has seen 240,000 online signups in a single 24-hour period, whereas, before the crisis, it was running 300 million users in a single month. Webex has handled 4.2 million meetings in a single day and over 14 billion meeting minutes in March, both of which are more than double what they were before the crisis. — Forbes

50-minute Limit for Free Accounts

Webex's free client provides for a maximum meeting duration of 50 minutes.

Webex Security and Privacy

Because Webex was built for business, it came with good security and privacy.

Webex is secure by default, and doesn't make it the user's responsibility to opt-out of sharing their data, or change meeting settings in order to be protected. This is a part of Cisco's belief that it should never trade convenience for security. — Forbes

Meetings Can Be Recorded

Be aware that meetings can be recorded and that transcripts of the meeting and your chats can be made available to your boss. Don't upload meeting recordings to any publicly-accessible location.

I recommend that you make sure the following settings are in place:

  • Only the host should be able to record the meeting to control privacy.
  • Limit the time after a meeting starts for people to join the meeting.
  • Use a unique password for each meeting (or meeting series).
  • Don't forward meeting details. Only the host should be in control of who is capable joining the meeting.

Webex Support & Setup

The following are Webex support resources:

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Zoom

Zoom is the most likely client to be in use for anything from the classroom to virtual parties.

40-minute Limit for Free Accounts

Zoom's free client provides for a maximum meeting duration of 40 minutes if there are three or more participants. Two-person meetings don't have this limitation nor do the paid versions.

Zoom Security and Privacy

Zoom garnered a lot of attention from hackers and others about serious security issues which caused major agencies to ban Zoom.

In general, Zoom's problems fall into three broad buckets: (1) bad privacy practices, (2) bad security practices, and (3) bad user configurations. — Bruce Schneier

Improved Security for Everyone

Zoom responded positively by working hard to correct the deficiencies. Significant security and privacy improvements led New York's attorney general to approve Zoom again.

Zoom's approach to data routing has also changed. Now your video call will not be routed by mistake to a Chinese or other foreign server. Free conferences will stay in the domestic region, and paid subscribers…can choose which countries their information goes through. — Kaspersky

Initially these security upgrades only benefited those with paid accounts. Now Zoom is promising to provide these upgrades to free accounts.

Zoom cited the lack of verification for not providing the upgrade to free accounts to protect malicious users and the change means that free account users will have to verify their identity with more than an email address.

Zoom free account users will have to turn on this security feature when it appears.

Meetings Can Be Recorded

Be aware that meetings can be recorded and that transcripts of the meeting and your chats can be made available to others.

  • Get permission from attendees to record the meeting, even if it is only for ensuring accurate transcripts.
  • Where permission is automatic (work environments), you may have no say in whether management has access.
  • Don't upload meeting recordings to any publicly-accessible location.

This is not unique to Zoom, but the manner in which Zoom recordings were named and stored was predictable.

Privacy

Zoom has had more than its share of privacy issues.

You can improve your privacy by paying attention to settings and taking care with your meeting recordings.

Security

A number of Zoom security holes have been revealed as its popularity increased and the Zoom web client may not provide good security.

Encryption

It seems that Zoom exaggerated the encryption protection available for its services. However, version 5 includes badly-needed security upgrades.

Zoom 5.0… bring[s] 256-bit encryption and new features for helping hosts stay in control of their meetings and their data. — Tech Republic

Zoom Installers

Zoom installers are available for Windows, Mac, Linux, Android, iOS and Chrome OS.

The Zoom Web Client

Zoom offers a web client that avoids the issue with having to download and install software, but there are limitations on controlling how participants are identified and not all browsers support it equally.

The Zoom web client allows joining a Zoom meeting or webinar without downloading any plugins or software. However, the web client has limited features and functions best on Google Chrome. — Zoom Support

If you're concerned about the security of your meeting, you shouldn't allow attendance using the Zoom web client.

"Open" Parties

Some folks want to have events that where others can invite participants. These are public events and you should be more careful in how you set these up to avoid security problems during your event and in the future.

Zoom is particularly popular and there have been a disturbing number of “Zoom bombings” where uninvited people come into a meeting with malicious intent.

So, a couple of reminders on using Zoom to host public events:
  • When you share your meeting link on social media or other public forums, that makes your event … extremely public. ANYONE with the link can join your meeting.
  • Avoid using your Personal Meeting ID (PMI) to host public events. Your PMI is basically one continuous meeting and you don't want randos crashing your personal virtual space after the party's over. Learn about meeting IDs and how to generate a random meeting ID (at the 0:27 mark) in this video tutorial.
  • Familiarize yourself with Zoom's settings and features so you understand how to protect your virtual space when you need to. For example, the Waiting Room is an unbelievably helpful feature for hosts to control who comes and goes.
  • Zoom Blog

Zoom Support & Setup

The following are Zoom support resources:

Get the most out of your Zoom meetings:

 

Security Considerations

Are video conference platforms safe to use for your organization? The basic answer to the question is “yes”, however, there are several caveats centered around security. — ZoneAlarm Blog

Conferencing Software

Always download and install the latest version of meeting software. Check for updates regularly.

I recommend you check each time you run the software (most can be checked via the app).

Not only do you get the latest features, but current software is more secure and can fix issues.

Once downloaded, updates usually need to be installed.

Keep Your System Updated

Keeping your computer or device updated protects your computer, network and privacy.

Only run a current version of any software. Replace it when unsupported.

When software is patched, security vulnerabilities are revealed and can be exploited on unpatched software.

Operating System

You need to be running a currently-supported operating system — Windows, macOS, Linux or mobile.

When your operating system is no longer supported, you need to evaluate your options to obtain support.

Security Software

You should be running effective security software on your device.

While there are often free versions, you have to consider how the developer is paying to develop and market that software. Are they capturing and selling private data? Is the software providing the protection it claims?

If you are hit with ransomeware not only will your data be locked but you'll have to deal with criminals to get it back if your backups are inadequate.

VPNs

The privacy and security of a meeting is enhanced if everyone is using a VPN. However, a VPN can limit the bandwidth available for a meeting so test your speed prior to the meeting.

Meeting Hosts

You want to set up your meeting in the most secure manner and ensure that only those you invite are entering the room:

  • Edit the invite link so that the password isn't included.
  • Never share meeting IDs or passwords in a public setting like Twitter or Facebook. Email is most secure.
  • Disable automatic recording of meetings (if you do, change the filename).
  • Use the Waiting Room feature to screen who can enter the room.

Encourage meeting participants to enhance security:

  • Meeting participants should register the meeting software for better security.
  • Only the meeting host should send invitations.
  • Don't share links in the meeting.

Sharing links can open security flaws in meeting software and reveal network credentials.

Meeting Invitees

When receiving an invite, be aware that meeting apps are often targeted by spammers.

Improve Security

What meeting invitees can do to improve security:

  • Only download the software from the vendor's site.
  • Update software when it updates are available.
  • Do not share the meeting ID or password with anyone.

Learning More

More about security and privacy issues:

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.


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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/online-meetings.html
Updated: October 25, 2020