Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Virtual Meeting Software

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

Meeting online rather than in conference rooms

Meetings Have Moved Online

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

Suddenly the rules changed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Meetings have moved online, using one or more video-conferencing services.

Other Online Events

Not only meetings, but education, conferences, social gatherings, church services and special events have all had to find solutions to the new restrictions.

This raises new security concerns, including challenges with online learning. “Zoom fatigue” has emerged as it was easier to include everyone rather than essential personnel in online meetings.

Download Virtual Meeting Software

Download software only from the vendor's site. Android and iOS versions will be linked there. Apps generally give a better experience than web-based versions.

These meeting options are free or have free accounts available:

Windows 10 now has a Meet Now button that enables meetings via Skype.

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 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.
Mozilla

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.

Identify Yourself

Take care to ensure your ID is clear to the meeting host and participants. Showing up as an anonymous “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).

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 if video is turned off. This is important in online meetings; doubly so when it is an online class.

Avoid Distractions

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

  • Let the people you live with know that you'll be in a meeting and unavailable.
  • Use another room and close the door, if possible.
  • Turn off your phone, cellphone and other devices to avoid interruptions.
  • Check the background for anything distracting, personal or inappropriate.
  • Hand-held smartphones can be distracting. Use a stand if possible.

Improve Your Meetings

These articles offer advice that can help your meetings succeed:

Learn from Others

Learn from others' mistakes.

Test Your Equipment

Configure your hardware before the meeting to ensure your hardware is working and that you can both hear and be heard.

  • 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 not speaking to avoid background noise. The space bar can be used to temporarily activate your mic.

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Configuring Your Hardware

I strongly recommend testing to ensure that sound and video are working correctly before each meeting.

Join the Test Meeting

Vendors provide test meetings or hardware testing:

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

If you're having difficulties, try these troubleshooting tips, beginning with restarting your computer or device.

Headset Strongly Recommended

Having a headset or earphones with a microphone greatly decreases the chance that neither 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?

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Webex

Webex is strongly recommended for better security and reliability. It integrates well with Office 365, Google Drive and more. Media coverage is sparse but positive.

50-minute Limit for Free Accounts

Webex's free client provides for one host, up to 100 participants with maximum meeting duration of 50 minutes.

Purchase a paid account if these limitations won't work for you or your business.

Webex Installers

Webex installers are available for Windows, macOS, Android and iOS.

Webex Support & Setup

Check the Webex support resources if you're having trouble:

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
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

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.

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Zoom

Zoom has been very popular since the pandemic began, but has also had more than its share of bad publicity and security issues.

40-minute Limit for Free Accounts

Zoom's free client provides for up to 100 participants with maximum meeting duration of 40 minutes (and unlimited one-on-one meetings).

Purchase a paid account if these limitations won't work for you.

Zoom Installers

Zoom installers work in Windows, Mac, Android and iOS.

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. You may find that not all the meeting controls are available to you.

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

The Zoom web client can impair your meeting's security and privacy.

Zoom Support & Setup

Check the Zoom support resources if you're having trouble:

Improving Your Zoom Experience

Make the most of your Zoom experience with these resources.

Zoom Virtual Backgrounds

A Zoom virtual background hide what's behind you but can be jittery and distracting unless you meet the system requirements.

To achieve the best virtual background effect, Zoom recommends using a solid color background, preferably green.

Learning More

There are lots of articles on how to make the best of your Zoom meetings.

Zoom Security and Privacy

Zoom garnered a lot of attention about serious security issues which caused major agencies to ban Zoom. Not all those issues are Zoom's fault:

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

Zoom free account users will have to turn on this security feature plus verify their identity with more than an email address.

 

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 (most can be checked from within the app). I recommend checking each time you run the software.

Current software not provides the latest features, but is more secure and can fix issues.

While some software will install automatically (usually updates run from within the app), if you have to save a downloaded file, that file then needs to be installed.

Downloading but not installing updates is like buying new batteries then leaving them in the drawer rather than replacing the dead batteries.

Keep Your System Updated

Update your computer or device to current versions. This protects your computer, network and privacy.

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

Operating System

You need to be running a currently-supported operating system, whether it is 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?

Ransomware

If you are hit with ransomware 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. Test your network speed prior to the meeting.

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Best Practices

This section deals with best practices to protect security and privacy of your meetings.

While much of the responsibility for security and privacy depends upon how the meeting host configures the meeting, attendees have a responsibility to ensure they tighten settings and avoid security or privacy breaches.

Protect Privacy

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

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. Most software now indicates when a meeting is being recorded.

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

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

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 invitation 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 (or change the filename and location).
  • 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.

Managing "Open" Parties

Some folks want to have events that where others can invite participants.

There have been a disturbing number of “Zoom bombings” where uninvited people come into a meeting with malicious intent. This has happened in classrooms where young children were exposed to pornography and other inappropriate content.

Public Meetings Have Risks

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.

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

Check the Settings

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.

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Virtual School

Lock downs and outbreaks have forced education online.

This move has both security and privacy implications.

Children

This has been particularly difficult for children and their parents. Online is a very different world than the classroom.

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

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

Parents should initiate a conversation about what privacy means and how their children can relate to such concerns.

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: June 11, 2021