NASA, SpaceX ban use of Zoom video-conferencing, raise privacy questions

Zoom is the backbone of many work-from-home operations right now, but just how safe is it?

Since the COVID-19 epidemic put a stop to public gatherings, Zoom video-conferencing has been quickly gaining popularity amongst businesses and educational institutions (schools and colleges) alike. Offering an intuitive and easily-accustomed-to platform for conference calls and classes, with most features available for free, Zoom began to be preferred over established competitors like Skype, Microsoft Teams and Google Duo. However, a sudden rise in popularity prompted higher-ups like Zoom CEO Eric Yuan to take decisions focussed on scaling faster, rather than ensuring privacy.


An example of this is when they decided to route data through China and use developers there, which prompted Taiwan to ban the platform in its territory. Beijing claims Taiwan to be under its jurisdiction, while the island nation considers itself sovereign and independent of China. Thus, any official data being routed through China poses a major risk to Taiwan. The company said it had mistakenly sent traffic through Chinese data centres as it was dealing with a ‘massive increase’ in demand. It said it has stopped using that capacity as a backup for non-Chinese clients. But these measures are being considered too little too late.

Another major risk is posed by uninvited intruders joining and interrupting zoom calls/classes.  Styled ‘Zoombombing’, this is very hard to get around, with even password-locked calls being insecure, as intruders can simply click on links and enter calls. In one case, officials at Berkeley high school in California said they suspended use of the app after a “naked adult male using racial slurs” intruded on what the school said was a password-protected meeting on Zoom, according to Reuters.


Alternatives such as Microsoft Teams and Google Duo are being adopted, with an ever-increasing amount of govt. agencies, including the German Foreign Ministry and the United States Senate, have restricted the use of Zoom on some level. To address security concerns, Zoom has launched a 90-day plan to bolster privacy and security issues and has also tapped former Facebook security chief Alex Stamos as an adviser. Only time will tell whether these measures will make a difference.

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