Russ Harvey Consulting - Computer and Internet Services

Virtual Meeting Software

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

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.

Almost 40% of Canadian employees now work from home. Meetings have moved online, using video-conferencing services like Zoom.

Other Online Events

Businesses, schools, churches and other special events have all had to find online solutions, leading to new security concerns, challenges with online learning and “Zoom fatigue.”

Working from home has both freed us from the office commute and disrupted our personal lives.

Downloading Virtual Meeting Software

Apps generally give a better experience than web browser versions.

Download software only from the vendor's site. Android and iOS versions are available from their respective stores, but will be linked on vendor sites.

These solutions are free — accounts are optional:

A free account is required for these services:

As part of iOS 15, FaceTime is going head-to-head with Zoom and other video conference apps through SharePlay. With SharePlay, users get a link to share for a FaceTime call that they can share and use at any time for a group call. The link can be used on non-Apple devices.
Tech Republic

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.

When Mute is Not Really Muted

Engaging your conferencing software's mute button may still broadcast it to the software's servers with most meeting apps.

A new study shows that pressing the mute button on popular video conferencing apps (VCA) may not actually work like you think it should, with apps still listening in on your microphone.

 

More specifically, in the studied software, pressing mute does not prevent audio from being transmitted to the apps' servers, either continually or periodically.

 

They found that no matter the mute status, all apps occasionally collected audio data, except for web clients that used the browser's software mute feature.
BleepingComputer

You can physically unplug an external microphone or use your computer's audio settings to mute your microphone rather than depending upon the meeting software's mute button.

Cisco Webex was reported to have fixed this issue.

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

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 your reputation or your organization.

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.

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.
  • Test your mic and sound prior to the meeting.
  • 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.
  • Pressing the space bar unmutes you temporarily.
  • Hand-held devices can be distracting. Use a stand if possible.

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 a separate room and close the door, if possible.
  • Use a headset for privacy.
  • Turn off or silence your phone and devices to avoid interruptions.
  • Check the background for anything distracting, personal or inappropriate.

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.

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.

  • Only the host should be able to record the meeting to control privacy.
  • Get permission from attendees to record the meeting, even if it is only for ensuring accurate transcripts.
  • Permission may be automatic in work environments (you may have no say about who has access).
  • Don't upload meeting recordings to any publicly-accessible location.

Security issues with recordings is not unique to Zoom, but the manner in which Zoom named and stored recordings online was predictable.

I recommend storing the recordings locally on a hard drive rather than online for security. There have been security breaches with Zoom because the location of the online recordings was predictable.

Improve Your Meetings

These articles offer advice that can help your meetings succeed:

Learn from Others

Learn from others' mistakes.

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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 either feedback or background noise will interfere with your meetings.

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Webex

Webex is strongly recommended for better security and reliability. It integrates well with Microsoft 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 don't work for you or your business.

Installing the Webex App

You can join a Webex meeting using your browser.

The Webex app is strongly recommended for the best experience. Installers are available for Windows, macOS (Intel or Apple M1 chip), Android and iOS.

Webex Meeting Suggestions

There are a series of tools in the bottom menu.

  • Raise your hand when you wish to speak or choose from several reactions.
  • Use chat for suggestions, to provide online links or to speak privately to another participant.
  • If everyone isn't visible, click Participants for a list of those present.

You can use virtual backgrounds to mask what is behind you during a meeting. Your image may be jittery if you don't have a fast computer.

Webex Support & Setup

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

Webex Security and Privacy

Because Webex was built for business, it came with good security and privacy. When signing up for a Webex account or using the Webex apps, you are asked to agree with the following:

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

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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 (unlimited one-on-one meetings).

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

Zoom Installers

Zoom installers work in Windows, Mac, Linux, 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

Both hosts and attendees have a responsibility to ensure they tighten security and privacy settings.

Conferencing Software

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.
Check Point blog

Always download and install the latest version of meeting software.

Check for updates regularly (most can be checked from within the app).

Updated software provides new features, is more secure and can fix issues.

Some software will install automatically (updates that run within the app).

If you have to downloaded a file, that file then needs to be installed.

Downloading but not installing updates is like buying new batteries but not placing them in a flashlight.

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. Don't run unsupported software or hardware.

Operating System

You need to be running a currently-supported operating system, whether it is Windows, macOS, iOS or Android.

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 for development and marketing:

  • Are they capturing and selling your private data?
  • Is the software providing adequate protection?

Ransomware will lock your data and you'll have to deal with criminals to get it back if your backups are inadequate.

A VPN can enhance privacy and security but can limit the bandwidth available for a meeting. Test your network speed prior to the meeting.

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Protect Privacy

You can improve your privacy by paying attention to settings.

  • 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.

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.

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:

  • Meeting invitations should be sent via email and only by the host.
  • Encourage meeting attendees to install the vendor app.
  • Never share meeting IDs or passwords in a public setting like Twitter or Facebook.
  • 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.

Young children in classrooms 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.

Meeting Invitees

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

Invitee Security Responsibilities

Meeting invitees can improve security by:

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Virtual Classrooms

Online education has both security and privacy implications.

Children

Online education has been particularly difficult for children and their parents. The Internet 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…comes [with] 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….
ZoneAlarm

Parents should initiate a conversation about what privacy means and how their children can protect themselves.

Learning More

More about security and privacy issues:

Working from Home

Privacy & Security

Related Resources

Related resources on this site:

or check the resources index.

Buy Me A Coffee

 

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RussHarvey.bc.ca/resources/online-meetings.html
Updated: June 11, 2022