Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

by Debbie Burke

@burke_writer

Photo credit: Ryan Arrowsmith, Creative Commons

For your listening pleasure, here’s the late, great Queen of Soul Aretha Franklin singing Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

The answer is: millions are zooming.

Zoom is a videoconferencing service, similar to Skype but easier to use, where a number of people can see and talk to each other via their computer cameras and microphones. Until recently, Zoom has been used mostly by business.

An Authors Guild newsletter brought Zoom to my attention as an alternative for writers  to connect with readers in the face of cancelled book launches, appearances, and tours.

[BTW, if you are not already a member of the Authors Guild, consider joining. Their lawyers reviewed three book contacts for me, worth far more than the $135 annual dues. Daily discussion groups are excellent sources of knowledge and experience shared by pros. Okay, end of commercial.]

Because Zoom is live, people at meetings can interact and ask questions. It enables authors to chat with book clubs and give readings and presentations.

Zoom’s basic option is free and allows from three to 100 participants, with a 40-minute time limit. Pro options start at $14.99/month and offer unlimited meeting time and other bells and whistles, including webinars, education courses, toll-free call-in numbers, etc.

Sounds like the perfect venue for authors and readers to connect, right?

Except there’s a hitch: you must give Zoom permission to access your computer. Whenever a third party gets inside your computer, there are inherent risks.

Last year, a massive security breach was discovered at Zoom. Cyber-security expert Jonathan Leitschuh reported the flaw in this article. His analysis is highly technical and much of it went way over my head. But it’s still well worth reading for his summations.

To paraphrase in simple non-geek terms, Zoom is essentially a virus, albeit a benevolent one, that opens a back door in your computer to activate your camera and microphone, letting you see/hear others and they see/hear you.

However, a flaw enabled hackers to hijack Mac users’ cameras, obtain personal data, and insert malware without the user’s knowledge.

Jonathan expressed concern about Zoom’s slow response to patch the flaw and their rather cavalier attitude toward their customers’ security.

Additionally, even if you uninstall Zoom, the capacity remains for third parties to access your computer to do mischief. Jonathan’s article delves deeply into Zoom’s inner workings and suggests workarounds.

For those of us who are less techie, here’s an article from Consumer Reports with ways to protect your camera and mic from hacking.

Zoom-Bombing” is another problem. This recent article from Forbes describes how trolls broke into a Zoom meeting and inserted pornographic videos. When they were blocked, they simply chose new user names, joined the meeting again, and inserted more “bombs.”

Zoom’s privacy statement reveals they share your information with third parties like Google and Facebook. In other words, data mining. 

With COVID 19, Zoom use has exploded and its stock is going to the moon. This article in the Motley Fool says:

“Why Zoom is a solid long-term bet:

While Zoom stock has already more than tripled from its original IPO price, it still has the potential to create massive wealth for long-term investors. The enterprise collaboration segment is expected to top $48 billion in 2024, up from $31 billion in 2019.”

With shelter-in-place restrictions, hundreds of thousands of people are conducting virtual meetings about every subject from Aardvarks to Zumba. With many more potential targets for malicious hackers to exploit, I expect attacks will zoom up faster than the stock.

While I don’t seriously believe hackers are dying to break in on my upcoming meeting with a book club, I am concerned. When personal data is vulnerable, losses can be drastic.

Each of us must decide if the risks outweigh the benefits of using Zoom.

~~~

TKZers: Have you used Zoom or other videoconferencing tools? What has been your experience?

~~~

 

 

Last day to download Debbie Burke’s thriller, Instrument of the Devil, for only $.99 here.

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About Debbie Burke

Crime novelist, suspense and mystery novels are her passion. Her thriller Instrument of the Devil won the Kindle Scout contest and the 2016 Zebulon contest sponsored by Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Her nonfiction articles appear in national and international publications and she is a regular blogger at The Kill Zone. She is a founding member of Authors of the Flathead and helps to plan the annual Flathead River Writers Conference in Kalispell, Montana. Her greatest joy is mentoring young writers. http://www.debbieburkewriter.com

32 thoughts on “Who’s Zoomin’ Who?

  1. I’ve been a computer techie for decades and I learned long ago there is no guarantee of privacy on the net. I do my best to minimize any threats by not using any app that has not been thoroughly vetted. I’ve used Skype sparingly, and only use the conferencing apps on work computers, never my home computer. I also have a couple of virus/malware blockers (the best I’ve found is MalwareBytes) and listen when they say not to use an app or go to a site. At the end of the day, we’re vulnerable on the net and not much is going to stop a determined hacker.

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    • Thanks for your ideas, Joe. Life with technology is a double-edged sword–you can learn anything about any subject but the net can learn anything about you. Appreciate your recommendation of MalwareBytes.

      Fixes for malware and viruses are defensive–after the damage has been done. I worry Zoom is growing too big too fast and won’t be able to keep up with timely patches.

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  2. Makes me want to set up an old computer as a dedicated Zoom box. A lot of people have old boxes sitting around–terrible as that sounds, given the numbers of kids who can’t do their school work because they don’t have a computer or don’t have Internet connection. But blame old computers sitting around on the industry’s planned obsolescence. At least cars from the ’60s and even the ’30s, if maintained, will still get you from A to B and aren’t dependent on industry security updates–a chief source of obsolescence, as the industry stops supporting old operating system versions and puts out new ones that don’t run on older computers. So Zoom probably won’t work on many of those old computers.

    However, since my wife’s already had several Zoom conferences on her computer, it’s probably too late for our security. The real solution is for Zoom to provide a tool that cleans the machine as well as providing a safer Zoom app.

    (Scary how we’re being educated on the original meanings of “virus” and “going viral.”)

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    • Eric, a dedicated Zoom box is a great idea. I have a Mac that I use only for social media, trying to save my PC workhorse from contamination.

      You are so right about planned obsolescence. We are forced into new upgrades that are usually full of bugs and don’t work while, at the same time, support ends for older versions that work perfectly fine.

      We have a 1954 Pontiac that is entirely mechanical. After an EMP, it will still run when newer cars with fried electronics can’t.

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  3. I did not know about the Zoom security breach. ARGH! This virus panic couldn’t have come at a worse time. I have my main computer and 2 laptops. The main computer has been down not because there’s something wrong with the pc, but with each of the *3* HP monitors I have tried to hook up to it in recent months, including the “replacement” they sent me.

    Then I have my Surface Pro, which is working great, but does house some personal data.. i wanted to use my 3rd laptop, which has next to no personal data on it, but I hadn’t pulled it out of a drawer in a while, and of course when I did, I couldn’t remember the password or circumvent it. And the major national company I use for tech support literally packed up and fled at the drop of a hat so they have been utterly useless.

    On a good note, though I’m non-techie, I have found Zoom pretty easy to use. I don’t know how to use advanced features like break out rooms and things, but I can do the basics. I just use it for work. Unfortunately, we’re all going to be using it more than we ever dreamed now! And I must also complement Zoom. Truthfully, I expected a huge crash or technical glitches with the enormous surge of its use, but if there have been major problems, I haven’t heard about it.

    I’m going to be ready for a break from computers when this is all over.

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    • BK, Zoom is easy to use which is why it’s so popular. Good point that they haven’t crashed despite their meteoric rise in use…at least, not so far.

      I’m ready to go back to two cans connected by a string!

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  4. Our local MWA chapter uses Zoom for remote access to their monthly meetings for people who can’t attend.
    Our neighborhood book club was considering using Zoom for our meeting, but has been going back and forth between Zoom and Google Hangouts (or whatever a group meeting is called.)

    I’ll forward this information to both groups. Thanks for posting. Right now, I was trying to figure out how to give Google Chrome (which I rarely use) access to my camera for the book club meeting.

    A techie I ain’t.

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    • Terry, Zoom is a fantastic concept at the right place at the right time. It is a tremendously useful tool, esp. for students trying to keep up with their work when they’re stuck at home. I only hope they can stay ahead of security breaches.

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  5. Good morning, Debbie!

    I share your enthusiasm for Zoom. I’ve used it in the past for business meetings. In the current “shelter in place” world, several organizations I belong to are doing classes and meetings through Zoom.

    My book club canceled our March meeting, but I’m going to suggest we Zoom the April one. But there won’t be snacks — darn!

    I also have a Mac that I use mostly for social stuff and save the Windows box for business. Unfortunately, I’ve used Mr. Windows to Zoom a couple of times. Hope Zoom plugged the hole before I downloaded it there.

    Thanks for the good information!

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    • Cynthia, I haven’t used Skype much but may suggest that to book clubs in lieu of Zoom.

      Since Skype has been around longer (2003) and has Microsoft to keep up with patches, it seems safer? Is this “fuzzy logic” on my part?

      Experts out there, please chime in b/c I’m not qualified to assess.

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  6. There’s no one I want to talk to that much. Thanks. I’ve cut off Siri, and my webcam has a sliding plastic door over it. A Christmas gift from my bank.

    A friend told me that almost every church in America decided that using Facebook to stream Sunday services was a great idea. Poor Facebook didn’t stand a chance last Sunday.

    Has Author’s Guild ever changed its stance of only allowing traditional publishing authors as members?

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  7. I am an IT Professional. The first thing I did was look up this “vulnerability” in computer security sites. Medium isn’t one of those. Jonathan “discovered” a vulnerability that Zoom identified in July 2019 and had a patch for in under 24 hours. The link at the bottom gets considerably technical, but in short, if you have the pre July 2019 Zoom client, Zoom doesn’t disconnect properly. It would still tell you the camera is operating even if the remote control was running it. You would still need to start Zoom at some point. In short, Johnathan is scaring people for nothing. Oh, Zoom needs to access your computer to use your camera, microphone and speakers. If you share files, it will need to access those too.

    We won’t talk about Medium hiding the publication date on it’s 9 month old article.

    Zoom bombing is an issue. There are ways around that.

    Two weeks ago WebEx, Zooms bigger competition, hosted more than 5.5 million minutes of meetings in one week. That number is going up. A lot of people Zoom every day. My two children will be in a total of five Zoom classes today. I have a meeting scheduled for later today.

    Use Zoom with confidence.

    https://blog.rapid7.com/2019/07/10/zoom-video-snooping-what-you-need-to-know/

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    • Thanks, Alan, for an expert’s perspective.

      BTW, Jonathan messaged me this a.m. “To their [Zoom’s] credit, they’ve made some significant steps in improving their security posture over the past few months.”

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    • That’s good to know. I think a large majority of the classes at my university are using Zoom, so while I haven’t thought to worry about security anyway, everyone has to use it if they want to finish the semester.

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      • Mia, educational uses of Zoom are critically important right now when schools and universities are closed. Best of luck to you with your studies.

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  8. I haven’t tried it yet, but I do have a tele-health appointment scheduled through Zoom. Thanks for the warning about hackers. I think I’ll use my old laptop to download the app. After just regaining access to my site (and hundreds of dollars spent), I’m a bit paranoid about hackers now.

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  9. As usual, I am the last one aboard the turnip truck. Never heard of Zoom before all this started. Geez…I gotta get out more.

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    • Kris, you’re too busy writing to get out. 🙂

      I’d vaguely heard of Zoom but the AG newsletter made me mindful of its possible uses for authors.

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  10. You have to decide between whether you value your privacy, or whether you want all the bells and whistles of modern technology, don’t you? I’ve used Zoom because a customer insisted on having calls on it. Generally, I use only my work laptop for the installation of any tools like Zoom or Skype, and I turn that off quickly at the end of each work day. I never use the laptop for personal use like web surfing or online banking. My home desktop system has neither a camera nor a mic, and I’m very careful about what websites I’ll visit while using it.

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    • KS, privacy vs. convenience is an ongoing war. As you and several other commenters observe, having a designated computer to use only for apps like Zoom is a good idea.

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  11. I love Zoom! I use it to brainstorm with other writers, to attend writer groups that are too far away for me to drive to, and for Pilates! Once social distancing started, we had to shut down our Pilates class, but since I was familiar with Zoom, I talked my instructor into using it and now we’re meeting 3 times a week instead of two. 🙂

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  12. Updates:

    Motherboard discovered Zoom was sending customer information to Facebook, resulting in a Zoom update on 3/27/20: https://www.vice.com/en_us/article/z3b745/zoom-removes-code-that-sends-data-to-facebook

    As of 3/29/20, Zoom updated their privacy policy: https://zoom.us/privacy?zcid=1231

    Per NY Times on 3/30/20, the NY Attorney General announced an investigation into Zoom’s privacy practices and security issues related to children’s privacy concerns since Zoom is being used for school work. https://www.nytimes.com/2020/03/30/technology/new-york-attorney-general-zoom-privacy.html

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  13. Yup! My work has also been using Zoom to host weekly video conferences from home. Would have definitely been a nice stock to have!

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