Zoom rolls out update in bid to plug security concerns

The videoconferencing app has seen a 50 per cent jump in the number of daily users to 300 million in the last three weeks

A screenshot shows choir Amina rehearsing online using a Zoom platform in Riga, Latvia April 14, 2020. Screenshot taken April 14, 2020. REUTERS/Janis Laizans
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Zoom Video has rolled out a new version of its product, version 5.0, in a bid to address security and privacy concerns.

The new version, which will let videoconferencing app users host secure meetings and protect their data, will be available from Monday, the company said.

“I am proud to reach this step in our 90-day plan, but this is just the beginning,” said Eric Yuan, founder and chief executive of the company that has witnessed a 50 per cent jump in the number of daily users to 300 million in the last three weeks.

“We built our business by delivering happiness to our customers … we will earn our customers’ trust and deliver them happiness with our unwavering focus on providing the most secure platform,” added Mr Yuan.

Earlier this month, the California-based company announced a 90-day feature freeze to dedicate all resources needed to “identify, address and fix security issues proactively”.

With its version 5.0 update, there will be a new security icon in the meeting menu bar to offer a series of new features, such as enabling new passwords, restricting screen sharing and chatting in live meetings, immediately locking meetings and adding or eliminating new participants.

The app’s previous default settings did not encourage passwords to be set for meetings and permitted participants to share screens. Settings also allowed for meetings to be hacked by uninvited participants who gained access to meeting codes. Mr Yuan has publicly apologised for security weaknesses several times and promised to address security weaknesses.

Zoom is being used much more widely during the current Covid-19 pandemic, as workplaces and schools have been closed in a bid to limit movement. It has been adopted by businesses, schools, universities and by individuals for social purposes, as well as for entertainment and fitness classes.

The new 5.0 features will add AES 256-bit GCM encryption in the app to provide “increased protection for meeting data and resistance against any tampering”.

“On the back end, AES 256-bit GCM encryption will raise the bar for securing our users’ data in transit,” said Oded Gal, chief product officer of Zoom.

“With millions of new users, this will make sure they have instant access to important security controls in their meetings,” he said.

Many organisations, including Google, Daimler and SpaceX, have barred the use of the app over security concerns.

Government agencies in Taiwan and Singapore have also banned the app, pointing out its vulnerabilities to hacking. India has initiated a public contest to develop a secure alternative to Zoom that has attracted scrutiny from regulators and privacy advocates, as well as unwanted lawsuits.

The company hired former security executives from tech giants such as Facebook, Google and Yahoo to address privacy concerns and win back consumer confidence.

The company's shares have more than doubled since January and its market capitalisation stands at $41.92 billion (Dh153.95bn).