What Is the Most Secure Video Conferencing Software?

Now that we can’t meet IRL, is Zoom as good as it gets for video calling?

Mar 24 2020, 12:00pmSnap

Now that millions of people are practicing social distancing and working their office jobs from home because of coronavirus, video conferencing is more popular than ever. Whether you're just attending your regular work meetings, grabbing a beer with friends, or catching up with your extended family spread across the globe—all these fun activities now live thanks to video conferencing apps.

The people’s choice, more often than not, is Zoom. But it doesn’t have to be.

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While Zoom offers end-to-end encrypted chat—meaning only the participants in the exchange have access to the contents of the messages—its video calls are not encrypted in the same way by default. Hosts, however, can enable end-to-end encryption in video calls too, according to the company. (UPDATE: A week after we originally published this story, the company told The Interceptthat it doesn't actually offer end-to-end encryption.)

The app has a troubled record when it comes to security and privacy. Thanks to a creepy feature, hosts can track whether you are paying attention to the meeting, and the company’s privacy policy allows it to collect all sorts of personal data.

Last year, Zoom had a flaw that allowed hackers to turn on someone’s webcam without their consent, and without them noticing. On top of that, when someone had the Zoom app closed and even uninstalled, the software left a web server up and running, allowing for an automated install of the app if someone invited the user to a Zoom call. Finally, Zoom makes it really hard for you to join calls without installing the app, even though that’s possible.

So, what other apps can you use instead of Zoom?

FACETIME

The obvious choice, if you have an Apple device, is FaceTime. Apple’s video (and audio) conferencing app has been end-to-end encrypted for a very long time. On top of that, it’s incredibly easy to use, and allows for up to 32 participants. The downside, of course, is that it’s only for iOS and Mac users. So if you use Windows, the most popular operating system in the world, you’re out of luck.

Pros:

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  • Easy to use
  • End-to-end encrypted
  • Works with up to 32 participants
  • Apple is good at security

Cons:

  • Only for Mac and iOS

JITSI

A great cross-platform alternative is the little known Jitsi, which is not end-to-end encrypted, and has apps for Android and iOS. Jitsi also just works in a browser, without having to install anything. Jitsi is also open source, meaning anyone can inspect and contribute to the code. I have used it occasionally and it always worked very well. While the video streams in Jitsi are not end-to-end encrypted, Jisti allows users to run their own server so they can encrypt the video streams to this server, which they control.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Works with apps or just on web
  • Open source

Cons:

  • Open source also means it has fewer resources to get security right

WHATSAPP

WhatsApp is the most popular chat app on the planet, it’s end-to-end encrypted with state-of-the-art protocols, and is incredibly user-friendly. It’s also cross platform, although video calls don’t work on desktop. It doesn't have all the bells and whistles of enterprise software, but if you're just looking to connect with a couple of friends or family, it's more than enough.

Pros:

  • Uberpopular, so chances are your friends have it
  • End-to-end encrypted
  • Cross-platform

Cons:

  • Only supports 4 people at a time
  • It’s owned by Facebook

WIRE

Finally, one of our favorite end-to-end encrypted chat apps, Wire, offers group video chat, but only to paying customers.

Pros

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  • End-to-end encrypted with widely respected encryption protocols

Cons:

  • Not available for the free version of Wire.

GOOGLE MEET

If you want something that’s easy to use, but not end-to-end encrypted, you can always fall back on Google’s alternative: Meet.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Works well

Cons:

  • Not end-to-end encrypted
  • Requires a Google account

ZOOM

Zoom has become the de-facto video calling app in the last few days, but it's far from perfect. Its privacy policy is vague and seems to indicate the company could sell some of your data. Calls are not end-to-end encrypted.

Pros:

  • Easy to use
  • Cross platform
  • Easily lets you see all people’s videos at once with its panel view
  • Seems to handle poor connections well
  • Allows for pretty epic and trolly virtual backgrounds.

Cons:

  • No end-to-end encryption
  • Privacy policy is suspect

Correction, March 30, 2020 at 10:30 a.m. ET: this story has been updated to clarify that Jitsi is NOT end-to-end encrypted.

Update, March 31, 2020 at 1:11 p.m. ET: this story has been update to clarify that Zoom audio and video calls cannot be ent-to-end encrypted, as the company told The Intercept.

Tagged:

SURVEILLANCE, Wire, Facetime, Chat, Coronavirus, zoom, videochat, End-To-End, COVID-19, Jitsi

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