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 Mike Connell
 
Not wanting to be left behind its video-conferencing counterparts (like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Cisco Webex), Google has recently made Meet (previously Google Hangouts), its “premium conferencing product,” free to everyone.

Previously, while anyone could join Google Meet calls for free, users had to have a paid G Suite account in order to schedule and start calls. Now, anyone with a Gmail address (personal or business/enterprise) can easily integrate Meet into their conferencing toolkit.

Video conferencing and other remote work solutions are increasingly ubiquitous during our continued work-from-home reality, so the more the merrier when it comes to making things easier, cost-effective and secure, right?

The only problem? How does one choose which service to use?

Zoombombing

Zoom was on everyone’s mind at the outset of the pandemic, and not because of how solid the service is or was. Unfortunately, #zoombombing became a reality all-too-quickly when the widespread use of videoconferencing (not just Zoom… although the company’s name was quickly hijacked to label the behavior) exposed cracks and like-minded weaknesses in the security of the software.

Zoom, specifically, quickly rallied to rectify the situation as best they could, shoring up their security measures, but the glitch had current and potential users looking for alternatives.

While price is a significant consideration when it comes to quality video conferencing services, security tops the list.

Video Conferencing and Security

Recently, the United States National Security Association published a report assessing the security of the top video conferencing providers.

The criteria asks and answers the following questions:

  • Does the service implement end-to-end (E2E) encryption?
  • Are strong, well-known, testable encryption standards used?
  • Is multi-factor authentication (MFA) used to validate users’ identities?
  • Can users see and control who connects to collaboration sessions?
  • Does the service privacy policy allow the vendor to share data with third parties or affiliates?
  • Do users have the ability to securely delete data from the service and its repositories as needed?
  • Has the collaboration service’s source code been shared publicly (e.g. open source)?
  • Has the service and/or app been reviewed or certified for use by a security-focused nationally recognized or government body (e.g. FEDRAMP)?
  • Is the service developed and/or hosted under the jurisdiction of a government with laws that could jeopardize United States Government official use?

(Source: NSA - “Selecting and Safely Using Collaboration Services for Telework”)

The report provides the following table outlining the findings.


(Image Source: NSA)

Interestingly, it notes that G Suite/Google Meet does not have E2E encryption, however, it is important to note that Meet does incorporate what they call “transport” encryption, meaning that “all data is encrypted in transit by default between the client and Google for video meetings on a web browser, on the Android and iOS apps, and in meeting rooms with Google meeting room hardware,” (source: Google - “Secure connections: How Google Meet keeps your video conferences protected”).

Video Conferencing: Other Considerations

Apart from security, users should take into account the following:

Pricing: Most of the top providers have a free, B2C-focused offering in addition to their premium, enterprise service. That said, some of the free versions have restrictions that preclude use, such as the number of users, and meeting duration.

While associated with pricing, the number of participants and meeting duration is the next consideration worthy of note.

For example, Zoom facilitates up to 100 participants on their platform, but limits meeting times to 40 minutes on the free tier.

Similarly, Google Meet makes room for 100 participants and has made meeting times as long as you want until September, at which point meeting times for free users will be capped at an hour.

Microsoft Teams offers a significant number of services on their “free” tier (everything is unlimited), however, that assumes you and your team are already using/paying for Microsoft 365.

All of the top providers facilitate meeting recording, but not always on their free tier, so be sure to confirm whether that’s something you and your team need.

Likewise, there are other added-value perks many providers offer, such as transcription. Thanks to a partnership with AI-enabled audio transcription service, Otter.AI, Zoom meeting can not only be recorded, but you can transcribe the recording to text in real-time. Note, however, that users will likely have to pay for that premium offering.

Ultimately, though, all of the main players in the video conferencing space have like-minded benefits and weaknesses. The key is identifying what it is you and your team need, and security should be top of mind.

Pay attention to whether you can add password protection to your meeting invites, or how difficult it would be for your invite to be hacked. For instance, following the barrage of Zoom bombings, the provider advised and, in some cases, required users to create a password for all meetings to prevent hacking.

Google Meet seems like it is a little more secure out of the box thanks, in large part to the fact that they are, well, Google:

Google Meet makes it difficult to programmatically brute force meeting IDs (this is when a malicious individual attempts to guess the ID of a meeting and make an unauthorized attempt to join it)by using codes that are 10 characters long, with 25 characters in the set. We limit the ability of external participants to join a meeting more than 15 minutes in advance, reducing the window in which a brute force attack can even be attempted. External participants cannot join meetings unless they’re on the calendar invite or have been invited by in-domain participants.
(Source: “How Google Meet keeps your video conferences protected”)

There is a safe, secure, and cost-effective video conferencing solution for you. Do some digging, make a list of criteria important to you, and ask lots of questions!