The Rush to Video Conferencing – Are We Failing to Use Good Cyber Hygiene?

Sadly, one of life’s proven realities is, when a technology becomes popular adversaries will target it. With so many people switching to video conferencing, it’s no surprise that adversaries have started to give it their focus. Indeed, as the capacity of video conferencing in the cloud is being tested, reports of misuse have already begun, and this should be a warning flag of more to come.

So I come to my second truism, which is that all too often when we are in a rush the basic rules and lessons we’ve learnt can go out the window. As such, when we are in challenging times or situations, we should try to ensure we still embrace our Security 101 logic.

In recent weeks, there has been a spate of domain typosquatting, where adversaries are registering close to genuine domain names and then sending out invites. We have learnt to check the URLs in emails and web domains. We need to do the same for video conferences. Consider asking your IT security team to remind staff of this or including it in your phishing training program for employees, if you have one.

What’s created more noise in the last week is video conferencing bombing, where third parties look for valid video conference IDs that haven’t been secured. News stories tell of third parties taking over sessions to show inappropriate content. But the reality is a third party could just as easily be a silent listener and simply grab valuable business intel either from the conversations or what’s being shared onscreen. 

This is a message not just for businesses to recognise but also society in general. Whether video conferencing is being used simply to catch up with friends or teach children from home, no one wants an uninvited and unpredictable guest on the line.

Some very basic security controls can go a long way.

  • Are your staff or the call hosts using passwords to limit who can enter into calls?
  • Using a unique password for every video conference is an option, but there is a balance between the friction that creates in the user experience, versus the incremental security value. I would suggest that any calls including business-sensitive data use a unique password. Also note that the options may be different in terms of password requirements when simply dialing in for audio versus using a full web connection.  
  • Should your video sessions be enabled to allow them to start before the host joins? For example, some video conferencing vendors offer the option to set waiting rooms. Likewise, you can turn on audio notifications when people join. More simply, you should always check to see who is in the participant list. This is no different to many organizations’ physical tailgating policies.

Some other options also worth considering include:

    • Are you allowing any user to screenshare, or is it restricted to the host only? 
    • Are you allowing file transfers between users during a session? 
    • And importantly, if you remove a participant from a video conference, can they rejoin?

The above is far from being a complete guide to securing your video conferencing. That is a job for your IT security team to debate and agree with your business teams, ultimately arriving at the right security settings for you.

Here are the key takeaways:

  1. When we rush to respond to a crisis, we’re likely to cut corners. Make sure if you can that security isn’t in the group of things skipped over. If it is being skipped as you make rapid adjustments, have a plan to go back and reassess soon after. In reality, it’s generally useful to reassess the use of new business tools and processes after a short trial period as you gain real world experience of how they work for you.
  2. Recognise that adversaries will always flock to commonly used tools and processes, as their scope for success is increased. In recent weeks, the scale of adoption is akin to the total number of new users for 2019, one video conferencing company CEO suggested.
  3. As my good colleague John Kindervag (the godfather of the Zero Trust Network, as I like to call him) suggests, “Log all traffic.” At least then, after the fact, you can go back and understand and learn from what happens. After all, isn’t the goal that we learn from our previous mistakes?

Read more about best practices for video conferencing security.