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Secure video conferencing software: how to ensure your privacy

Last edited: October 29, 2020
Reading time: 17 minutes, 19 seconds

A large part of the global workforce is currently working remotely from home. That is why we previously wrote this complete guide for working safely from home. For many of us the home office has been provisionally set up and discussions with colleagues take place online using video conferencing software. You may use WhatsApp or FaceTime privately to keep in touch with friends and family, but other programs are usually used for work. There are quite a few programs available that allow you to make video calls and consult with colleagues and business contacts.

A survey that we conducted at the end of March 2020 shows that about 70% of the working respondents use video conference software for their work. Also, about 65% of working respondents indicate that they currently use such applications more often than before, since the outbreak of the corona crisis.

Popular video conferencing software

About 44% of the working respondents indicated that privacy is an important aspect when using video conference software. In this article, we therefore list a number of good programs for online meetings and video conferencing, but we also discuss frequently used applications that you should actually refrain from using if you value your privacy.

An overview of video conferencing and collaboration tools

VPN-Privacy-Safe-Internet-CybersecurityWhile teleworking, most discussions and meetings are held online. Consequently, safe collaboration tools need to be used. Many companies use video conferencing to hold meetings. This is well-liked because people can see each other while talking, just like when conducting a meeting in the office. There are various options for conducting safe video calls, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. There are also programs that only allow chat or audio communication. Here are some popular options. All the programs mentioned below provide screen sharing functionality, except for WhatsApp.

Name Price per month Privacy Maximum number of participants in video call Security measures
Eyeson Free/$9-$299 Mediocre 4-100 SSL/TLS + DTLS/SRTP
Google Hangouts Free Bad 150 NO end-to-end-encryption
GoToMeeting $12-$16 Good 150-250 End-to-end encryption (SSL) and 128-bit AES encryption
Jami Free Good 4 TLS 1.3 + RSA-key
Jitsi Free Mediocre No limit, but slower with 10+ people End-to-end-encryption not standard
Join.me Free/€9-€24 Good 5-250 256-bit TLS-encryption
Microsoft Teams Free/€4,20 Bad 5000 Mandatory two-step authentication
Miro Free/$8-$16 Good 2-50 SSL/TLS + AES 256-bit encryption
Signal Free Good 2 End-to-end-encryption
Skype Free Bad 50 TLS + AES 256-bit encryption
Slack Free/€6,23-€11,75 Mediocre 15 (with paid subscriptions) EKM + DLP
WebEx Free/$9-$299 Bad 1000 End-to-end-encryption
WhatsApp Free Bad 4 End-to-end-encryption
Whereby Free/$9,99 Mediocre 4 (12 to 50 with paid versions) DTLS-SRTP and end-to-end-encryption
Wickr Free/$4,99-$25,00 Good 30 (50 with paid versions) End-to-end-encryption
Wire €4,00-€8,00 Good 10 End-to-end-encryption
Zoom Free/$14,99 Bad 100 (maximum 40 minutes for free version) TLS + AES 256-bit encryption

Eyeson

eyeson-logoThe advantage of Eyeson is that it consumes very little data and you don’t have to download or install anything. Therefore, you can set up a meeting in seconds. Eyeson has a free version and several paid plans (i.e. $9, $99 or $299/month, depending on the chosen options). The cheapest version allows four participants only, while the more expensive versions can have up to 100 participants.

Eyeson uses SSL/TLS encryption and protects its video and audio streams with DTLS/SRTP. In addition, all user data is stored in highly secured European data centers, which adhere to the GDPR. We do have some critical remarks regarding the privacy policy, particularly the possibility of sharing quite a substantial amount of information with third parties.

Google Hangouts

hangouts_icon-138x138Google Hangouts is a platform that works both within your browser, within an app or via an extension. You can use Hangouts for free to chat, to make video calls or audio calls. Since Google Hangouts is part of Google, it is probably not the most private platform. But it does give you the opportunity to make free calls with up to 150 people at a time. By sharing a link, you can invite people to participate in your conversation.

The major drawback of Google Hangouts is that, unlike many other platforms, it doesn’t use end-to-end encryption. This means that Google can read all your conversations, which are stored on their servers. This being said, conversations are, however, invisible to others thanks to encryption used by Google on their servers.

GoToMeeting

GoToMeeting LogoGoToMeeting is a service developed specifically for companies. It enables you to start phone and video conferences, share your screen and create recordings as well as transcriptions. It works on both mobile and desktop and has a free trial version of fourteen days. No payment details are required to use this free version. GoToMeeting has a “Professional” subscription ($12 per organizer per month with up to 150 participants) and a “Business” version ($16 per organizer per month with up to 250 participants). Participants won’t need a GoToMeeting account, as long as the organizer has one.

GoToMeeting uses end-to-end encryption with SSL and 128-bit AES encryption. In other words, strangers won’t be able to read your conversations. The service also states that unencrypted information is never stored on their systems. LogMeIn, the company behind GoToMeeting, works in accordance with the GDPR. In 2019, Swascan, a European cyber security authority, discovered a weakness in GoToMeeting’s system and worked with the company to plug the leak.

GoToMeeting doesn’t have its own privacy policy, which makes it difficult to find out exactly how everything is arranged. LogMeIn’s privacy policy states that they may share personal information with other service providers, business partners, affiliates within their corporate structure, and for lawful purposes. On the other hand, of course, GoToMeeting is well-encrypted and works with reliable agencies such as Swascan.

Jami

jami-logo-300x138Jami is a communication platform that uses end-to-end encryption and TLS 1.3. Furthermore, messages are protected with a RSA key. This platform explicitly has the privacy of users in mind. Jami was developed by the Canadian company Savoir-faire Linux and offers conference calling, file sharing and messaging. The platform is also decentralized, meaning it does not use centralized servers to store personal data. This hinders mass surveillance and targeted hacking of servers.

Jami also stores your encryption private keys and logon credentials only on the device that you use for Jami. Jami markets itself as a more privacy-loving alternative to Skype. In addition, Jami is free and open source. Jami has an concise privacy policy. Apart from some anonymized web statistics when navigating the Jami website, the company does not store any user information (again facilitated by the lack of centralized servers). This makes it an excellent choice for privacy-minded users.

Jitsi

JitsiJitsi is easy to use and completely free. You don’t even need an account. The software is open source, meaning anyone can take a look behind the scenes of the program. Still, there are some snags, especially when it comes to the standard version of the software. Unfortunately, it doesn’t have end-to-end encryption, which means the owner of the server you’re communicating with can just watch your conversations. In many cases this is Jitsi itself. Jitsi also indicates that the company stores your IP address and places cookies when you visit their website. Many people use Jitsi through the official website, which is definitely something to keep in mind. Jitsi Meet temporarily stores information about conversations and meetings, but does not pass it on to other parties. However, the company does collect information on its website and passes this anonymized data to third parties, including for marketing purposes. In addition, the chance of delays is greater if you try to make video calls with ten or more people at the same time.

Many platforms recommend Jitsi. This is because there is a way to make Jitsi safer. First, all traffic between you and Jitsi is encrypted by default so that outsiders cannot see your messages. Moreover, if you set up your own server as a company, Jitsi can no longer see your conversations. Only the owner of the server can do that. In addition, there are ways to use Jitsi with end-to-end encryption. However, these security options are not part of the standard version of Jitsi. Only if you have a lot of technical knowledge and study the options properly, you are able to really communicate safely via Jitsi. The standard version of Jitsi is easy and quick to use, but certainly not the safest option for video calling.

Join.me

Join Me logoThe convenient thing about join.me is that you can join a meeting with a simple code. Depending on the package you choose, join.me allows you to attend an online meeting with up to 250 people at the same time. This application has its security and privacy in order. For example, no session data, such as images, videos or chat logs, are stored on the servers unless you choose to make a recording with the recording feature.

Another great feature is that you can require participants to “knock” if they want to attend a meeting. This ensures that only people who actually are welcome at the meeting in question access the chat. You can find more about that feature here.

Microsoft Teams

microsoft-teams-icon-138x138Microsoft Teams makes it easy to chat, call and video call. You can also collaborate when viewing and editing files. The program comes with Microsoft Office 365 and has both a paid and a free version. The free version allows you to create teams with thousands of people and offers 2GB of storage per user. With the paid version (starting at € 4.20 per month for Office 365 Business Essentials) you can also schedule and record meetings. In addition, the paid version gives you access to more administrative functions.

Furthermore, Microsoft Teams uses two-factor authentication and encrypts data both when it is sent and when it is uploaded.

The same objections apply with regard to privacy as with Skype: after all, both voice call services fall under the same parent group, Microsoft. In any case, there are the necessary threads on sites like Reddit where the protection of privacy is questioned. Microsoft was also previously under attack about the way in which Windows 10 collects information about users on a large scale.The drift for data collection is therefore present and that is always good to consider, especially with regard to the privacy protection that is offered with an application such as Microsoft Teams.

Miro

Miro logoMiro is a program that is especially useful for people who work in the world of visual design. This application is intended for consultations regarding product development, UX research & design, innovation and mind mapping. Miro is aesthetically a very nice application to work with, and the program works very smoothly for screen sharing and presentations.

If we look at Miro from a privacy point of view, we see that the app is, among other things, GDPR compliant. In principle, access to your data is only for troubleshooting purposes and technical support, at your request.

Signal

SignalSignal is a completely free communication platform that is open source and works on Android, iOS, Windows, Mac and Linux. With Signal you can send chat messages, but also make video and audio calls (although the latter can only be done on mobile). You can also share documents and images for free. The app works via your mobile phone number, but does not incur additional calling costs. Your messages are encrypted on Signal with end-to-end encryption, so that no one can see them. Signal is recommended by many professionals as a good emergency solution during the Corona crisis. For example, it is widely used in the healthcare sector.

A handy feature of Signal is that you can make your message history disappear after a certain time. You can adjust this per conversation. Private messages with colleagues could thus disappear after just ten minutes, while group messages intended for the whole team remain available for 24 hours or more. Unfortunately, video calls can only be made between two people. So this does not work for video conference calling with groups.

Skype

skype-logo-new-138x138Skype is one of the most popular programs for video calling. In addition to video calls, you can use skype for voice calls, to exchange files and for instant messaging. You can use it within your browser, but you can also download a separate app or desktop application. Skype is free and can be used for group calls (both video and audio only) of up to 50 people.

The advantage of Skype is it could easily be integrated with your work email. Additionally, all communication using Skype is encrypted. Skype uses TLS and AES 256-bit encryption, which are very strong security protocols. However, you don’t have this protection if you use Skype to call phone numbers.

Beware: Skype stores all messages and information about calls. Therefore, if a device’s security is compromised, this information could possibly be leaked as well. In addition, in 2014, following the Edward Snowden leaks, it appeared that the American secret services can listen to Skype conversations. In addition, Kurt Sauer, former Skype Chief Security Officer, once said “We provide a safe communication option. I will not tell you whether we can listen or not. ” Although this statement was made many years ago, it obviously does not inspire confidence from a privacy point of view.

Slack

SlackSlack has a free and a paid version. The free version only offers the possibility to send chat messages and share documents, but to conference call you need a paid subscription. We have previously written about Slack’s safety. Unfortunately, Slack has faced multiple vulnerabilities in the past.

In recent years, Slack has an active policy to combat hacks. It is a commonly used application for chats and file exchanges, but for video calling, companies often choose alternative programs.

WebEx

Cisco WebexCisco WebEx is a comprehensive video conferencing solution for businesses. Both free and various paid versions are offered, which allow you to make audio and video calls. You can also share files. Remarkable: You can join the same audio or video call with up to 1000 users. All these participants can also send chat messages to each other. Of course, the free version of WebEx is limited on certain points; for example, the maximum number of participants is 50. The good news is that companies can also request a free trial from Cisco, in which paid features are available. Cisco WebEx can be used on Windows, Mac OS, Linux and Chrome OS.

Furthermore, WebEx has many useful screen-sharing functions. This allows the meeting hosts to share their desktop or a specific app or file. This can even be a video file. Finally, a whiteboard can be shared in the chat, where participants can take notes together. These screen-sharing options are therefore something Cisco excels at, especially since you can use them simultaneously with the video chat, unlike many other programs. Finally, the host can also record all meetings, audio and video elements.

The meeting section of the WebEx software uses end-to-end encryption. The software can be set up to allow participants to join the conversation only if their WebEx program has been successfully configured for end-to-end encryption. Something to be aware of is that there are certain limitations and some functions don’t work if the end-to-end encryption is enabled. Here you can see what limitations there are. Be that as it may, Cisco seems to take user safety seriously. What is good to realize is that Cisco’s headquarters are in the US (in San Jose). As a result, Cisco is therefore subject to the jurisdiction of a 5-eyes country. In addition, we have gone through the privacy policy, and we find it especially objectionable that you explicitly need to opt-out in order not to share your data with third parties.

WhatsApp

whatsappWhatsApp is often used for private communication, but it is certainly also used to keep in touch with business relations. But how serious is WhatsApp as an option to make business video calls or to discuss corporate matters within a group?

A strong downside to WhatsApp is that the web application does not allow video calling or voice calling; via WhatsApp Web you can only send messages and files. In addition, only 4 people can participate in group conversation. In many cases, that does not make WhatsApp a suitable option for larger teams.

WhatsApp has also recently dropped the ball with regard to the privacy and security of the app, and moreover, it is a service of Facebook. There may be end-to-end encryption, but if privacy is an important theme for you, WhatsApp may not be the right business communication application for you.

Whereby

whereby-logo-138x138Whereby is an audio and video communication platform for professionals that has both a free and a paid version. The free version allows you to meet with up to four users in one meeting room. You can share your screen and even easily watch YouTube videos during your meeting. The various paid versions range from $9.99 to $59.99/month and allow you to meet with 12 to 50 users at a time. With the paid version you can also record meetings.

Whereby works on your mobile as well as on your desktop. It is also possible to close rooms so that strangers cannot connect to your meeting. In addition, Whereby uses DTLS-SRTP and end-to-end encryption with their free version. The paid version also uses dedicated servers. We do feel the privacy policy indicates there is some unnecessary data collection and sharing with third parties. We do have to deduct some points from a privacy point of view for this observation.

Wickr

WickrWickr is well known for its encrypted messaging app, but it also offers a range of features to use in a business setting. Wickr offers encrypted video conferencing, and provides the source code for this feature via Github (open source). With Wickr you can participate in end-to-end encrypted group video calls and share your screen with others. You can also send and receive files via a secure connection.

In addition to the free version, Wickr offers paid Silver, Gold and Platinum packages. These packages provide additional privacy-oriented functions. For example, in these packages VPN functionality is included. Wickr is a good choice for user privacy due to the fact that no information about users is stored. Even with an official search warrant, Wickr says not to hand over information to users simply because the user data is encrypted locally on users’ devices and is not stored on Wickr’s servers. So there is no information available that governments or hackers can use.

Wire

WireWire is an application for video and voice calls from Wire Swiss GmbH. Wire also provides users with end-to-end encrypted video conferencing capabilities. The software is free and the app is open source. This allows third-party security experts to check Wire for potential privacy and security issues. Open source software is often a positive indication of a company’s transparency. In addition, open source software undergoes external quality control.

Wire allows you to make video calls with up to ten people, and the app also includes several collaboration tools. You could have group chats with up to 128 people, secure file sharing, screen sharing in meetings and even the ability to automatically delete messages after a certain period of time.

Concerning privacy of its users, it can be stated that Wire acts in accordance with various data protection regulations and therefore takes the necessary precautions to protect the personal data of users. Wire is also transparent about how the software works and the security measures in place.

Zoom

Zoom is arguably the most popular and controversial option amongst teleworkers. The free version of this software allows you to hold meetings with up to 100 participants. However, there is a limit of 40 minutes per meeting. Zoom’s paid versions (ranging from $14,99 to $19.99/month) have a longer time limit, the possibility to speak with more participants at once and include other useful extras.

Zoom is primarily aimed at employers and gives its users the option to record meetings. This also means, however, that Zoom can save all conversations. In addition, the company shares data with Google for marketing purposes, therefore it is not very privacy conscious. Zoom does use strong encryption protocols, namely TLS with AES 256-bit encryption, except for phone conversations using the telephone network.

Recently, Zoom has received a lot of negative publicity, particularly regarding privacy and data protection. They have since made some changes to their services. Among other things, they’re informing their users on ways in which they can secure their calls. They have also started working with more advanced encryption, have adjusted the software so all safety options can be easily found by users, and are enforcing the use of passwords for anyone taking part in a Zoom Meeting. On top of that, account managers are now capable of picking the data center they use for their Zoom traffic, which could help when you wish to avoid data centers in a 5 Eyes country, for example. Zoom’s reformations are an ongoing process. They seem to be heading in the right direction, even though other services are probably still the better choice if you really value your privacy.

Cybersecurity analyst
David is a cyber security analyst and one of the founders of VPNoverview.com. Interested in the "digital identity" phenomenon, with special attention to the right to privacy and protection of personal data.

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