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Despite risk, Zoom gets ‘em together

MJ Blancaflor



Officials at the helm of the government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic have been using the Zoom app for their virtual meetings despite questions on privacy raised by users and security researchers.

Members of the Inter-Agency Task Force for the Management of Emerging and Infectious Diseases (IATF-MEID), the policy-making body in the health crisis, have been using the cloud-based communication platform amid the possible risk.

Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra, a task force member, said he had expressed concerns on the use of the Zoom for their meetings in the wake of reports of hacking and data breach.

“I’ve heard about privacy issues related to the Zoom platform. As a member of the IATF, I asked the group if sensitive matters that are being discussed through our video conferences were not being compromised, or if there were other more secure platforms available,” he told the Daily Tribune.

Guevarra, however, clarified that the IATF-MEID secretariat and the Department of Information and Communications Technology assured the task force members that additional security features had been installed to protect their discussions from hackers.

“In any event, the IATF will be ready to use other platforms if there are any indications of hacking or infiltration,” Guevarra said.

The United States Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a warning against “Zoom-bombing” after receiving several reports of video conferences being hijacked by pornographic images, hate attacks or abusive language.

Hackers also reportedly sell Zoom accounts in the dark web at cheap prices.

They use the collected credentials to access Zoom accounts and all successful logins are sold to other hackers, while some are offered free on hacker forums. Accounts are also shared via text sharing sites where email addresses with different password combinations are posted.

Following those reports, PLDT issued a memorandum among its employees to use only official communications applications that have been certified by their Cybersecurity group. The telecommunications company later clarified that they are not blocking the app to their Internet users.

Defense Secretary Delfin Lorenzana, also a member of the task force, said that there is no foolproof way of communicating since security threats are everywhere.

“Often it is the choice between communicating and security. All we can do is not talk about vital national subjects when we are not sure if our medium is safe,” Lorenzana said.

“Anyway, all we talk (about is) the coronavirus — something that (is) eventually divulged in public,” he added.

In response to the controversies, Zoom recently added a new feature dubbed as “Security” to allow users to lock the meeting or remove participants. The feature will block hackers and restrict those taking part in the meeting from sharing their screens or renaming themselves.

Zoom CEO Eric Yuan also announced that the company has formed a council and advisory board to address the videoconferencing platform’s current security and privacy issues.

Alex Stamos, former chief security officer of Facebook, has also joined Zoom this month as an outside advisor to assist with the “comprehensive security review” of the app which has over 12.9 million monthly active users.

The COVID-19 pandemic took the world by surprise, claimed the lives of many and paralyzed economic and social interactions even among developed countries. Along with it, came the rise of communication platforms — which kept governments and businesses going as the world takes a nap due to the fast-paced spread of infection.

Since meetings have now shifted online, threats to privacy and digital security floated, too, prompting government officials to become wary of the applications to use.

Presidential spokesman Harry Roque, for example, does not use the Zoom app and opts to use Viber and Facetime instead.

Budget Secretary Benjamin Diokno, Science and Technology Secretary Fortunato de la Peña and Senate President Vicente Sotto III, meanwhile, are not keen on using the application.

“Nothing is secure (on) the Internet as far as I know,” Sotto said.