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Coronavirus: Zoom under increased scrutiny as popularity skyrockets

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Close-up of hand of a man holding a Samsung Galaxy S10 smartphone with app for teleworking and conference call company Zoom, Walnut Creek, California, March 11, 2020. Amid an outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus, many companies have advised employees to work remotely, leading to strong financial performance from telework companies. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Sipa USA)
Zoom has surged in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic, leading to security concerns. (Smith Collection/Gado/Sipa USA)

Videoconferencing app Zoom (ZM) has attracted new high-level scrutiny concerning data security and privacy measures amid a surge in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.

New York's attorney general has written to the company voicing concerns over its ability to cope with the huge increase in user numbers.

Millions of people, from families to businesses, are now using the app for work and leisure across the globe as governments around the world ordered people to stay at home and practice social distancing to combat the spread of coronavirus.

The letter from the office of New York attorney general Letitia James asked Zoom whether it had reviewed its security measures since its popularity skyrocketed. It also pointed out that the app had been slow to address issues in the past.

“Zoom takes its users' privacy, security, and trust extremely seriously,” a Zoom spokesperson told the BBC.

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, we are working around-the-clock to ensure that hospitals, universities, schools, and other businesses across the world can stay connected and operational. We appreciate the New York Attorney General's engagement on these issues and are happy to provide her with the requested information.”

Read more: Coronavirus: Why we need to get used to overcommunication

Zoom has been hit by security issues in the past, including a vulnerability which allowed a cyber-attacker to remove attendees from meetings, spoof messages from users, and hijack shared screens. Another problem forced Mac users into calls without their knowledge.

Recent security concerns include reports of strangers gaining access to meetings and displaying explicit material if proper security measures are not taken, such as locking a meeting once all expected attendees have joined, in a process which has become known as “Zoombombing.”

Use of the Zoom app by Ministry of Defence staff was suspended last week while “security implications” were investigated.

UK prime minister Boris Johnson last week tweeted a picture of himself chairing a cabinet meeting using Zoom, raising questions about the security of the app.

Zoom is now ranked as the number two app in the UK and number one in the US, after its surge in popularity during the coronavirus pandemic.

“Globally, 2,000 institutions ranging from the world's largest financial services companies to leading telecommunications providers, government agencies, universities, healthcare and telemedicine practices have done exhaustive security reviews of our user, network and data centre layers confidently selecting Zoom for complete deployment,” Zoom told the BBC.

“We are in close communication with the UK Ministry of Defence and National Cyber Security Centre and are focused on providing the documentation they need.”

Read more: Houseparty app offers $1m reward for proof of sabotage

Zoom lists a number of additional security options on its website for users making video conferencing calls, including creating a waiting room for invited attendees before a meeting starts and only allowing those with provided email addresses to join a meeting.

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