Since the coronavirus began spreading, our little computer and phone cameras have served as windows into other people’s lives, allowing us to catch glimpses of dogs, children, and spouses in the backdrop of video conversations, allowing us to escape our isolation. They serve as powerful reminders to me that we are not ideal work robots but rather individuals attempting to do the best we can with our resources. Our hair is a tangle, and our features are inadequately framed and illuminated. When we go to the restroom, we may forget to turn off the microphone. Through this small lens, we can see the ambient backdrop of existence: people working in kitchens, bedrooms, or spare rooms, with the collected rubbish of life stacked in front of them and the background. During a video chat with a coworker, I learned that he uses an ironing board as a desk. Another works from the comfort of his couch. One individual is a collector of stuffed hedgehogs. You’ve undoubtedly experienced similar revelations regarding your coworkers as well. You may have already learned a lot of these things via Zoom.
Zoom was a little-known name outside of the field of business information technology until a few weeks ago. However, it is now found worldwide. My mother’s ukulele club uses it, as do schools and hospitals, and the prime leader of the United Kingdom used it to communicate with the cabinet before being admitted to critical care. During the past month, Zoom has gained more customers than it did during the prior year. This is startling in several ways. Several well-known companies dominate the videoconferencing business. Nonetheless, Zoom has managed to become associated with videoconferencing over a few short weeks.
“Can you tell me what this Dark Magic is?”
When I ask people why they use Zoom, I hear the same answer repeatedly: It’s simple to get started with. This is something that even Zoom’s rivals agree on. When Jim Mercer first tested GoToMeeting, he was employed by the company. We were in with a single click, and there were 25 streams of individuals streaming simultaneously, he said. “We were like, ‘What is this voodoo?'” says one of the participants. His remarks reverberate across the business world. After learning about it, Jonathan Leitschuh, a security researcher, got intrigued by how an “amazingly simple Zoom function” operated. “Can you tell me what this dark magic is?” he inquired.
Zoom sprang to attention in the security field due to the response, but for all the wrong reasons, in July of last year. When it comes to security exploit news, if you don’t pay attention, you could believe that experts believed Zoom was safe before the epidemic struck. They, on the other hand, did not. Last July, Leitschuh found that Zoom had covertly installed software to circumvent security safeguards, allowing it to run with fewer clicks than the competition. This came at a high price. Hackers had the same amount of ease in starting cameras and discreetly watching people without their knowledge. And to make matters worse, the problem persisted even after the user removed Zoom. Zoom made a pact with the devil in exchange for his magic.
During the past month, Zoom has gained more customers than it did during the prior year. To give you an idea of the gravity of this security vulnerability, Apple forced a quiet upgrade to every compatible Mac in the globe within three days of discovering it. This update removed the Zoom component. According to TechCrunch, Apple has never taken “public action against a well-known or popular app” in this manner previously. Zoom, on the other hand, justified their judgment. According to a blog post by the firm, “Our clients have informed us that they pick Zoom for our seamless video communications experience.” According to Zoom’s chief information security officer, the company’s choice to circumvent security safeguards was the correct one: “Installing this mechanism for people to attend the meeting without having to perform these additional clicks — we feel that was the appropriate one.”
Zoom’s behavior has been compared to that of a virus by security experts. When you initially open the program, it automatically installs itself before you even get a chance to hit the install button. It is littered with unintentional blunders, just as a virus is. Upon further inspection of the code, I discovered a process named “Zoom AutenticationTool.” That is not an error on my part; rather, it is a misprint in the program code itself. ‘System needs your privilege to alter,’ says another warning in bad English. Zoom is similar to a phishing attempt in that it is intended to filter out trust. While we take refuge in our houses from one malware, we are unwittingly exposing our computers to another.
Furthermore, the corporation lies. Even today, the Zoom website asserts that the service provides end-to-end encryption in several places. Because “group video conferencing is tough to encrypt end to end,” according to professor of computer science Matthew Green, there is still an additional piece of devilry to contend with. In general, there are two options for group video: it may either be encrypted, or it can function properly. So, how does Zoom manage to achieve both at the same time? To put it bluntly, it doesn’t. Zoom’s website offers encryption as a feature, and its security white paper discusses it in detail, yet the company is unable to provide it although they have committed to trying.
As a result of its reaction, the firm has engaged in a Wittgensteinian argument regarding the meaning of language itself at times. As a spokesman for Zoom explained to The Intercept, when the word “End to End” is used in other publications, it refers to the connection being encrypted from one Zoom endpoint to another. However, this is not what most people mean when they say “end-to-end encryption.” It’s tough not to draw parallels between Zoom and Humpty Dumpty from Alice through the Looking Glass, who invents his definition of success. When Alice confronts him, he answers in the same manner as Zoom: “When I use a word, it means exactly what I select it to mean.”
Zoom’s end-to-end encryption isn’t without flaws, though. Therefore, Zoom has been prohibited by the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense, SpaceX (formerly known as SpaceX), Apple (formerly known as Google), NASA, and numerous school systems, including the New York City public schools. The FBI issued a warning regarding its usage, and the New York State Attorney General began an investigation. It was also sued in the United States Federal Court in New York. Some of this may be familiar to you from the news. Zoom’s problems are increasingly being discussed in the mainstream media: The Guardian, the BBC, the New York Times, and The Washington Post have all published articles on Zoom’s many problems. Despite this, Zoom’s popularity is continuing to rise, as is its use. It’s a simple process. It has a well-known brand name. “It simply works,” says the author.
A Slew of Resources that were Borrowed
No one had anticipated Zoom’s success. There was simply a lot of rivalry going on. And not just any competition: Microsoft, Google, Apple, Facebook, and Cisco are all in the mix. Zoom was met with skepticism by investors when it first started. “It would need faultless execution,” one of them said. Even those who did make investments were gloomy about the future. According to Jim Scheinman of Maven Ventures, they “felt it was a poor concept from the beginning.” “Most investors made the mistake of assuming that existing solutions like Skype, Webex, and other similar services would solve the issue.” Eric Yuan, a software developer who previously worked for the videoconferencing business Webex, launched Zoom in 2009. As a result of Cisco’s acquisition of Webex in 2007, Yuan was elevated to lead the engineering team. Forbes reports that after three years, Yuan recognized that there was an issue with Webex: “The service was just not very good.” Yuan has now left the company.
Videoconferencing is a challenging endeavor. To get access to cameras and microphones, users must first install intricate pieces of software, then establish accounts and click alerts. It must accommodate a wide range of devices, each with its own set of capabilities, as well as users who are attempting to connect to a weak Wi-Fi network that is constantly breaking connections. When there are too many people on the phone simultaneously, the relationship becomes strained. The public does not well receive video calls. Because even the tiniest delay leads individuals to speak over one other or stops talking, uncomfortable silences are created. When things get too aggravating, it’s easy to pick up the phone and call someone. The next year, Yuan departed Cisco to pursue a cloud video conferencing program to address these concerns. He established a development team in China, bringing 30 former colleagues from the United States. According to Forbes, one Cisco senior management characterized Zoom as “a bundle of Webex resources that were borrowed.”
Zoom overcame obstacles because of its emphasis on simplicity of use at the cost of everything else, including security. And, unlike his opponents, Yuan had a completely blank slate to work with. The software industry changed swiftly, and Cisco, Microsoft, and other companies had a problem that Yuan did not: old code. Yuan did not have any old software to maintain, so he developed a new product utilizing the most up-to-date technology. This was something Yuan had prophesied while he was working at Cisco at the time: “Someday, someone is going to develop something on the cloud, and it’s going to destroy me.” That “someone” turned out to be him in the end. Zoom is similar to a phishing attempt in that it is intended to filter out trust.
Take a look at the alternatives to Zoom to get an idea. Despite its unreliability and weird user interface, Google Hangouts is the consequence of a chaotic and broken product line of applications, including Google Buzz, Google Allo, Google Messages, Google Voice, and so on. Apple released the basic group FaceTime just a year ago, and a teenager took advantage of the feature almost immediately. Even once Apple has patched the security problem, FaceTime will continue to be an Apple-only service. Consequently, if even one individual does not have a current Apple gadget, the system becomes useless. Skype has been dormant under Microsoft’s control. Expectations have risen over time, and the company has failed to meet them, delivering lower-quality video and inconsistent service instead. WhatsApp video does not function on desktop computers or iPads. Even if you can get over these challenges, most goods have limitations. Skype has a 50-person maximum capacity. Google Hangouts is limited to a maximum of 10 people. While the competition seems to be fierce, most items are eliminated from consideration with one or two significant showstoppers when it comes down to it.
Your Administrator has some Important Information for You
There is one more advantage Zoom has over its competitors. Many users are unable to make a decision. If your business or institution begins to use Zoom, or if you choose to participate in a public event that is aired on Zoom, you will have the option of participating through Zoom or not attending the meeting. When it came to pursuing firms, Zoom was abrasive. To explain their faults, Zoom posted a statement on its website explaining that their technology was designed especially for corporate clients. While this is true, as John Gruber points out, it is deceptive: “It makes no sense […] that a product ostensibly developed for the business would have poor security and privacy,” he says. Perhaps it would be more appropriate to say that Zoom was relentless in pursuing business clients. “It was the request of some of our clients,” stated Zoom’s chief security officer, in explaining why one incident had occurred. Zoom customers requested features that were hard to achieve without resorting to hacks. Zoom was also hacked to obtain the contracts.
Employees have no option but to use Zoom after it has been installed on their computers and phones by an IT department. Employees are required to participate in obligatory team meetings held on Zoom. Upon being questioned about Zoom, a government source in the United Kingdom responded with a phrase that sounds like it might have been on the Zoom website: “The app was straightforward to set up amongst the varied systems used by different government departments.” Zoom was simple to set up, and in the present political context, the government was more concerned with its ability to function than its security.
However, I can already see this project going to the bottom of the IT to-do list, according to the source: “Over time, it was envisaged that a more unified system would be deployed.” It is difficult to roll out the technology at scale, but it is more difficult to unroll technology. Once people have found something that works well for them, it might be difficult to switch to something that provides no extra value, particularly if it needs more clicks to complete. Contrary to popular belief, contracts are notoriously difficult to terminate, and at this day of global economic austerity, does anybody want to be forced to pay more to continue doing what they were already doing?
Why not take advantage of Zoom?
Even though Zoom purports to be a corporate product, the company has been wooing consumers for quite some time. You may use it for free, and it contains features that are hard to believe were included to address business demands, such as virtual green screens, a “Touch up my look” option, and interaction with the Snap Camera, which allows you to enter a meeting dressed as a potato (which is hilarious).
I’ve been thinking about this for quite some time: how do people choose a new piece of software? To find an app specifically for me, I can search through an app store or check for suggestions. I like to use an app that I know I can rely on whenever feasible. Trust is a difficult term to grasp, but it might simply refer to an app that I am familiar with in this situation. Simply because we’ve heard other people speak about Zoom, we’re more inclined to utilize it than we are to use a tool like High-Five or Zoho Cliq, even though they may be superior.
A collective choice is required for videoconferencing and messaging applications, which may be difficult to make, as anybody who has attempted to select a restaurant with their friends can attest to. Regression to the mean takes hold, and individuals gravitate toward the alternative that is the least objectionable to them. Zoom was in an excellent position to do this. It was simple to use, familiar from work, and offered a free tier of service. In addition, who doesn’t want wrinkles to be smoothed away?
Slack co-founder Stuart Butterfield acknowledged the challenge in gaining popularity when the service first launched. “Every member has a veto — doubling the product’s chance of rejection,” he said. “For example, if one engineer at a company uses Slack and says, ‘I hate it,’ the product is more likely to be rejected.” ‘I’m not going to use this,’ I say, and that’s the end of it for us.” In this case, Zoom gained since it became the default option. In social situations, individuals go toward what they are familiar with and are content with a straightforward answer. My mother’s ukulele club, for example, is not going to release a request for proposals and conduct a procurement process. They aren’t even interested in trying out other video applications; all they want is good enough so that they can go back to playing their ukuleles.
It’s difficult to be the one who tells all of your pals, “Actually, I don’t want to use Zoom because of security concerns.” There’s a danger of coming off as a crazed conspiracy theorist wearing a tinfoil hat. If you vote against Zoom, it becomes your obligation to find a replacement, and as we’ve seen, the rivals have their problems to contend with. Whenever someone suggests, “Should we simply utilize Zoom since we all know it works?” it is often simpler to give in to peer pressure. The fact is that most casual users will never encounter any concerns due to Zoom’s lack of security and privacy, and as a result, the issues become less important in practice. It is difficult to roll out the technology at scale, but it is more difficult to unroll technology.
One of the things that strikes me as odd is that for an app known for being simple to use, Zoom. Isn’t that simple to use. Yuan criticized Webex for lacking “contemporary functionality such as screen-sharing for mobile devices,” which he said was lacking. The directions for screen-sharing on Zoom’s iOS app, on the other hand, are a maze of 13 confusing steps that include adjusting control center settings and using arcane functions that most users are unlikely to be aware of. Many consumers will never be aware that they can accomplish this.
In general, the UI is difficult to navigate. Especially for novice users, it’s simple to find yourself in one meeting with everyone else on hold in another, waiting for the leader to arrive. The controls differ from platform to platform, and Zoom’s default settings are ineffective in many situations. Because the web application has been blocked, users must download and install the program rather than just using their browser. Zoom has made some weird decisions, despite the emphasis on keeping things simple. But, you know what? I’ll tell you something. It’s sufficient for the purpose. The majority of individuals who use Zoom today will have had no previous experience with videoconferencing, so they will have nothing to compare it, and they will be uninformed of any feasible alternatives.
What bothers me about Zoom’s sleazeball attitude toward security and privacy is how needless it is, according to David Hansson, co-creator of Ruby on Rails and co-founder of Basecamp: “What annoys me about Zoom’s attitude toward security and privacy is simply how unnecessary it is.” Even though I’m afraid I disagree with their choice to circumvent security protections to make the app more user-friendly, I understand their motivation for doing so. However, using private footage to sell advertisements is an undesirable side effect.
As a result of the recent media attention given to Zoom, the firm has fallen into a trough of disappointment. People seek alternatives, and Zoom has issued comments and even had a webinar (which you had to utilize Zoom to participate in), pledging to do better the next time around. Yuan proclaimed “a feature freeze, effective immediately, and shifted all of our technical resources to concentrate on our most serious trust, safety, and privacy problems.” Yuan also declared “a feature freeze, effective immediately.”
In a way, I’m sad for Yuan and his crew and wish them the best (at least, as sorry as I can for a multi-billionaire whose product plays fast and loose with security). According to his profile on the Zoom website, Eric Yuan founded Zoom in 2011 intending to deliver happiness, and I’m not sure whether that’s WeWork-style cleverness or gullible naivety on his part. Yuan had not asked for Zoom to be thrust into the limelight in such a dramatic manner. The world’s attention was drawn to his software sausage factory, where they peeled back the skin and discovered a large amount of rat meat. Yuan’s team has dealt with non-technical clients who have demanded features that have necessitated security compromises for years. While it was their obligation to fight back, money was on the line. Indeed, the identical media sources that are now decrying Zoom had previously praised it for a long time. According to Forbes, Zoom has “transformed irritation into a $1 billion value,” “mastered the art of profitable expansion,” and provided “leadership lessons in execution and authenticity,” among other things. “Most people should avoid an out of control’ Zoom,” reads one of their headlines.
The fact that so many other corporations operate similarly to Zoom while not being subjected to the same amount of public scrutiny is, in many ways, the most concerning aspect of this. This is not meant to absolve Zoom of responsibility but rather to acknowledge that the whole system is somewhat to a fault. It’s difficult not to point the blame at capitalism, even if just a little bit. As I write this, Zoom’s stock is selling at double the price it was a year ago, according to Bloomberg. Investors lavish praise on firms that make money, and customers flock to convenient and inexpensive. Is it a surprise that Zoom went over the edge?
I’ve concluded that it all boils down to dancing pigs. In his 2000 book Secrets and Lies, Bruce Schneier explained it as follows: “If a user clicks on a button that promises dancing pigs, and instead receives a hortatory warning detailing the possible risks of the applet – he’s going to prefer dancing pigs over computer security any day.” I’ve found myself relying on Zoom more and more, participating in hundreds of calls and conferences using it each week. Zoom provides something that the world needs. And the world is in such desperate need of it that even governments are clutching their noses and pressing the “install” button. It remains to be seen if, after these “special” circumstances pass, individuals and businesses will migrate to “more coherent systems,” or whether the allure of setting your backdrop to the Death Star will be enough to keep us all on Zoom.