Coronavirus: Zoom Reaches 300 Million Users, Adds 256-bit Encryption

The popular video conferencing app Zoom continues to become more popular, with its user base growing another 50 percent in the last three weeks.

Chief Executive Eric Yuan revealed on Wednesday that the platform is now used by 300 million people, up from the 200 million users reported earlier this month.

Usage of Zoom has spiked dramatically during the Coronavirus pandemic, and has seen the company’s shares rise, despite security concerns.

Image credit: UK Government/Twitter

Security concerns

Despite the popularity of Zoom, security experts are concerned at its growing use.

The US Senate has advised its members not to use Zoom, due to privacy and security concerns. Other firms such as SpaceX and others have also banned its use.

But the British government held its first-ever video-conferenced Cabinet meeting a couple of weeks ago, and even the Prime Minister Boris Johnson tweeted a photo of himself using the application.

The British government also pushed back amid criticism from some quarters over its use of Zoom. It said Zoom use was approved by the NCSC, and was used as many ministers were self-isolating at home, with no access to official government video conferencing systems.

Despite that, there has been strong criticism of the app over the lack of end-to-end encryption of meeting sessions, as well as routing of traffic through China.

There has also been criticism of “zoombombing”, where uninvited guests crashed meetings.

Earlier this month for example Singapore’s education ministry suspended teachers’ use of Zoom following “very serious incidents” of disruption. One involved obscene images appearing on screens and Caucasian men making lewd comments during a geography lesson with teenaged girls

And this week there have been reports of at least three Zoom meetings were infiltrated by people sharing footage of children being sexually abused.

Encrypted sessions

Zoom for its part has been trying to reassure and repair its reputation, and chief executive Eric Yuan apologised publicly for making misleading statements about the strength of its encryption technology.

At the same time Zoom implemented a 90-day feature freeze, to give it time to fix security problems. Zoom also hired former Yahoo and Facebook security boss Alex Stamos as an advisor, after he began tweeting in late March, calling for Zoom to be more transparent.

And now Yuan in a blog post has revealed that other the 300 million users, the firm is releasing Zoom 5.0 this week to address some of the security concerns.

Zoom 5.0 includes passwords by default, improved encryption (AES 256-Bit GCM encryption), and a new security icon to control meetings.

“Organisations will have access to GCM encryption with the release of Zoom 5.0, and a system-wide account enablement will occur May 30, when all Zoom customers will switch to the new cryptographic mode,” the firm blogged.

And to account for criticism that the company had routed some data through Chinese servers, Zoom also said an account admin can now choose data centre regions for their meetings.

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Tom Jowitt

Tom Jowitt is a leading British tech freelancer and long standing contributor to Silicon UK. He is also a bit of a Lord of the Rings nut...

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