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Use Zoom? These 5 safety tips can keep the 'Zoombombing' hackers away

USA TODAY logo USA TODAY 4/6/2020 Jefferson Graham, USA TODAY
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Last week, we told you that the Zoom video conferencing service was ultra-cool and that most people you knew were using it during this COVID-19 pandemic.

This week, security researchers started speaking out about security lapses in the program, the new trend of "Zoombombing," and crashing public meetings with obscenities and worse.

In response, Zoom's CEO apologized and said the company had fixed many of the issues.

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Still, as Zoom usage went from 10 million in December to 200 million in March, you still have a large group looking to exploit the place where people are hanging. Zoom remains the No. 1 most downloaded app in the Apple and Google app stores, according to Apptopia.

There are ways to curb Zoombombing and more.

Some common-sense tips on safer usage of Zoom.

1. Be wary of links 

Zoom meetings start by creating a meeting and copying a URL that is generated by Zoom. You are then instructed to send it out to participants. "I would not click through any link I got from a Zoom invite as that could be a potential phishing scheme," says Mark Ostrowski, a security analyst for Check Point Software. One of the oldest tricks in the book from scammers is sending out a malicious link in an e-mail that usually leads to malware that can take control of your computer. 

So when you start a meeting, you get to invite people and send out a link that starts with looks like this: https://zoom.us/ followed by a long string of numbers, letters both capitalized and lower-case.

We have a safer way to invite people.  

a screenshot of a cell phone: Zoom window has ID and password noted. Use those instead of sending out a link. © Screenshot Zoom window has ID and password noted. Use those instead of sending out a link.

At the top of the screen where you go to get the link, instead jot down the meeting ID, which is noted in the middle, and the password, at the bottom right. Put those in an e-mail with a personal note, to make your guests feel a lot better about the security of this meeting. They can either go to http://www.zoom.us to log into the meeting or open the app. 

Worries: Zoom issues: People hijacking streams, possible security flaws

Other possibilities: What about Hangouts, Skype and Teams?

2. Adjust the screen share options immediately

a screenshot of a cell phone: Click Share Screen for safety tools © Screenshot Click Share Screen for safety tools Instead of letting anyone share your screen and engage in "zoombombing" – that's when uninvited attendees break into and disrupt your meeting – the host has the option of adjusting the settings. They're hidden, so take note. On the general Zoom settings app window, there is an option for screen sharing. Click it and select Advanced settings. There you instruct Zoom to only let the Host share the screen. And now your major privacy issue has been solved.

a screenshot of a social media post: Change settings for "only host" © Screenshot Change settings for "only host"

Those two tips should take care of 90% of the issues. But be aware of these tools as well: 

 3. Use Waiting Rooms

This is the most hidden, secret security feature in Zoom. Get out your searchlight to find it. What it does it let the host prescreen the guests before the meeting starts for an extra layer of security. To get there, go to your master account settings, (under "My Account" at the top right of the main screen), click Settings, go to the Meetings tab and scroll all the way to the bottom, where you will find the Waiting Room options. Once clicked, this will be the default on all your meetings. 

a screenshot of a social media post: Waiting room tools © Screenshot Waiting room tools

4. Create a webinar instead of a meeting

This is a presentation to a group that doesn't bring in participation, and thus, less likely to be hacked. It's only available to paying customers. Zoom is free to anyone for meetings under 40 minutes. Paid plans start at $14.99 monthly. 

5. Remember that everything is being recorded

Don't say anything or add text to a chat window you wouldn't want your mother reading. Or maybe worse, your boss reading in USA TODAY. Common sense, right? 

And finally, some good news.

Speaking of the boss, Big Brother isn't watching anymore. 

One Zoom feature that got many people riled was "attendee attention tracker," which let the boss know if you weren't paying attention during a meeting, and wasting time tweeting or checking out some other website during a meeting. Zoom says that feature is now disabled. 

Follow USA TODAY's Jefferson Graham on Twitter, @jeffersongraham

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Use Zoom? These 5 safety tips can keep the 'Zoombombing' hackers away

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