There have been a lot of question marks over Zoom’s security since the video communication app exploded in popularity during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. In Germany, official advice from public offices is Zoom and other communication tools are unsafe, leaving people confused about which apps they can use.
Since the COVID-19 crisis started, Zoom saw its user base increase from around 10 million to over 300 million. Other communication tools like Skype, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and WhatsApp have also seen major growth.
However, according to German officials, only some of these services are safe. In a recent interview to a German newspaper, the federal commissioner for data protection urged public servants and businesses to stop using Zoom. The advice followed the Germany foreign office, which banned its workers from using the platform.
“When personal details are involved, it is advisable not to use this form of communication,” commissioner Ulrich Kelber told Handelsblatt. “Alternative platforms should be chosen, which can guarantee genuine end-to-end encryption.”
Kelber had already banned public servants from using Facebook’s popular WhatsApp service. He argued the platform was sending information about users back to Facebook. It is worth noting all messages sent on WhatsApp have end-to-end encryption. Regional governments have followed Kelber’s lead with similar warnings about Zoom and even Microsoft Teams.
Most services listed have had issues, and some more than others. However, Germany is currently seeing a work-from-home trend imposed by the COVID-19 pandemic. Millions of people are working remotely and relying on services like Zoom, WhatsApp, and Microsoft Teams.
If authorities have problems with all of these service, confused Germans are wondering which communication apps they can use. Speaking to ZDNet, one lawyer said companies are left in limbo and unsure what apps are allowed.
“Recent statements by data-protection authorities on the subject of video conferencing leave many companies at a loss,” Susanne Dehmel, a lawyer and board member at Bitkom, Germany’s association for digital business, which represents over 2,700 companies, tells ZDNet.
“Instead of blanket condemnations…, we believe that it would be much more helpful if data-protection authorities explained how video conferences can be used in a way that complies with data-protection regulations.”
Are the Concerns Warranted?
As mentioned, most communication tools have had problems. In April, WhatsApp was forced to restrict Double Arrow Messages to stop fake news about coronavirus being spread on the platform. Specifically, users will be limited to one of these forwarded messages per chat. WhatsApp says the decision was taken to curb misinformation surrounding the coronavirus outbreak.
Earlier this month, Microsoft Teams was targeted by hackers using false domain attacks. Bad actors are making domains that pose as official links from the likes of Microsoft Teams. Unwitting users could click the links and download malware or give away personal information. It is worth noting only one domain was found related to Teams, while thousands were linked to Zoom.
And Zoom is arguably the big problem. The company has been caught up by a wave of issues since its popularity skyrocketed. Many regulators have taken a dim view on the app’s security and it seems other communication apps are getting batched with Zoom by default. It certainly seems that is happening in Germany.
Zoom has addressed its security troubles with a focus on shoring up the platform. In recent months, Zoom’s growth has been tempered by a series of issues that have plagued the platform. For example, bad actors have been infiltrating meetings and ZoomBoming participants. The company also removed data sharing with Facebook over concerns regarding GDPR rules.
Google has recently banned its employees from using Zoom, mirroring actions taken by German official offices. Last month, the company’s CEO, Eric S. Yuan said the company did not expect to see a growth in popularity and was not prepared for it.