Video Conferences – How Can We Securely Meet Remotely?

Cameron G. Shilling
Director, Litigation Department & Chair of Cybersecurity and Privacy Group
Published: New Hampshire Bar News
May 20, 2020

Video conferencing is critical for many lawyers and law firms to sustain our practices while working remotely during the public health crises, and we are likely after the crisis ends to continue to work remotely and use video conferencing more frequently than we did previously. As a result, this article concerning video conferencing and the next columns of the Cybersecurity Corner will address information privacy and security issues inherent in remote work.

Access Controls

‘Zoombombing’ is the newest neologism in our lexicons, and the most common insecurity. The term derives from a prominent video conferencing application called Zoom. To participate in a video conference (Zoom, Skype, GoToMeeting, Google Hangouts/Meet, Microsoft Teams, Cisco WebEx, etc.), the meeting organizer typically emails a link to attendees. Without proper controls, the link can be used by a hacker to access the conference, and disrupt the meeting by barraging participants with offensive content. That is Zoombombing.

In addition to disrupting meetings, hackers acquire links to video conferences to steal the personal information (name and email) of participants as well as the valuable business information transmitted in the meetings. Intruders also may install malware on the computers and mobile devices of participants, permitting them to steal the information on the devices, control the device cameras and microphones, and encrypt the devices for ransom.

Most video conference applications have controls that can be configured to mitigate such risks. Meeting organizers should distribute invites with passwords, and restrict or eliminate the ability of participants to share content. Conferences also can be established with virtual waiting rooms, permitting organizers to admit only intended participants, or as webinars rather than meetings, restricting the ability of attendees to distribute content and interact with each other.

Notice/Consent and Secure Retention

Video conference applications commonly either automatically record or permit recording of the event. Given the sensitive client and other information we collect and disclose using this technology, such recording raises significant privacy and security issues.

Privacy laws require us to notify participants and (in some situations) obtain consent to collect, use, and disclose personal information acquired about them. State and federal wiretap laws also require consent to record and store audio and electronic communications.  As a result, meeting organizers should integrate an appropriate notice into all video conference invitations, technologically require consent from participants whenever meetings are recorded, and obtain at least implied consent from attendees of recorded webinars.

Recorded events also should be securely stored, and the applications permit a variety of different retention methods. Meeting organizers should ensure that the retention method is secure, including encryption of the recordings and hard drives used to store them, and use of strong passwords and multi-factor authentication to access clouds and server networks that contain stored recordings. Additionally, participants should be technologically prevented from making their own personal recordings of meetings.

Due Diligence and Agreements

Most video conference providers publicize instructions on their websites about how to configure the privacy and security controls inherent in their applications. Before using these applications, we must do due diligence to ensure that those controls are sufficient to meet our confidentiality and security obligations, and configure them appropriately. Some conference providers also will sign agreements designed to comply with privacy and security laws and our ethical obligations.

The public health crisis presents a multiplicity of challenges and risks for lawyers and law firms. As we increasingly adopt technologies like video conferencing to work remotely, we must implement appropriate measures to ensure that the use of these technologies does not endanger the privacy or security of our clients or ourselves.