Zoom is a bit of a conundrum these days. It is incredibly popular, and yet it remains in the news for what are considered are significant privacy issues with the video meetings app. The company has now confirmed that it is in conversation with the Ministry of Home Affairs of the Government of India on the specific security issues that saw the Home Ministry restrict the use of Zoom for all government video meetings. Harry Moseley, the Chief Information Officer at Zoom has confirmed that the company is also working on adding actual end-to-end encryption to further secure video calls.
Earlier, the government has not only restricted the use of Zoom for its own video meetings, but also issued an advisory which confirmed that Zoom video chats were not secure, for personal or professional use. The Government of India’s Cyber Coordination Center, or CyCord, and the Indian Computer Emergency Response Team (CERT-in) have issued advisories. Zoom is now redirecting its focus on enhancing the security features in the app, according to Moseley who spoke with CNBC-TV18. He says that the entire engineering team is now working to enhance the security controls in the app.
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The company has also shared some data on the usage numbers. Zoom says their video meeting platform now has 200 million users as of March, up from 10 million in December. The company says their app is meant for large companies, enterprises, educational institutions and governments. They also say that more than 90,000 schools use Zoom across 25 countries. Moseley insists that Zoom always had the security features and controls in place, and it is simply looking to elevate them now. They are also providing more controls to video meeting administrators.
According to cybersecurity firm McAfee, hackers who deploy Maze threaten to release information on the internet if the targeted companies fail to pay.
Last Updated: April 19, 2020, 11:40 PM IST
Cognizant Technology Solutions Corp on Saturday said it was hit by a “Maze” ransomware cyberattack, resulting in service disruptions for some of its clients. The information technology services provider said it was taking steps to contain the incident, with the help of cyber defense companies, and has also engaged with law enforcement authorities.
Ransomware is a type of malicious program used by hackers to take control of files in an infected system and then demand hefty payments to recover them. According to cybersecurity firm McAfee, hackers who deploy Maze threaten to release information on the internet if the targeted companies fail to pay.
“We are in ongoing communication with our clients and have provided them with indicators of compromise and other technical information of a defensive nature,” Cognizant added. It did not respond to a request from Reuters for further comments on the incident.
The Maze operators denied responsibility for the cyber attack, according to the security website BleepingComputer. However, the report added that Maze is likely not discussing it to avoid complications at this early stage. Insurer Chubb Ltd in March was hit by a computer security incident that may have involved unauthorized access to data held by an outside service provider. A group that deploys the Maze ransomware claimed to have locked up devices on Chubb’s network during March, according to BleepingComputer.
Google could soon compete with the Apple Card, which launched last year in March. Recently Huawei also announced the Huawei Card last week alongside the P40 smartphone series.
Last Updated: April 19, 2020, 4:15 PM IST
Google could be the next big tech name to enter the physical payments card market. According to a report the search giant is planning to announce its own payments card and while details are limited, it is being called the Google Card. This means that Google would soon compete with the Apple Card, which launched last year in March. Recently Huawei also announced the Huawei Card last week alongside the P40 smartphone series.
Now the Apple Card is a credit card that has been made in partnership with Mastercard and Goldman Sachs. The upcoming Google Card, however, is going to be a debit card and it will be co-branded with different bank partners, including Citi and Stanford Federal Credit Union. It will feature a Visa-powered chip, although Google could further expand support for other payment processors.
There will be a virtual version of the Google Card with a virtual card number for online purchases just like the Apple Card. The physical Google Card could be used for purchases at retail stores along with support for contactless payments as well.
Assumingly, the card could be added to the Google Pay app and users will be able to keep a tab on all the purchases made. There will also be an option to block the card inside the app in case the card has been misplaced or stolen.
There is no clarity as to when exactly Google will launch this card, but it did recently say in a statement that it’s exploring ways to “partner with banks and credit unions in the US to offer smart checking accounts through Google Pay, helping their customers benefit from useful insights and budgeting tools, while keeping their money in an FDIC or NCUA-insured account”.
Zoom has had a rough few weeks. Ever since exploding into popularity, Zoom found itself bombarded by reports of privacy and security issues. These further prompted many to quit the platform, and cyber security experts to issue advisories. Thankfully, Zoom itself appeared to take matters seriously, roping in key cyber security faces such as ex-Facebook security head Alex Stamos, and more recently Katie Moussouris of the Pentagon bug bounty fame.
However, while the security features are being built into the system in the near future, there are still quite a few steps that you, as a user, need to take if you want to keep your privacy and data safe from being stolen. In many cases, these steps also make the most of the new tools that Zoom itself has announced for users to adopt by themselves. While the onus was largely on Zoom to improve its app, it is also a key time for users to become well versed with basic security features that should be followed everywhere.
With that in mind, here’s looking at a few key steps that you need to take, if despite the privacy and safety concerns, you still happen to be using Zoom for your official video conferencing requirements.
Logging in and passwords
The first key step is to ensure that no third party plugin is used to log in to Zoom. By using Facebook or Google, you essentially link your private accounts to Zoom, which increases the risk of your private information being stolen if Zoom is breached and its linked APIs are traced by attackers. Always ensure that you use a unique user name and password.
If you are an attendee, insist on your host to use a password-protected link, and also use an automatically generated meeting ID for each invite.
Once logged in, ensure that you use a password-protected meeting invite, if you are a host. This minimises the risk of ‘zoombombing’, an act where Zoom meetings were bombarded by malicious users with racial slurs or pornographic motifs. If you are joining a meeting only, try to not log in to the service at all, since joining only requires you to key in the meeting ID and password. If you are an attendee, insist on your host to use a password-protected link, and also use an automatically generated meeting ID for each invite.
Steps for teachers
Zoom states that teachers should refrain from posting images of their virtual classrooms to protect digital identification. Furthermore, teachers are also insisted to use the ‘lock meeting’ option once all classroom attendees have joined the session. This is somewhat similar to the physical locking of a classroom door, once a class has begun, to ensure that no unauthorised access can happen.
Teachers may also mandatorily require their students to register their email addresses, so that any unidentified email address of nefarious participants can be instantly spotted and removed. They are also requested to use randomly generated meeting IDs instead of their own, fixed meeting ID. This can help the teachers, and in turn all the students, from being tracked down online and traced to active meeting rooms. Schools can also have their students sign up for official Zoom accounts, and only these accounts can be authenticated for using the service in a particular meeting room.
To enforce further restrictions, teachers can disallow students to join an online classroom before they themselves do. Other restrictions include disabling participant annotation, or disabling audio and video feeds of participants that may be disruptive.
Are these steps foolproof?
Well, not quite. For one, Zoom is yet to improve its encryption standard. Zoom still uses AES-256 ECB ecryption standard, which only requires an easily decipherable AES-128 security key to decrypt a packet (or a bulk of information) that has been intercepted in between servers. It is this that is key to hackers finding sensitive user information, which they were reportedly selling on the dark web. In fact, a recent report by Motherboard revealed even more zero-day exploits on Zoom’s Windows and Mac apps, which were reportedly being circulated on the dark web for $500,000.
In the next few weeks, Zoom will be migrating to a safer 256-AES GCM encryption standard, and in the long term, are working on an end to end encryption project
The encryption aspect, coupled with the fact that Zoom used Chinese data centers to pass data through, led to users suspecting that Chinese cyber espionage agents may be tapping outside data without any accountability. To make amends for this, Zoom has stated that it will now let customers select the data center where their info will be stored.
Zoom is also adding a ‘report user’ feature to ban any ‘zoombombers’, mandatorily add complex passwords to cloud storage accounts, and make the data route more transparent to all its users. On top of this, Zoom’s Stamos also recently mentioned that in the next few weeks, Zoom will be migrating to a safer 256-AES GCM encryption standard, and in the long term, are working on an end to end encryption project with top cryptographers. This does not detail if Zoom will be taking the decentralised approach to completely do away with any suspicion of surveillance from its users.
While matters at Zoom can significantly improve, they are still a start. In the meantime, if you must use Zoom to make video calls, the above mentioned steps are imperative to be followed.
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There has been a massive surge in voice and video calls on WhatsApp ever since the Coronavirus pandemic broke out.
Last Updated: April 18, 2020, 3:27 PM IST
WhatsApp, the Facebook-owned communication service, is reportedly working on a new feature that will allow more participants on both group audio and group video calls, hence increasing the usage scope of the service in more enterprise situations. While the new number of users will certainly be greater than the current limit of four, it is not quite clear as to what might be the new user limit for WhatsApp’s group calling feature. The move comes at a time when the likes of Microsoft’s Teams and Skype Now, Google’s Duo and Meet, and the widely discussed Zoom are seeing a steady surge in usage by virtue of individuals across the world working from home.
The upcoming feature was reported by WABetaInfo, which revealed that the testing for the new feature has already begun in WhatsApp’s beta circles, which in turn would mean that a release in the stable build would be on the charts, some time in the near future.
You’ll be able to get in touch with your family and friends better, thanks to the new group call limit, available within the next weeks. This is the best decision taken by @WhatsApp: we can stay safe at home, but we can meet virtually more people we love though WhatsApp 💚. #RT https://t.co/M0DsObrTmS
“You’ll be able to get in touch with your family and friends better, thanks to the new group call limit, available within the next weeks,” the report said.
Along with many fellow communication apps, WhatsApp has also seen a significant surge in usage, through texts, audio and video calling alike. The app, which comes with end to end encryption, offers a safe suite of services. With Zoom being singled out for its privacy issues, the aspect of user safety and privacy is something that has helped WhatsApp to hold its ground. Going forward, it remains to be seen how WhatsApp expands its usage scope to include more users in its fold.
After the government’s decision to allow non-essential items sale on e-commerce platforms from April 20, Flipkart and Amazon have announced several measures to empower lakhs of sellers and SMBs on their marketplaces, as they began the exercise to chart the best route for resuming full operations. Flipkart of Friday announced a three-month moratorium on existing loans, special offers on its growth capital programme and constant counsel and on-ground support for nearly 2 lakh sellers on its platform before resuming operations.
The etailer said that the seller support team is providing constant counsel and on-ground support to sellers on its platform to help them resume operations in a few days and help consumers in this time of need as they continue to stay indoors.
“The analytics teams are supporting sellers with market intelligence to ensure smooth listings on the platforms. Also, the supply chain team continues to maintain an intense focus on safety and health procedures in all Flipkart facilities and staff that will support the movement of goods for sellers,” the company said in a statement. Flipkart has provided its sellers with the flexibility of choosing to work or not work during the lockdown period, without any concerns of their performance metrics being hampered.
The company has also waived off the storage fee for April, under its ‘Fulfilled by Flipkart’ service that allows sellers to store their inventory in Flipkart Fulfillment Centers for faster deliveries. All the payments related to cancelled orders in the lockdown period are underway and are being settled in the upcoming payment cycles, the company informed.
“Also, sellers do not have to wait for 60 days from the date of the return request to raise an SPF claim, and can raise it as soon as the lockdown lifts and the company fully resume its operations,” said the detailed. During the first 21 days of the lockdown, e-commerce platforms were allowed to sell only essential goods such as food, pharmaceuticals and medical devices.
As restrictions on certain economic activities will be lifted to some extent starting April 20, e-commerce majors would be able to sell mobile phones and electronic items, including refrigerators, televisions, air conditioners, coolers along with stationery items. In a blog post late Thursday, Gopal Pillai, VP, Seller Services, Amazon India, said the company stands with its seller partners to help them navigate the economic challenges that have arisen from the spread of COVID-19 pandemic.
Amazon has more than 6 lakh sellers and a significant number of these sellers include micro-entrepreneurs as well as small and medium businesses as well as women sellers, artisans and weavers and many more.
“To help the micro-entrepreneurs and other SMBs with their cash flow, we are waiving off 50 per cent of the Selling on Amazon (SoA) or the ‘referral fee’ till June 30. This initiative stands to benefit tens of thousands of sellers on Amazon.in,” Pillai said. This is a fee that all sellers pay for selling their products on Amazon, which is a percentage of the total sales price that is paid by the buyer.
“The SOA fees vary for different categories but is applicable for all sellers. This waiver will apply to all sellers whose average GMS (Gross Merchandise Sales) for the Jan and Feb 2020 was Rs 10,000 and below,” added Pillai. Amazon said it is waiving off storage fees for all products at its Fulfillment centres till April 30. “As we prioritize delivering high priority products to our customers including food, groceries, medicine and healthcare items, we have had to cancel orders containing lower priority items.
To help reduce the impact of these cancellations on our seller partners, we are refunding of all fulfilment and referral fees,” informed Amazon. Amazon said it is temporarily relaxing claim windows for different types of reimbursements that its seller partners file for. “This has been done to ensure that reimbursement claims are not denied if they miss the regular claim windows due to the disruption caused by COVID 19,” the company said.
Chinese smartphone manufacturer Vivo on Friday announced that it has donated close to 9 lakh masks to government health bodies, police agencies and New Delhi Municipal Council (NDMC).
“Vivo India has donated close to 900,000 masks to government health bodies, police agencies and @tweetndmc. We will continue to do whatever we can, in our capacity, to help the country overcome the COVID19 pandemic. This is for all #HeroesWhoCare #Coronarelief,” Nipun Marya, Director, Brand Strategy, Vivo India said in a tweet.
Earlier, the company donated one lakh medical masks and 5,000 N-95 masks to the Maharashtra government. Additionally, the company has also rescheduled the launch of its upcoming mid-range smartphone — Vivo V19 — with a dual-camera punch-hole and quad-camera system.
The volatility in recent cryptocurrency prices have attracted considerable debates around the viability in their investments. However, despite the fluctuation, coupled with the economic slowdown due to the Covid-19 pandemic, cryptocurrency exchanges in India continue to see cautious but steady growth through these times.
It is this that is giving crypto exchanges cautious optimism in India, even though the economic slowdown has restricted the crypto industry of India to draw the full potential to the boost given to the sector by the Supreme Court of India.
On the other hand, foreign portfolio investors have been actively pulling out of the Indian stock markets, with reports over the past month stating that over Rs 35,000 crore have been drawn out of Indian markets, showing a steep decline.
Speaking to News18, Sathvik Vishwanath, co-founder and chief executive of cryptocurrency exchange Unocoin, says, “The SC verdict gave the entire industry a brief boost, but then, the pandemic broke at around the same time frame, which did not let the industry players entirely understand what the current scenario with crypto in India. Despite that, transactions have continued to steadily grow on our platform over the past 30 days, and I would say that industry players have largely managed to earn a steady revenue flow to support investments and expenses.”
Although total transactions, users and volumes have increased over 10x, average purchases above Rs 50,000 are considerably lower than late 2017-early 2018
The same is also echoed by Sumit Gupta, CEO of CoinDCX, another Indian crypto exchange startup. Gupta says, “We didn’t see any marked decline in user growth. On the contrary, we witnessed 10x growth in the number of users on our platform after the RBI restrictions were overturned. The number (of users and transactions) has been consistently on the higher side, even during the Covid-19 situation.”
However, Atulya Bhatt, co-founder and director of BuyUCoin, reveals that the trend of growth may be largely restricted to small volume transactions, and this may be a clear indication that even though crypto assets show great potential as an alternate investment avenue, the approach from investors, small and large alike, remains mostly conservative. He says, “There was a clear time overlap between the SC verdict, global financial turmoil and the Covid-19 situation. Upon close inspection, we observed that although the total number of transactions, active users and volumes have increased more than 10x, the average amounts of purchases (above ₹50,000) are still considerably lower than late 2017- early 2018 data.”
Despite positive reactions, the long-established factor of volatility cannot be ignored altogether. Historical data from Coinbase about Bitcoin reveals wild swings in fortune, which is mostly unsuitable for small or new investors, who would make up the largest chunk of people in India’s crypto ecosystem. For example, Bitcoin’s 5-year record shows its incredible growth run between November 2015 and December 2017, when it grew a staggering 58x in inflated valuation. Between April and July 2019, Bitcoin yet again showed a growth streak that pulled its value upward by 2.4x, before declining again. More recently, between April 16 and 17, the price of one bitcoin rose by 9.6 percent in a single day, before hitting a ceiling and showing slow decline in the past few days.
To discern these volatilities, Dr Garrick Hileman, research head of Blockchain.com, says that the immunity of digital currencies from many physical assets is what draws new users into the fold. He says, “Crypto asset prices were not immune to the mid-March global liquidity crisis, when nearly every asset sold-off except global reserve assets like US dollars and treasuries. Even traditional safe havens such as gold dropped in value, and the price performance of bitcoin in this type of acute liquidity crunch was expected.
“However, as the initial liquidity crisis abated, and the unprecedented size of the government fiscal and monetary response to Covid-19 became clearer, we’ve seen crypto asset prices rebound sharply. The price of bitcoin is up over 50 percent from its March 13 low, and for the first quarter of 2020, crypto assets like bitcoin held up significantly better than many stock markets and other asset classes (such as commercial real estate).”
Concerns over Covid-19 and the nearly certain prospect of future viruses will provide a secular boost to digital currencies
BuyUCoin’s Bhatt agrees, and makes a rather bold statement. He says, “The current volatility in the cryptocurrency markets was touted as the failure of the ‘bitcoin as digital gold’, while at the same time, the US Treasury and Feds are printing trillions of dollars ‘out of thin air’ as ‘relief money’. However, bitcoin as an asset surpasses these obstacles — it exists in cyberspace, isn’t constrained by state/national borders or logistics, and having a finite number of coins around the world, can’t be manipulated or forged. Hence, it continues to be the only practically available solution to global crises.”
Hileman further adds, “Crypto industry productivity and revenues have been relatively less impacted than other sectors of the economy. Looking ahead, concerns over Covid-19 and the nearly certain prospect of future viruses will provide a secular boost to digital currencies. It is demonstrating the value of alternative, redundant-backup systems for critical infrastructure, such as storing and moving value. There is also a boost to the adoption of many non-currency uses of blockchain technology, such helping people navigate fake news, food supply chain tracking, and e-voting.”
Unocoin’s Vishwanath said, “I don’t expect crypto businesses to be affected so much that they get battered. It will mostly be a slight dip in the curve, which we are all prepared for at any given time.”
Does this make cryptocurrencies a better investment bet? The industry opinion right now seems divided, but the signs are clear that cryptocurrencies are being increasingly looked at as a viable alternative investment avenue.
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Sony PlayStation 4 owners are in for a treat, in what surely comes as a rare bit of good news in times of the Covid-19 pandemic. Announcing the Play At Home initiative through an official blog post, Sony has revealed that millions of PlayStation 4 owners worldwide will now be able to download two game collections for absolutely free, as a sign of support from Sony Corp to its customer ecosystem. Beginning yesterday, April 16 and valid until May 6, PS4 owners will be able to download the entire Uncharted: The Nathan Drake Collection, as well as Journey, for absolutely free. The best part? The games will not expire from user libraries after a point, and are actually free for as long as they are kept.
Jim Ryan, president and chief executive of Sony Interactive Entertainment, further announced an initiative to support independent game developers during these trying times by announcing a financial aid of $10 million for them. He said during the announcement, “Independent developers are vital to the heart and soul of the gaming community and we understand the hardships and financial struggles that many smaller gaming studios are facing. With that, SIE has developed a fund to support them during this time. We have earmarked $10 million to support our independent development partners. More information about the fund, including participation criteria, will be made available soon.”
Sony’s offer of the free games actually include four full games, with the Uncharted: Nathan Drake Collection including Drake’s Fortune, Among Thieves and Drake’s Deception, three highly acclaimed titles in the PlayStation-exclusive Uncharted title. While the final edition, Uncharted 4: Thief’s End is often regarded as the best edition of the three, Sony’s offer will still be welcomed among the PlayStation ecosystem. With Journey also being a well acclaimed title, the free games offer will apply to millions around the world, who are part of the PlayStation 4 ecosystem.
Sony is set to launch its next generation console, the PlayStation 5, with recent reports suggesting that the PS5 may actually see very limited availability upon launch. The new console will directly rival Microsoft’s Xbox Series X, and is likely to be significantly more expensive than the outgoing PlayStation 4 Pro. However, given that the PS5 does come with backward compatibility, users will be happy to note that their entire collection of PlayStation 4 games will remain active even in PS5.