Back in the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic, people who wanted to get together while staying safe from infection discovered that they could meet with friends, families, and co-workers via videoconferencing software. Maybe because many of them were already using Zoom at work for videoconferencing, that app almost immediately became the flavor of the day.
There were a few hiccups along the way — possibly because Zoom was meant to be primarily a business app. At first, while Zoom included some methods that could be used to safeguard meetings, those features could be hard to find, especially if you hadn’t used the app before. Meetings began to be interrupted by unwanted intruders who would purposely cause disruptions, often in extremely nasty ways (a problem that was soon named “Zoombombing”).
Not surprisingly, this led to a considerable backlash, much of it concerning the lack of security for users. In response, the company put additional safety measures in place. For example, it automatically enabled virtual waiting rooms and passwords for accounts in its free and lowest-paid tiers, and encouraged people to use unique meeting IDs rather than their permanently assigned personal IDs.
Having to deal with passwords and virtual waiting rooms may make for a slightly less friendly interface, but it also means it’s less likely somebody you don’t know will pop into your family get-together.
Although there are a number of alternative videoconferencing services available, Zoom is still a popular choice. So if you’re using the free version of Zoom, here are some ways to keep your meetings secure.
Use a unique meeting ID and password
Zoom automatically adds passwords to accounts, and those passwords can be embedded in the meeting links. For example, if you schedule a meeting, you’ll see that the link contains your meeting ID and, right after that, the password for the meeting. Anyone you send that link to will be able to immediately gain access to your meeting without having to separately post a password — and if they decide to post that link publicly, it will negate any security the password might have provided.
So while everyone who uses Zoom has a personal meeting ID, using that ID for all your meetings means more and more people will know that ID, and that increases the chances someone unwelcome may find their way in.
For this reason, when you schedule a meeting, Zoom now assumes you want to use an automatically generated unique meeting ID rather than your personal meeting ID. In fact, there are few reasons to use that personal ID — even if you have a regularly scheduled conference with friends, you can simply send out a new invitation (with a new meeting ID) for each meeting, just to be safe.
If you haven’t yet created a meeting, this is the process that you will probably follow:
- If you’re using the Zoom app, click on the “Schedule” button. If you’re using the web interface, click on “Schedule a meeting” on the top line. In either case, the “Schedule Meeting” window will appear.
- If you wish, you can enter a meeting topic and description. Put in the date, time, and duration of your meeting. (If you’re on the free plan and there will be more than two people in your meeting, you’re limited to 40 minutes.)
- Look for “Meeting ID,” and make sure that “Generate Automatically” is selected. This will generate a unique ID for that meeting rather than use your personal meeting ID.
- Under the Security heading, you will be assigned a passcode; you can change it if you want.
- Below that, it’s strongly recommended that you enable “Waiting Room,” so that you can approve anyone who wants to enter the meeting space. (We’ll discuss it more in a moment.)
- Click on “Advanced Options” if you want to allow participants to join without having to use the waiting room (not recommended), mute them upon entry, automatically record the meeting, or approve or block entries from specific geographic areas.
- Click on “Save.”
- You will most likely be brought to a page where you will see all of the options for that meeting. Halfway down, you can click “Copy the invitation” to easily save the info so you can send it to your participants.
- And that’s it. When you’re ready, you can click on the blue “Start this Meeting” button or use the generated meeting link.
Use the virtual waiting room
As mentioned before, you can approve anyone who wants to join a meeting by using a virtual waiting room, from which you can then either let them in — or not.
When each participant clicks on their link, they will be asked to wait, while you will get a notification at the top of your screen telling you someone has entered the waiting room. You can either immediately admit them or click on “View.”
A sidebar will then show you everyone who is waiting to enter the meeting; you can then either admit them, remove them from the waiting room (and from any chance to enter the meeting), or send them a message.
Having to approve everyone who wants to join might be a pain to deal with, especially if you’re expecting a lot of people, but it will ensure that anyone who shows up in your meeting actually belongs there.
Lock down, don’t share, kick ’em out
There are other Zoom security features you can use to protect yourself and other participants.
If you know exactly who belongs in your meeting, and they’re all there, you can lock down the meeting by clicking on the “Security” link at the bottom of the screen and choosing “Lock Meeting.” Once you do that, even somebody who has the meeting ID and password cannot get in.
Using the same menu, it could also be a good idea, especially if you’re holding a meeting with a lot of people, to uncheck the “Share Screen” selection. If by bad luck somebody who means to disrupt the meeting is allowed to share their screen, they can make things extremely uncomfortable for the rest of the participants. (If at some point, a participant has a legitimate need to share their screen, you can re-enable sharing at any time.)
If a participant does start to misbehave but you don’t necessarily want to kick them out (or you want to discuss what you’re going to get them for their birthday), you can put them back in the waiting room. Click on the “Participants” icon at the bottom of your screen, find the name of the participant on the resulting side panel, hover over their name, and then click on “More” > “Put in waiting room.” The participant will no longer have access to the meeting; in effect, they will be back in the waiting room until you decide to let them return.
Of course, you can kick somebody out of the meeting entirely by using that same drop-down menu and clicking on “Remove.” If that becomes necessary, by the way, it might be a good idea to then lock the meeting so they can’t try to get back in.
If things get really out of hand, click on the Security icon and select “Suspend Participant Activities.” According to Zoom, this will stop “all video, audio, in-meeting chat, annotation, screen sharing, and recording during that time” and as host, you’ll be asked if you want to report any particular user. You will also be able to supply details of the problem, along with screenshots. That person will be removed from the meeting (and reported to Zoom’s “Trust and Safety” team), and you can then re-enable your various features and continue your meeting.
Update January 13th, 2022, 9AM ET: This article was originally published on April 17th, 2020, and has been updated to reflect changes in Zoom.