Mega guide to Zoom, Skype, Houseparty and more
Millions of people are firing up their webcams for the first time, replacing cocktail hour, book clubs, trivia nights and even church services and weddings with online video chats during the coronavirus pandemic.
The global change has turned million-dollar companies into billion-dollar household names and caught tech giants unaware.
But the trend has also unearthed serious security risks and questions over how to safely connect to friends, family and colleagues, with unwanted "Zoombombers," sneaky webcam shortcuts, and scandals about foreign servers.
Between Zoom and Skype, Houseparty and Teams, cybersecurity experts say there are still ways to video chat safely, and to minimise the risk of virtual wedding crashers.
The video chat boom began shortly after workforces moved home in February but really took off in March when people were no longer able to catch up with some friends and family members in person.
The restrictions saw little known company Zoom go from 20 million users to more than 300 million daily video chat participants, Microsoft Teams use soar by 70 per cent, and tech giants Facebook and Google fast-track new online video offerings to ensure they did not get left behind.
Facebook will launch Messenger Rooms in Australia shortly, while Google upgraded Meets and made it free to use.
Sydneysider Robbie Purcell said he and his two flatmates had employed many of the services already; using Houseparty and Google Duo to catch up with friends, WhatsApp to talk to family in the UK, Microsoft Teams for virtual drinks with colleagues, and Zoom, Microsoft Teams and WebEx for work conferences.
"It's a bit of everything really," he said.
But along with demand for the new technology has come a host of serious security risks.
Zoom, in particular, suffered a string of security flaws, Forcepoint strategic business director Nick Savvides said, as it gained millions of new users.
"A lot of people were talking about Zoom because they had notable security problems. They had bugs that let people turn on your webcam and watch you without knowing about it, and they had flaws with their software," he said.
"Every piece of software will have some vulnerability."
Other flaws included allowing unwanted video chat intruders - an act that became known as Zoombombing - as well as bugs that allowed unauthorised recording, records kept in unsafe ways, and data secretly shared with Facebook.
Norton LifeLock territory manager Mark Gorrie said some of these security flaws only became apparent because so many people were using video chat services, and criminals pounced on the opportunity to exploit them.
"These companies never expected to see what's going on now," he said.
"Usage was never expected to be at these levels so risks started to become more visible. It's highlighted security and privacy risks."
Zoom Asia Pacific head Michael Chetner said the company's sudden growth was "unprecedented" and the platform had not been designed with weddings, parties, and 900,000 NSW students in mind.
But he said Zoom had since launched five software updates and a 90-day plan to focus on security, rather than new features.
"We didn't expect to go from 10 million to 300 million users so we've had to review a lot of things," he said.
"This is an opportunity to correct some of those issues and provide confidence to users."
Recent Zoom changes included password-protecting chats by default, preventing students from sharing their screens, adding virtual "waiting rooms" from which invitees are allowed into a chat, and letting paid users select where their data is stored.
Mr Savvides said users could also protect themselves on all video chat platforms by keeping their logins and "meeting IDs" private, updating their software regularly, setting passwords for each chat, and recording meetings only if necessary.
Securing your home wi-fi network, deleting any video chat links you don't expect, and keeping a watchful eye on your webcam was also important, Mr Gorrie said.
Originally published as Mega guide to Zoom, Skype, Houseparty and more