Sustaining Video Collaboration Through End-to-End Encryption

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Michael Armer

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The last several months have been the ultimate case study in workplace flexibility and adaptability. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic and widespread emergency activation plans through March and April, businesses large and small have all but abandoned their beautiful campuses and co-working environments. These communal, collaborative and in-person working experiences have been replaced by disparate remote environments that rely on a combination of video, chat and email to ease the transition and keep businesses productive.

The embrace of remote collaboration, and specifically video collaboration, has been swift and robust. In the first few months of the pandemic, downloads of video conferencing apps skyrocketed into the tens of millions, and traffic at many services surged anywhere from 10-fold to 100-fold. While uncertainty remains on what exactly a post-pandemic working experience will look like, it is without a doubt that video will remain a fundamental part of the collaboration tool kit.

While video has proven to be an effective bulwark against a disconnected workforce, the relative newness of the channel combined with its massive spike in popularity has revealed some fault lines. Most notably, several high-profile intrusions of ill-intended and disruptive individuals into private meetings. From a wider security perspective, this represents one of the most significant barriers to the long-term viability of video collaboration. Highly sensitive information and data are now shared over video – board meetings, product development brainstorms, sales reviews, negotiations – and the possibility that any of this information could be seen by the wrong eyes is a business-critical risk.

Yet, the vulnerabilities and threats presented by video conferencing are not insurmountable. In fact, there is a growing movement among CIOs and IT executives to further educate themselves on the nature of these platforms and identify the right solutions that fit the unique needs, opportunities and challenges of their businesses. As a result, there’s been a robust interest in  encryption.

The most common forms of encryption protect data when it is most vulnerable: in transit between one system and another.  However, in these common forms, communications are often not encrypted when they go through a variety of intermediaries, like internet or application service providers.  That leaves them susceptible to intrusion at varying points. If just one link in the chain is weak – or broken entirely – the entire video stream could be compromised.

Comprehensive and thorough protection of sensitive data requires a more robust solution – what’s known as end-to-end encryption. That means only the authorized participants in a video chat are able to access the video or audio streams. Consider it the structural equivalent of a digital storage locker. You may rent the space from the provider, but only the approved participants have the key.

It is important to note that secure video conferencing isn’t only important for large enterprises. Startups and small businesses are just as (if not more) vulnerable and benefit greatly from setting a high bar for security. Whether it’s protecting customers, meeting standards for business partnerships or even leaning into security as an additional value-add, higher levels of security can profoundly impact the growth of an organization.

As the future of work relies increasingly on digital workplace tools like video conferencing, security-first instincts and strong encryption are essential to prevent malicious actors from disrupting business continuity and productivity amid times of uncertainty. Video conferencing has enabled dispersed teams to achieve new opportunities and has a bright future ahead of it. By infusing end-to-end encryption into any video strategy, it ensures not only the sustainability of the channel, but the businesses that rely on it.

About the author: Michael Armer is Vice President and Chief Information Security Officer at 8x8

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