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Work from home hacks to keep video meetings secure

How to protect your video meetings from hackers and pranksters

If you’re new to video conferencing, you’ve probably discovered that it’s a great tool for connecting with others and getting work done, especially when you can’t meet in person. That said, it’s hard to ignore recent stories about meetings getting hacked. And perhaps you’re concerned about it happening to you.

Here’s something to consider: Contrary to popular belief, most “hackers” aren’t terribly sophisticated. The typical hacker, like most criminals, preys on easy targets. That’s good news, because it means that with a few simple steps anyone can prevent hackers and pranksters from spoiling their meeting.

In this article we take a look at steps IT teams and meeting hosts can follow to ensure video conferences are safe and secure.

Tips for Meeting Hosts

In many organizations, IT teams eliminate the guesswork from security by pre-determining settings in your video conferencing software account. If you’re unsure about something, it’s best to start with these internal experts.

Beyond consulting the experts, you’ll want to get familiar with the settings panel in your video conferencing application of choice. Ensure that you are thoughtfully managing the features that IT has made optional, especially as it relates to who can join your meetings and how they are allowed to participate. Different video software applications provide different options for these two areas. We’ll discuss them both generally. Be sure to check your preferred video application to see which options apply to you.

Controlling Who Can Join Your Meeting

In general, video conferencing applications let you as the host decide who can attend your meeting, who can join directly, and who needs to wait in a “virtual waiting room” or “lobby” before they can join.

The least control is to allow anyone with a link to join without restriction. The strictest control is to only allow invited guests to join and to further require the host to approve them to enter. You can achieve the right level of control for your meeting through options such as:

  • Using randomly generated meeting IDs for each meeting you host, rather than your personal meeting room or ID

  • Providing a “lobby” or “waiting room” for attendees until the host has joined the meeting or admitted them in

  • Setting a password to enter the meeting

  • Restricting your meeting to invitees only (the default setting in some video applications)

  • Locking your meeting once it’s begun so no one else can enter

As the meeting host, it’s also good practice to monitor the participant list, ask participants to self-identify, – and remove those you don’t recognize. These extra precautions are especially important for large or public meetings.

Moderating Your Meeting

In addition to managing who can attend your meeting, you will also want to consider:

  • Who is and isn’t allowed to share content

  • Who is able to speak or interrupt

  • Who controls the mute function

  • Who can initiate a meeting recording and who can access the recording afterward

These are important options to prevent your meeting from being hijacked by a prankster.

In smaller or collaborative meetings, it usually makes sense to allow everyone to speak and share content. In larger meetings, however, you’ll often want to restrict these permissions to only the people who are presenting. In this situation, the chat feature available in most video conferencing applications enables non-presenting participants to engage. You may also consider options such as admitting attendees in mute mode and turning off the chat feature.

General Advice for all Meeting Hosts and Participants

In addition to the above recommendations, hosts and participants should follow these best-practices when running or attending video meetings.

  • Use a secure connection. Whenever possible, avoid unsecured networks when connecting to business-related video conferences. Even home Wi-Fi can be targeted by hackers. Connecting through your company’s virtual private network, or setting up your own VPN, can help ensure security.  

  • Keep software up to date. This is such a basic recommendation, and yet it’s surprising how many people fail to update software on their laptops and phones or keep their video conferencing software up to date. (See note above about hackers preying on easy targets!)

Tips for IT Teams

As an IT manager, you need to enable and support end users who have varying degrees of knowledge on the subjects of video conferencing and security. With that in mind, here are two approaches for implementing best practices.

  • Take control upfront. By taking a proactive approach, you can prevent many of the security problems end users encounter. For example, implementing automatic software updates will eliminate most security issues. Also, review your video software’s admin console to determine which security features are critical for users and configure those settings so they can’t be overridden.

  • Educate and even over-communicate to end users. What you can’t control, you may be able to change through education. Step one is providing simple, easy-to-find training that’s actionable for end users. At the same time, it’s often best to over-communicate regarding software training, updates, and security changes. The goal is always to make it as easy as possible for people to understand and adopt security measures.

With everything that’s going on, it’s worth taking a moment to recognize that no one means to be careless about video security and privacy. A little communication and understanding can go a long way. Being proactive about security will keep you or your user community from becoming an easy target for hackers and pranksters.

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Video conference is here to stay. Are you ready?

How it can proactively prepare for the next normal

For the past 10 or so years, there has been a steady increase in video conferencing, as globally distributed companies shifted from in-person meetings and teleconferences to video meetings. But as we have seen, a crisis like the one we’re currently facing can accelerate the adoption of new technology and drive permanent change in behavior. That certainly seems to be the case with video conferencing.       

The question is: Are you ready for it?

For those in IT who are responsible for provisioning and managing video conferencing systems, this moment represents an opportunity to get ahead of the coming wave in video adoption. While people are working from home, IT teams can use this time to focus on the following:

  • Operational readiness
  • New technology requirements and budgets
  • Remote device-management tools
Take care of updates and other operational requirements.

With a majority of the workforce at home, this is a good time to make sure conference room devices and systems are current, including updating software and firmware for your video conferencing devices. Have you enabled new features like auto-framing? Consider making those updates now. You can also use this time to work on provisioning rooms for video conferencing while they are unoccupied. 

This is also a good opportunity  to look at security policies and systems to protect video meetings (and shared content) from intrusion and uninvited guests.

Plan for more video meetings and budget accordingly.

As business users move rapidly from telephone to video and make videoconferencing their preferred mode of communication, they will also request new hardware tools to support their video requirements. This might mean replacing desktop computers with laptops or upgrading laptops to handle compute-intensive video software. You may decide to shorten the refresh cycle on laptops, for example, to meet this need. 

Once users see how unpredictable lighting and noise levels can be in a typical home office, it’s likely they  will also ask for webcams, headsets, and other peripherals to improve the videoconferencing experience for themselves and others.

And of course, changes like these can impact IT budgets. For government agencies and organizations whose fiscal year often begins July 1, this is a good time to look at the IT budget and determine if priorities need to be adjusted before stay-at-home orders are lifted. But every business should consider the implications of the fast-moving wave of video adoption and make sure their budgets reflect this reality.

Consider deploying remote application- and device-management tools.

As the number of conference rooms and devices grows in your organization, it becomes increasingly beneficial to employ a remote device-management tool. These applications allow you to easily provision and manage conference rooms, devices, and software. They enable you to deploy product upgrades and bug fixes to make sure systems and rooms are functioning and up to date. They give you visibility into conference room issues in real time so you can resolve problems before they affect a meeting.

And of course, these tasks can be expedited from a remote location, minimizing site visits.

Just as important, a remote device-management tool can provide valuable insights on metrics such as room utilization. This data can be used to improve meeting scheduling and hardware provisioning. To learn more about Logitech’s remote device-management tool for video conferencing, check out Logitech Sync.

Document your best practices.

A final recommendation is to be sure you are documenting the steps you’re taking to video-enable the business. For many organizations, this move represents an acceleration of existing initiatives. You may need to justify budget requests in light of changing priorities and rapid video adoption. Providing management with visibility into the work you’re doing can support your budget needs.

Adapt to an environment that is both temporary and permanent.

There’s no question that recent global events have accelerated trends in working remotely and working from home. While we recognize that current stay-at-home orders will evolve with the changing environment, we should not expect everything to return to the way it was before. It seems clear there will be less business travel, more video conferences, and more remote work. 

IT managers would be wise to take a proactive approach to this situation and prepare themselves for an even larger wave of video conferencing and video adoption. Doing so can help meet user needs while minimizing support requests and trouble tickets.

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The next normal what the world could look like in 2021 and beyond

As is obvious, the current pandemic is enormously disrupting the world. People are going through terrible suffering right now, and the economic fallout on the back end will change our way of life. But what happens when this passes and people start to go back to their offices, back out to restaurants and return to what was considered “normal”? Does the world even go back to the way it was before, or is there instead a next normal? If so, what might that look like?

I think the safest predictions to make are these: The world won’t be the same, and businesses will operate differently both pre-vaccine and post-vaccine. Millions of people will have gained some experience of working from home, and many of them will have come to realize remote work’s benefits. Others crave human connection, and, although they might not have to come into the office every day, they’ll have a desire to do so at least a few days a week. That said, ultimately, businesses would have to redesign everything from their policies to their infrastructure; accordingly, the next normal will certainly look a bit different from that to which we’re accustomed.

A common way to anticipate the future is to look to the past. As James Burke pointed out, “We don’t have anywhere else to look.” So, before we consider the future, perhaps it’s worth looking to the past. Most germane is how short a history the “traditional office environment” has actually had. At the dawn of the Industrial Revolution in England around the 1750s, the office was simply where the paperwork for the factory was done. Typically, this was directly above the factory floor. All the workers for both the factory and the office lived within walking distance of the factory, and everyone had a regular clock-in and clock-out time. If workers were lucky, they had Saturday afternoons off and a company holiday at the seaside for one week a year, when the entire mill or factory went by train to a resort like Blackpool or Skegness.

This system became more and more complex, but it was familiar in Great Britain and other industrialized countries until the 1970s, when companies started to move the factory component of their operations to cheaper locations. Workers still came to the office, though, because they had to communicate with each other and use the machines that ran the company’s operations—everything from the mainframe running the accounting system to the mailroom in which checks and invoices were received and processed. By the 1990s, it was becoming possible—although not necessarily easy—for organizations to distribute the office to multiple locations. Because of this, companies moved many call centers, IT-support organizations and typing pools offshore. And that’s the point at which we’ve been stuck for the past 20 years. Technology has made a new way of working ever easier, but few companies have taken the plunge. It seems that business culture was more resistant than the benefits were obvious.

Admittedly, some businesses—primarily, software companies—took the plunge and became completely virtual. Many of these organizations had a culture of looking to the future and seeking the best talent in the world. These visionary companies had a competitive advantage in their ability to hire the best staff, irrespective of their physical location. So, having programmers in London, England, or Vientiane, Laos, or Beijing, China, became a thing. All they had to have was a decent internet connection. Admittedly, most businesses didn’t even consider this route—and, for many, it wouldn’t have worked anyway. Software engineers are easy to measure: either they complete the project or they don’t. By contrast, for most businesses, having the ability to interact with others and build something together is at least as important. So, most companies allowed only senior employees or those who had proven themselves extremely dedicated to work from home. Many companies simply didn’t believe that their workers actually did any work while at home. Interestingly, the evidence actually points in the opposite direction….

Today, the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is forcing companies to reevaluate their strategy. It’s an unfortunate reality that those companies that cannot adapt might well not survive. It’s also distressing that something as devastating as the current pandemic has to be the catalyst for change. But it’s of a piece with the human condition that change comes from traumatic events, rather than from the status quo.

Over the last 20 years, a series of events occurred that some thought might accelerate the work-from-home movement and/or remote work in general; it didn’t really happen, though. Why not? Put simply, the technology wasn’t ready, and the moment passed before long-term plans could be made. For example, September 11th was appalling, but it also had a relatively short duration. And, back in 2001, IP telephony, videoconferencing, and resources like Google Docs, Office 365, Microsoft Teams, Salesforce.com and others mostly didn’t exist—at best, they were rare and expensive, and they lacked scalability.

Today, all that has changed. Good-quality internet connectivity is close to ubiquitous in the developed world. Cloud services enable anywhere/anytime management—whether on a PC or on a smartphone—of all the applications people would typically have to be in an office to run. So, if the technology is now ready, and if the culture has changed, what does this new world order actually look like? Again, let’s look to the past for some clues…

When I was a child some 40 years ago, I would turn up to school, the teacher would tell us to turn to page 27 of the textbook, and he or she would start to go through the questions. Typically, that same teacher would then sit and read the paper, while ensuring none of us spoke.

Today, the flipped classroom has changed that notion completely. It moves activities, including those that might have traditionally been considered homework, online. Lectures, assignments and discussions can happen in a virtual setting, with more class time free to spend on higher-order thinking skills, such as problem-finding, collaboration, design and problem-solving. I believe that is a superb model for what the office can become: not a place to research or “do the work,” but, rather, a place to problem-solve, collaborate and have human interaction. So, instead of coming to the office to “do the work,” you come to the office to meet colleagues, discuss and collaborate on work already done, and collectively make decisions on what work should be done next.

Some experts believe that, pre-vaccine, workplaces will limit the number of people in a given area to continue to encourage social distancing. That could affect everything from meeting rooms to desk space, and it could encourage a segment of the workforce to continue to work from home. The likely disjointedness of returning to the office will have the effect of making this a giant experiment.

In such a model, both the office and workers’ time in it change radically. Gone would be the requirement to arrive at the office by 9am and stay until 5pm. If a meeting starts at 11am, then workers work from home until they have to leave to make that meeting. Not having to commute at rush hour would make workers’ travel time shorter and less stressful. If the meeting finished at 2pm, then people would leave the office and go back home to continue their work. And, if an employee did have to communicate again with colleagues or customers, he or she would have the capacity to do that from the home office.

Outside-of-home offices will also change shape; instead of open-floor-plan designs for lots of people, they will transform into social spaces and smaller meeting rooms. The office will become a place to discuss the work, not do the work.

As I write this, nothing seems particularly extraordinary about my ideas. They seem, at least to me, to be obvious and sensible. It seems a shame that something as appalling as the present pandemic will catalyze this change. But, if history can teach us anything, it’s that change comes when we have no other choice.