Why do we need to encrypt video calls?

FREEDOM IS SLAVERY. In George Orwell’s dystopian thriller 1984, the totalitarian state used this line, among others, as propaganda to keep ruling the state. Sounds horrifying, doesn’t it? Obviously, our world is nothing like the world portrayed in the book but there are a few countries like North Korea where such propaganda works wonders. When Edward Snowden became a household name in the USA, the NSA’s covert missions of watching the citizens through their laptops and mobile phones came out and the world was put on display. President Obama was portrayed as the BIG BROTHER, the protagonist in Orwell’s dystopian novel. That was the incident which opened our eyes to something many of us knew but couldn’t prove. We realised the importance of encryption in our calls and we are striving towards making it better every day. 

Recently, Zoom- The Video Conferencing App was called a ‘privacy disaster’ as the company mishandled the user data snowball. We don’t know what went behind it but we have had a history of governments trying to collect its subjects’ data without their permission and hence, we cannot be optimistic about it. Today, we want to take this opportunity to tell you why all our video calls must be encrypted.

Communication between Sapiens has been evolving way before we discovered fire. From sign language and various tribal dialects to Skype and Zoom, we have shown how important it is to acknowledge our ignorance about the vast realm of the roads less traveled. And finding ourselves on the verge of new inventions every single day, we have disrupted our lifestyle for a better tomorrow. But this disruption isn’t always righteous in ideology. The powerful few gather their resources and direct them towards the exploitation of the powerless many to maintain the imbalance of power. In the rarest of the cases, the brilliant few try to hack the worlds of the powerful few. Trust me, the latter can have consequences that can annihilate this little mysterious world of ours. Big political figures like the UK Prime Minister, the American Security council use the Zoom Video Conferencing App; imagine the magnitude of the problems if the data or recordings went to a pair of hands smudged with gunpowder. 

Many pundits will argue that NSA’s step of exploiting the citizens of the world (not just the US) and prying on their electronic devices is justified because it can help NSA gather vital information and stop the next terror attacks. There is a logic here. But it’s time we remind them that the USA, like many other countries, is a democratic country and to exploit the right of privacy of its subjects cannot be justified by the security reasons. There must be a rightful and politically correct way. 

Invasion of privacy is not a novel problem. The Nazis tapped the phones of fellow party members to filter out traitors and kill them off. Josef Stalin did it to his subjects and his opponents would disappear in thin air. The curve of the evolution in communication is like Newton’s third law. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. With every state of the art communication equipment, an equally powerful hacker takes form. And when it comes to video calls, the call for encryption couldn’t be any louder. 

Nothing beats talking face to face for efficient communication and bringing the team closer together. This is a challenge for modern organizations with remote teams, home offices, mobile workforce, and external collaborators.  

While teleworking, most discussions and meetings are held online. Consequently, safe collaboration tools need to be used. Many companies use video conferencing to hold meetings. This is well-liked because people can see each other while talking, just like when conducting a meeting in the office. There are various options for conducting safe video calls, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. Some programs only allow chat or audio communication. There are options for screen sharing and file sharing. These can be exploited by the hackers and vital information can be leaked.

This breach of privacy is the most painful for organizations around the world. With this pandemic on our tail, everyone is working remotely. An important team meeting can get leaked and the whole organisation can go down to ruins. There have been amends to mitigate these problems. The Global Data Protection Regulation has changed the ways companies deal with their data but still many loopholes can breach the purpose of the regulation. We have never been bulletproof at this but the least we can do is to try better than we did yesterday.  

We have seen the problems faced at a macro level but we often fail to see the problems individuals face because of the tactics used by these powerful few. Innocent individuals get stuck in this whirlpool of prejudice. Please make sure that you keep your cameras off when not in use. Even if your device is shut down, the white light near the camera lens blinks and records everything you do. As George Orwell imagined, we all might have a telescreen; a device that records everything you do and say in your room. The difference is that the subjects of the book 1984 knew about the telescreen and we don’t.  

History has been the spectator of the problems we have faced due to invasion of privacy. The reign of Nazism would have been shorter if those revolutionary conversations were left untapped, the reign of Stalin would have been shorter if his opponents weren’t ambushed. Many elections were deliberately played with. The world could do better with one less power-hungry leader. I will leave it your imagination and realise how important it is to encrypt our private conversations. Stay Home. Stay Safe 🙂

Avinash Somjani is a contributor at utobo. He caught fire writing. A fearless curious cat with a flamboyant pen, he is currently pursuing his MBA(Marketing) at SIBM Bengaluru. He is passionate about sports, science fiction, history and the ever changing colour of his pen. E-mail : avisomjani901@gmail.com