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Countries Banning Zoom Is Becoming a Trend
Zoom has seen a meteoric rise these past few months, its stock value has grown 150% as a result of its user-base surging by almost 3,000%. From a respectable 10 million users in December 2019, it now boasts over 300 million, over a third of these joining in the first 3 weeks of April alone. In the economic uncertainty that has plagued many companies during the COVID-19 pandemic, Zoom has thrived.
However, it remains to be seen if that growth can be sustained. There is even worrying concerns that its peak has already been reached; on the 29th of April – following a jump of 11% the previous week the company lost 5% of its stock value in a matter of hours.
There are many possible explanations for this, but probably the most likely is the reaction many national governments have had to the platform. Fears over security, effectiveness, and encryption have led to many governments recoiling from the platform, in some cases outright banning its use in all departments.
How this reaction will affect the company, whether it represents just a momentary blip or the start of a downward trend, remains to be seen.
Taiwan Bans Zoom Outright
Taiwan has been the first nation so far to completely ban all official use of Zoom in all government agencies and departments, citing serious shortcomings in data security that violate the nation’s Cyber Security Management Act 2019.
Like many nations under COVID-19 lockdown, Taiwan initially enthusiastically took up using video-calling software such as Zoom. However, it later became clear that for government business the platform was proving inadequate.
This comes after the company admitted a series of online privacy shortcomings, such as the phenomenon of Zoom-bombing, where uninvited users join private calls and disrupt them. Data leaks have also been reported, and encryption protocols are noted to be lackluster.
Perhaps the most concerning incident for Taiwan was when Zoom calls were routed through mainland China. The possible risk to data is huge, with longstanding antipathy between the PRC and Taiwan already fuelling an ongoing Cyber-war, this was a breach of privacy the government could not tolerate.
Taiwan has not eschewed the use of video-calling software altogether however, rather advising the use of alternative companies with better security, such as Google and Microsoft. This signaling of inadequacy in the face of established companies could cause serious problems for the Zoom brand. Whilst it is uncertain how this has yet affected user confidence in the company, Taiwan’s decision has certainly influenced other national governments.
Canada Was Skeptic About Zoom from the Start
Canada was an early pioneer in Zoom-scepticism, though its ban was not as all-encompassing as Taiwan’s. Ryan Foreman, a spokesperson for Canada’s electronic surveillance agency has stated “[Zoom] has not been approved for any government discussions that require secure communications”.
Their reason for caution also differs from Taiwan’s and stems from a lack of thorough evaluation of the software’s security capabilities, rather than Glaring incidents as in the former’s case. Again, Ryan foreman stated, “The security aspects of Zoom have not been assessed by the Canadian Centre for Cyber Security”. Though the reports of the tirade of Zoom-Bomb’s and other security issues have doubtless played a role in this decision.
Australia’s Defence Ministry Bans Zoom
Unlike Canada, Australia has experienced a serious -and embarrassing- Zoom security incident.
During a Zoom meeting, members of the Australian air force were subject to a zoom-bombing when the comedian Hamish Blake hacked into the call.
Though embarrassing, this was a relatively innocuous event but signaled a serious flaw in security for a ministry where this is paramount. Expressing concerns that ‘hostile foreign actors’ could exploit this weakness in a similar manner, the defence ministry was quick to ban all its employees from using Zoom.
German Foreign Ministry Restricts Zoom
Many reports about the German government’s response to Zoom have come out. Some mention vacillation and indecision between departments, whilst others stress a De Facto, but still unofficial ban.
One department that has a firm stance is the foreign ministry who restricted the use of Zoom, stating “based on media reports and our own findings, we have concluded that Zoom’s software has critical weaknesses and serious security and data protection problems”. Despite their serious misgivings about the software, only the mobile version of the app has been prohibited, and it is still permissible (though apparently discouraged) on fixed-connection computers.
The reason stated for this decision is the wide-spread use of Zoom by Germany’s international partners, making the full banning of the software unfeasible.
USA Piecemeal Banning
Whilst there has been no widespread ban, many government institutions in the US are taking the lead themselves, expressing serious misgivings if not outright banning Zoom’s use.
The Senate, for example, has urged employees to use alternate software due to the often sensitive nature of their video-conferences. Whilst falling short of a ban, their security concerns seem to be similar to those of other national government agencies from Germany to Taiwan.
NASA was quick to ban, completely prohibiting the use of Zoom for its employees. Likewise, the New York State education department has also banned the use of Zoom in its schools, with Clark country in Nevada following suit.
Whilst a national government reeling from the COVID-19 caused the stock market collapse is likely hesitant to hurt one of its remaining vibrant businesses, the security concerns have certainly been noticed, even if widespread action is yet to take place.
Will these Bans and Restrictions Hurt Zoom?
Whilst in terms of numbers these ban’s and restrictions are a drop in the ocean when compared to Zooms colossal user-base, the signals being sent out are clear indications of shortcoming. To people who value their privacy, the reactions of national governments and agencies will be noted, and this is sure to create skepticism over the long-term viability of the platform.
One of the more concerning features is that, even with a secure VPN, Zoom calls still remain vulnerable, and may act as a gateway through otherwise ironclad security. Though its too early to say anything for certain, the trend of government agencies eschewing the platform seemly likely to continue, with many private users sure to follow.