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Best Practices for Online Meeting Privacy: 12 Steps All Meeting Hosts Should Take

Jamie Davidson July 13, 2020
Online Meeting Privacy

As of Summer 2020, most companies have successfully made the transition to a work-from-home infrastructure that suits their business needs. Now it’s time to focus on instituting those processes and procedures that help employees succeed in this new environment.

Alongside increased remote work adoption due to Covid-19, there has been concurrent scrutiny of the video conferencing technology necessary to keep work moving forward. Much of this criticism focuses on the security measures that the conferences services have, lack, or may need to improve to meet customer requirements.

However, what many teams don’t realize is that control of keeping meetings and their content safe is also in the hands of the meeting organizer. In fact, the actions of meeting hosts can have a major impact on overall protection. With that in mind, here are 12 specific steps you’ll want to take to keep your meetings private, both before and after they begin.

Keeping Online Meetings Safe

Before the Meeting, AKA How to Avoid Zoom Bombing

Step #1: Lock your meeting so that only invited guests can attend.

Make it harder for uninvited attendees to crash your online meeting by setting your conference defaults to only allow access to invited guests. With most online conferencing services you can set this not just on a meeting-by-meeting basis, but as a default on your account that applies to every new session you schedule.

Unless there’s a legitimate reason to allow uninvited attendees – for example, if you’re running an optional, internal webinar – keep your meetings locked down by default.

Step #2: Set up your video conference preferences so that meetings begin only after the host has arrived.

Generally speaking, attendees from various locations should not be able to speak to one another until the host arrives. If an uninvited guest has snuck in somehow, or you prefer to introduce attendees, without this setting you lack control over what is said or shared before you arrive.

Also, waiting for the host provides a more pleasant experience for guests. Imagine that you’re running a sales call attended by multiple members of your team and your prospective client’s company. If members of both parties join before you do, they may feel obligated to engage in small talk, ask questions, or share information you were saving for later. This is ultimately counterproductive to your sales presentation. Start the meeting off on the right foot – when you arrive.

Step #3: Use the Waiting Room to keep attendees on hold until they can be safely brought into the meeting.

Rather than allowing guests to enter the meeting when the host arrives, use Waiting Room features to keep them on hold until you want them to join. When you join you have the option to add in all meeting participants or choose who you want to join when. This feature is especially helpful when there are multiple topics covered or speakers only necessary at a certain juncture of the meeting.

Step #4: Password protect your meetings.

This should go without saying, but use password protection in your online meetings. Though doing so may seem unnecessary if you’ve taken the steps described above to limit meeting access, it’s better to be safe than sorry. Using all of the privacy features available keeps your video conferences as secure as possible.

Step #5: Run all of your meetings from your company’s branded URL.

Running meetings from your company’s branded meeting link does more than create a professional appearance and promote a more consistent brand experience across all of your different communication channels. It also confers a privacy benefit. Meeting attendees can feel confident that they are in the right place at the right time. This way you avoid accidental interlopers who clicked or cut and pasted a wrong link.

Step #6: Don’t publicly announce your meeting dial-in or URL information.

If you’ve locked your meetings to uninvited guests and password protected them, it’s unlikely that you’ll have any unexpected attendees. But keeping meeting information private is a good practice as well. In addition to further limiting inadvertent (or malicious) access, you’ll protect your company from mistakenly making information public that shouldn’t be shared – especially if your meeting has an intriguing title.

Step #7: Set chat and/or file transfer settings so that content can only be shared between the host and attendee.

When it comes to file sharing, more protection is always better. Everyone makes mistakes. And even with the best intentions, it’s possible that a meeting attendee could accidentally share confidential information with other guests who shouldn’t see it (or even transmit a virus- or malware-infected file unintentionally).

At best, sharing unwanted or unnecessary content may annoy other members of the meeting. In any case, it’s smart to limit chat and file transfer settings. You can always loosen restrictions as needed, during the meeting. Or as the host, distribute necessary files or content to meeting participants.

During the Meeting

Step #8: Require that all guests use their full names and turn on video.

Attendees setting silly fake display names can be amusing. And few people are excited about having to get video-ready just to attend a meeting from home. But for you, as the host, not being able to see guests’ real full names or video feeds means you aren’t able to guarantee that no uninvited attendees have gained access to the meeting.

Set this standard with your team in advance so they understand your meeting expectations. Then use the Conference Manager to review who is in the meeting and remove any unfamiliar or uninvited guests.

Step #9: Use “Mute All” to limit speakers.

Get in the habit of using “Mute All” as a default in your meetings, and then unmuting individual participants as needed (or allowing them to unmute themselves or raise thier hand when they need to contribute).

From a security standpoint, this has the added advantage of protecting legitimate attendees from hearing anything inappropriate if an uninvited guest breaks into the session with the intention of disrupting it. But from a more practical, experiential perspective, using “Mute All” as a standard improves call quality by limiting background noise and preventing participants from speaking over one another.

Step #10: Prepare your computer before you begin screen sharing.

Every time you get ready to hit the share button, double-check that your computer is screen share ready. Before the meeting, prepare your desktop and open any files or apps you think you might need to share with the group before you begin the meeting. For instance, if you anticipate needing to reference information that has been shared via email, open that one message ahead of time so that attendees won’t see the other emails in your inbox.

If you choose to share your entire desktop, make sure you’ve closed down any other unnecessary browser tabs or programs and hidden files you don’t need to reference. Having files or folders with sensitive names sitting in plain view can reveal more than you intend.

Step #11: When screen sharing, share only the file or app you want everyone to see.

Make sure the online meeting program you’re using allows you to share specific files or apps, rather than your entire desktop to prevent the issue described above. In addition, train yourself to be mindful when you’re turning on screen sharing. Always double-check that you’ve selected the appropriate screen to share before turning on the feature.

Step #12: Only use screen sharing when you need to, and close it down as soon as you’re done sharing.

Given the many risks associated with inadvertently sharing sensitive information via screen sharing, consider it a best practice to only use the feature when you need to, and to shut it down as soon as you’re finished. If needed, you can always turn it back on to share again. In that case, just be sure to walk through the same steps described above to re-confirm that attendees are only viewing need-to-know information and nothing more.

Online Meeting Privacy is Every Host’s Responsibility

Online meetings – especially those held from home due to remote work arrangements – have a tendency to feel more private than they may be. But don’t let this lull you into a false sense of security. Security risks associated with online meetings exist for every company, of every size, whether they’re malicious in nature or happen due to errors on the parts of meeting hosts.

When hosting online meetings, accept that the privacy of all participants and any information shared in your session is your responsibility. Own it, and protect yourself and your company, by taking the 12 steps above for better online meeting privacy.