Zoom will give end-to-end encryption option to all users

End-to-end encryption is technology that prevents anybody except the sender and recipient of a call from being able to access any of the information in the call.
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An online drinking party on Zoom in Hakone, Japan, on June 13, 2020.Philip Fong / AFP - Getty Images

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By Jordan Novet, CNBC

Video-calling software company Zoom said Wednesday it has figured out how to offer stronger encryption for all of its users, rather than only for certain paying users.

The move shows the company continuing to address criticism, which has stepped up in lockstep with the company’s sudden popularity as the coronavirus pandemic forced millions to stay home. The change could keep some users from switching to videoconferencing services from competitors like Cisco, Facebook, Google and Microsoft.

End-to-end encryption is technology that prevents anybody except the sender and recipient of a call from being able to access any of the information in the call. The technology is generally agnostic -- it not only protects against hackers, but also makes it almost impossible for government agencies or law enforcement to see the content, even if they have a legal right to do so.

Earlier this month CEO Eric Yuan told analysts on a conference call that the company would offer end-to-end encryption only for customers who paid for the company’s business and enterprise plans.

Now Zoom has made a U-turn.

“We have identified a path forward that balances the legitimate right of all users to privacy and the safety of users on our platform. This will enable us to offer E2EE [end-to-end encryption] as an advanced add-on feature for all of our users around the globe – free and paid – while maintaining the ability to prevent and fight abuse on our platform,” Yuan wrote in a blog post.

The feature will become available in beta next month. Hosts will be able to enable or disable it for each meeting, and account administrators will be able to enable or disable the feature for groups and individual accounts.

End-to-end encryption won’t be on by default. Instead, the default will be what’s available currently: 256-bit advanced encryption standard, or AES, encryption, which can protect data from unwanted access while it’s moving over the internet.

The service will ask users who want to turn on the higher-grade encryption for additional information, such as a phone number that Zoom can verify.

“Many leading companies perform similar steps on account creation to reduce the mass creation of abusive accounts,” Yuan said. “We are confident that by implementing risk-based authentication, in combination with our current mix of tools — including our Report a User function — we can continue to prevent and fight abuse.”

Zoom’s revenue grew 169 percent in the most recent quarter as its usage mounted, and the company’s stock price has increased about 250 percent so far this year.