NYTimes Gets Videoconferencing Wrong: Alert Fox News !
A New York Times technology article asserts that many video conferencing systems are open, and that unauthorized users can drop in undetected because the systems are on public IPs and are set to autoanswer. We should begin by pointing out that the article is wildly alarmist regarding the liklihood of a silent snooper entering your board room undetected, but it does highlight a key difference between VeaMea's model of secure collaboration and most traditional videoconferencing vendors.
The traditional model (in our admittedly biased view) includes a lot of expensive hardware, is set up on a public IP address, and is set to auto answer because few users run video calls often enough for it to become second nature. This creates a vicious cycle of less use, less experience, less desire to use...thus a dedicated person, or service, is often hired to make sure all the calls happen, with the correct participants being called.
What the Times misses is that all major vendors offer many layers of security and allow you to lock down the room, or individual parts of the system, put it behind a firewall, have a separate gatekeeper box, etc. What traditional videoconferencing vendors "miss" is that all of that adds cost and complexity that make the communication network harder to manage and harder to train users to operate. If you go beyond simple audio and video to include desktop sharing, or any other collaboration feature, there are separate "plug-in" tools that run on different hardware, with a different environment, different connections, etc. Dilbert might say that the evil videoconferencing vendors seek to profit from a "Confusopoly."
How is VeaMea's model different?
In a VeaMea environment, users (people, not IP numbers) are registered on the system. They can log in directly, or be authenticated through an organization's existing directory systems like Microsoft's Active Directory. Those people appear in a buddy list (we call it a presence window) just like Skype, AIM, MSN Messenger, etc.
When you want to call someone, you check in the presence window to see if they are online and available, click on them and press the call button. Since all users register with the server through an encrypted channel before being "present" and available to call, interlopers would need not only the server address, but login credentials.
Since calls go from registered user to registered user over standard http and https ports, firewall traversal is simple. All data flows are encrypted with AES 256 keys (a fresh key for each meeting) for security against true hacking, rather than the "prank call" methodology described in the Times article. You can also pull our server behind a firewall with a secure channel to a paired public server, so you have highly secure internal communication yet retain the ability to reach external contacts as needed.
You can dial OUT from VeaMea to a traditional videoconferencing system or a SIP phone system through a gateway, or send an email link for a one-off video meeting (the recipient downloads our software client, establishes a secure connection with our server, and the call auto-initiates).
So no one can accidentally, or purposefully, dial IN to a VeaMea system. Those in the system can pull outside destinations in when it makes sense. If they WERE able to dial in, the system rings and does not auto-answer (it can be set to do so if desired), and when it does answer there is no doubt that a call has been initiated as the operating system/desktop vanishes and our immersive conferencing environment appears complete with near-end and far end videos.
But the larger points are these:
- VeaMea is a unified interface that people use DAILY for chat, audio, video, desktop sharing, whiteboard sharing and more
- It is the same interface in the boardroom as on the desktop so users quickly get the hang of it and know what they are doing whether at their desks, running a board meeting or on the road using 3G
There have been more than a few responses from video conferencing industry vendors and professionals to the Times piece. You can read a few more here.
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