Chances are, if you're still taking spring semester courses at LMU, you're doing it through 2020's hottest video conferencing app: Zoom.
With campuses across the country closed to fend off the spread of the ever-terrifying COVID-19 pandemic, many courses have moved online in order to continue students' education. One of the more infamous services used to fill this need is Zoom, which has existed since 2011 but has now exploded to over 300 million daily participants, according to the Verge.
Zoom is the new normal for a lot of college students, as it is for a lot of people working from home. Given how long this pandemic will have an impact on college campuses, it may be the new normal for a while.
But as long we are in this new normal, students across the country should expect the same level of security that we get from on-campus courses. Unfortunately, that doesn't seem to be the case.
Zoom's security flaws have been well documented over the past few weeks, so much so that "Zoombombing," or interrupting a Zoom class with porn and other inappropriate content, has entered common parlance. Colleges like Vanderbilt, as well as LMU, now require passwords for Zoom meetings because of this practice. On top of that, Zoom's encryption capabilities haven't been communicated honestly in the recent past, and several privacy flaws with the service have also been exposed.
While the 5.0 update this week might address some of these issues by having longer passwords and waiting rooms as the default setting when setting up meetings, it shouldn't have taken this long for someone to fix them when hundreds of millions are using its service daily for essential purposes. Many are still going to be turned off at the prospect of using Zoom after so much negative press.
LMU hasn't been immune to security issues with the service. A College of Business Administration (CBA) course was Zoombombed with "repugnant racial content," as described by the LMU Bias Incident Response Team and reported by the Loyolan back in March, and it's not impossible that more courses could be Zoombombed in the future as schools keep getting attacked as recently as mid-April.
These kinds of incidents would never be possible in a physical course setting. Why are they happening in our online courses?
Zoom isn't a necessity for online education, or even online conferencing. The list of schools and other business that have banned Zoom is extensive, though some of the more notable entrants include detractors like SpaceX, the U.S. Senate and all schools that fall under the jurisdiction of New York City's Department of Education. LMU should join that list.
Naturally, a new problem arises: once we do get rid of Zoom, how will we have online lectures and chatrooms to have a holistic classroom experience?
Our solution is to use other services that fulfill the same requirements of providing lectures and course materials without Zoom's glaring problems. There are already plenty of listicles online detailing alternatives. All LMU has to do is integrate it into our online system.
Frankly, considering the University's big push to Outlook servers and Microsoft accounts for students in late 2018 and early 2019, it's surprising that Microsoft Teams hasn't become more widely used as a Zoom replacement, especially considering its security advantages (like encrypting all meetings) over the latter.
Colleges, including LMU, need to build more secure systems to support digital education if they want to avoid Zoombombings, security risks and other interruptions into an already chaotic reality. The current pandemic won't be the last disaster to potentially throw a wrench into higher education; let's make sure we'll be more ready than we were a month ago.
This is the opinion of Cristobal Spielmann, a sophomore environmental science major from Brentwood, Tennessee. Tweet comments @LALoyolan or email firstname.lastname@example.org.