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Videoconferencing at UVa

Security and Privacy

Any application that gives other people the ability to obtain information from a system or write files to the system must be evaluated for security problems. Electronic communication software must be evaluated in terms of the privacy of the user. Desktop collaboration software involves both these elements.

Whiteboards, application sharing, and file transfer involve information exchange among computers. Once the software is started, by the very nature of the application there is little protection against abuse. The primary defense is that the participants usually know one another, either personally or professionally. Opening up a shared application with a stranger on the Internet is an invitation for abuse. He or she could look at or even obtain copies of files before the other party realizes what is happening and closes the connection.

Video and audio connections that are made directly to another person's system, whether via ISDN or LAN, are not any more of a privacy concern than making or accepting a phone call. Most cameras have a shutter that enables the user to temporarily block video transmission. Some software also has a method to turn video transmission on and off at will. This allows the recipient of a video call to identify the caller before allowing him or her to view the recipient's video.

Some desktop LAN-based software makes use of an intermediate server as a sort of directory of systems that are available for audio and video conferencing. NetMeeting offers both a central connection service and the ability to make a direct connection. The installation default, however, is to list a person's system and their email address on their central service. Unfortunately, these public central connection services have developed into the equivalent of a singles' bar. Lurkers who attempt to make video connections with anyone who will accept their call abound there. In addition to being a bother, they also may send unwanted email to addresses which appear to belong to female users. The email is frequently obscene. For this reason, anyone who wishes to avoid this sort of encounter should be very careful to not allow their personal information to be listed on a central service.

Page Updated: 2012-02-16