To offer end-to-end encryption, Zoom is acquiring Keybase, a provider of secure messaging and file-sharing. Keybase staff will help build an end-to-end encryption system for Zoom’s video conferencing service, which will be available to paid users.
The purchase, announced on Thursday, occurs weeks after Zoom admitted it actually wasn’t offering full encryption as previously advertised. The video conferencing service does encrypt your video sessions—scrambling the content as it’s sent over an internet network and decrypting it to make the video data clear once it arrives on your computer. However, the main flaw with Zoom’s system is how the encryption keys are generated and stored on the company’s servers. Although Zoom says it’s never mishandled the keys, by holding on to them, the company theoretically has the power to decrypt your video sessions, or transfer the keys to someone else, like a government authority.
To fix this, Zoom is creating an end-to-end system that will generate the encryption keys to video sessions from the meeting host’s computer — not from a company server. “This key will be distributed between clients, enveloped with the asymmetric keypairs and rotated when there are significant changes to the list of attendees,” the company said in today’s announcement. “The cryptographic secrets will be under the control of the host, and the host’s client software will decide what devices are allowed to receive meeting keys, and thereby join the meeting.”
Building this system isn’t easy. So Zoom is enlisting Keybase, which has experience managing encryption keys over the internet. Since 2017, Keybase has been offering its own end-to-end encrypted chat system, which works on PCs and smartphones.
As for Zoom, the company’s proposed end-to-end encryption does have a few limitations: It won’t work for meeting sessions that let people connect via a phone call, or when Zoom’s cloud video recording is switched on. But the system should be applicable to most users, who are connecting via PC and mobile devices.
“We believe this will provide equivalent or better security than existing consumer end-to-end encrypted messaging platforms, but with the video quality and scale that has made Zoom the choice of over 300 million daily meeting participants, including those at some of the world’s largest enterprises,” the company added.
Zoom plans on publishing more details about the end-to-end encryption implementation on May 22, with the goal of getting feedback from the security community and customers. “Once we have assessed this feedback for integration into a final design, we will announce our engineering milestones and goals for deploying to Zoom users,” the company said.
However, the fate of Keybase’s existing products is a bit murky. In a blog post today, Keybase said: “Initially, our single top priority is helping to make Zoom even more secure. There are no specific plans for the Keybase app yet. Ultimately Keybase’s future is in Zoom’s hands, and we’ll see where that takes us.”
Not all Keybase users are happy with the move, pointing to Zoom’s repeated stumbles managing the video conferencing service’s security. “This is good for Zoom users, probably. They could use your expertise. (But) this is awful for Keybase users. Just deleted my account,” tweeted one user. “They (Zoom) have proven time and time again they can’t be trusted for calls, can’t expect me to trust them with a security product.”