Commentary: Be careful out there meeting in cyberspace

By James Collins

As we are all being cautious to protect ourselves and loved ones from contracting COVID-19, we must also be careful not to let intruders invade our virtual lives.

It is unimaginable that a child’s online class could be hijacked by pornographic images or a virtual community meeting can suddenly be bombarded by racial slurs and hateful messages. Sadly, these things are happening ‒ here in Delaware and across the world ‒ as we are leveraging more virtual meeting platforms. As if living in the era of the coronavirus isn’t already stressful enough!

James Collins

In the age of social distancing, these applications meet a critical need that allow us to continue to deliver vital services, as well as provide opportunities for unprecedented levels of collaboration. There are a variety of easy-to-use platforms available (even for the not so technically savvy), making virtual meetings accessible for everyone. Unfortunately, they have also created opportunities for bad actors to take advantage of vulnerabilities.

Staying safe online is just as important now as it has ever been, and that includes when selecting and using virtual meeting tools. We must be sure to educate ourselves on the various platforms, functions and settings available when hosting virtual meetings.

Here are a few guidelines to keep in mind to help secure your meetings:

  • Use a unique meeting ID.
  • Require a password.
  • Require authentication so that only those who have registered and have a password can access the meeting (do not publish the password). You can also create a virtual “waiting room” for screening purposes.
  • Disable features you do not need (such as chat, file sharing, etc.).
  • Manage screen sharing and audio options so that only those who are given permissions can share their screens .
  • Be sure the software you are using is patched and up to date.

Software providers have a variety of educational tutorials available, so be sure to take full advantage of those resources. The bottom line: Take the time to educate yourself about the platform you are using. Familiarize yourself with the various security settings and controls to customize them to best suit your needs, as well as to optimize the experience for everyone. To that end, the National Institute of Standards and Technology has a resource center that provides guidelines and tips for teleworking and securing online meetings at https://csrc.nist.gov/. Delaware Department of Technology & Information also provides guidance on online meetings and other resources to help you create an optimal virtual work environment at Digiknow.delaware.gov.

Although this era of remote work and online gatherings presents its share of challenges, it also creates an empowering environment for us to come together, to stay connected and informed. As we look forward to the post COVID-19 world where we can physically get together again, we can be assured that virtual meetings are here to stay.

As the captain on the old television show Hill Street Blues (showing my age here) implored his officers at the beginning of every shift, “Be careful out there.” We will get through this together!

James Collins is Chief Information Officer for the state of Delaware.