With most of the world now staying at home, many people are looking for ways to maintain connections with friends and family. Be careful which products you use, not all are safe. Here are my recommendations based on knowledge of the technologies these products use and my personal experience. In choosing these products I am looking for something that is:
- Secure: Your private information won’t be leaked to third party companies, internet hackers or other participants in your meetings.
- Easy to use: Something that you can use with family members without being called on for frequent technical support.
- Cross platform and device support: People choose their own technology to use. The product should be usable across a wide range of operating systems and on phones, laptops and desktop computers.
- Free or very low cost
How do you want to connect with people?
I want a video and audio chat program with scheduled or spontaneous gatherings
This is a great choice for small groups of 4 or less. Audio and video is end to end encrypted and either sent directly from device to device or through the Whereby TURN server.
- Up to 4 participants in a meeting
- Guests do not need to sign up for an account or download any software
- The meeting host can lock the room so any guests must "knock" and be let in before they can participate
- You get a personal room address that does not change
- Screen sharing feature and group chat
- Servers located around the world
For creating video and audio gatherings for friends, family or for business where everyone agrees to meet at a specific time I recommend using Webex. This is a well trusted product used mostly by businesses, but now they are opening up registration to anyone for free. Here are some features and benefits of this product:
- Up to 100 participants in a meeting.
- Only the host of the meeting needs to register an account on Webex. Anyone invited to a meeting by the host does not need to register, however signing in without an account does require providing an email address.
- You have a personal room web address that does not change. If someone wants to start a chat with you they can send you a request if you are not logged into the room. This makes it possible to meet outside of scheduled meeting times.
- No software needs to be installed to join a meeting, just use your web browser.
- Fully encrypted and secure.
- Servers located all around the world.
Signup at Webex.com
I want video, audio and messaging to instantly contact people
Wickr Pro is normally used for businesses, but they are now offering free accounts for anyone. To use this product everyone must register themselves for an account using an email address. Wickr Pro offers instant messages and instant calling and video chat to one or more other Wickr Pro users.
- Chat or call with other Wickr Pro users individually or in group rooms
- Up to 30 participants in a video chat
- Multiple people can be designated as admins to a room and fully control who can enter a room
- Fully encrypted and secure
- Shares all other secure features with WickrMe, see my WickrMe review
Download Wickr Pro
How to use Wickr Pro video conferencing
I only need one on one chats with other people on phones
In this case these options may suit you:
- For people who know your phone number use Signal
- For those who you don't want to give your phone number use TwinMe
Are you now working from home and need advice on security? See the SANS Security Awareness Work-from-Home Kit
Final note: Avoid Zoom!
Zoom is not secure and there have been many problems discovered with the software. The FBI has issued a warning not to use Zoom for any meetings which may be considered confidential (medical, business). If you must use Zoom, here is how to use Zoom safely.
Some articles on Zoom security: