U.S. Senate Warns Members Against Zoom Use Over Data Privacy and Hacking Concerns, But Stops Short of Banning App: Report

The U.S. Senate is urging all members against using the Zoom video conferencing software after the application was criticized for its security and privacy policies.

Citing three anonymous sources, the Financial Times newspaper reported the latest warning to avoid the popular tool, a directive the newspaper said came from the Senate's Sergeant at Arms, the body's highest-ranking federal law enforcement officer.

One source said senators are now advised to use alternative platforms for remote working during the lockdown, which remains in place to limit the spread of COVID-19.

It is not believed Zoom has officially been banned from use, the source said. It comes after similar policies were put in place for employees of Google and SpaceX.

According to the newspaper, the Pentagon is not currently advising against use of the software for personnel.

Zoom usage ballooned as the health crisis forced employees to work from home. It has become a go-to tool for friends and families to communicate during periods of self-isolation, and for teachers to continue to hold lessons with students. Its user base spiked from 10 million to 200 million in roughly three months.

But the spotlight caught the attention of computer experts, who recently identified and published a series of security oversights that could potentially leave users' data and privacy at risk of exposure. In one example, The Intercept reported on its supposed lack of encrypted communications.

The FBI noted Zoom meetings were hijacked to spread abusive language and pornography, while the company admitted some calls had "mistakenly" been routed through servers in China.

Zoom CEO Eric S. Yuan published a blog post last Wednesday in which he promised to address the numerous vulnerabilities that were made public.

"We did not design the product with the foresight that, in a matter of weeks, every person in the world would suddenly be working, studying, and socializing from home," he said. "We now have a much broader set of users who are utilizing our product in a myriad of unexpected ways, presenting us with challenges we did not anticipate when the platform was conceived."

Zoom has been contacted for comment by Newsweek. But a spokesperson told the Financial Times: "Zoom is working around-the-clock to ensure that universities, schools, and other businesses around the world can stay connected and operational during this pandemic, and we take user privacy, security and trust extremely seriously.

"We appreciate the outreach we have received on these issues from various elected officials and look forward to engaging with them," the company spokesperson's statement added.

The security concerns were raised by Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown in a memo to the Federal Trade Commission, in which the senator asked for a probe into "deceptive practices," NPR reported. The warnings were not limited to governments, as high-profile tech firms were also distancing themselves from its use.

One Google spokesperson confirmed to BuzzFeed News: "Recently, our security team informed employees using Zoom Desktop Client that it will no longer run on corporate computers as it does not meet our security standards for apps used by our employees. Employees who have been using Zoom to stay in touch with family and friends can continue to do so through a web browser or via mobile."

Zoom announced in a blog yesterday that cybersecurity expert Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer of Facebook, would now be helping out in the role of external advisor.

In this photo illustration, the website of Zoom Video Communications Inc. is seen on April 4 in Katwijk, Netherlands. Yuriko Nakao/Getty