Zoom works, but is not the easiest, most secure or private platform. Here’s a safe, secure, open source alternative. Jitsi. It’s the sort of thing Edward Snowden likely uses.

We’ve setup a basic version on a cheap VPS (Virtual Private Server) out of Sydney. What’s unique, is that unlike zoom, users do not need to sign up to use it. Complete privacy and anonymity is assured although simple passwords can be added for people to enter an encrypted session. For business users, we would usually add in branding, additional controls for moderator rights/authentication, plus monitoring tools for the server, but that’s it.

For those who want to know how to install Jitsi, here’s a tutorial from an old telecoms colleague in the US. Note above is the link to use to signup to a vultr VPS server for a Jitsi install as described in the tutorial. But, this is all something we can do for you. 5min into the tutorial you’ll know if this is something you want to do, or just leave it to us geeks….

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What’s unique, is that users never need to sign up to use it or be identified. They just go to a meeting url someone with a Jitsi system has generated. Jitsi meets are private by design. All meeting rooms and keys are ephemeral: they only exist while the meeting is actually taking place. They’re created when the first participant joins and they are destroyed when the last one leaves, with no time limits on the length of the meet. There are several options to securely record the meet or link with other systems, if needed. Also, as no session or user data is stored on Jitsi, even if it is somehow ‘hacked’ there’s nothing useful to be found. Users can log meetings using desktop or calendar tools, but Jitsi itself doesn’t do this, for security.

Jitsi employs end-to-end encryption using the DTLS-SRTP plus the open source E2EE protocol, as also used by Signal. But the E2EE protocol stack and key management used by Zoom is proprietary, meaning we’ll never know or be told how ‘secure’ Zoom is. In reality the bigger security issue here is not whether we run encryption or not. Encryption is but the icing on the cake when it comes to achieving secure communications. The cake can still be rotten…

The forgotten elephant in the room everyone (including IT geeks) will tend to ignore, is user security, including all the metadata collected by ‘big tech’ every time you go online, or use your mobile phone. But, using Jitsi instead of Zoom inherently mitigates many of these risks… This is a key topic and I will discuss these little-known strategies, in another chat.

There is simply no comparison between Jitsi and systems like Zoom, or Teams. The first thing you’ll note is the familiar controls and then the speed when logging into a session. It’s instant. Those who use Zoom will know how long it can take to connect, especially if you’re on a Windoze PC where the connection/startup time is often 20-30 seconds. Jitsi, it’s under a second. Then there’s the short, simple url used, not one of those 60-character ones you need sent in an email. (Which is all tracked 24/7 by big tech of course… )

This is largely dependant upon the power of the host server it runs on. For large public broadcasts or streaming, where the security of the content isn’t required, Zoom is still best. Jitsi is really made for and shines when it comes to connecting smaller groups of 2-20 that need the superior privacy and the super-security Jitsi offers.

We recommend starting with a host config of 2CPU/4GB, increasing resources as needed for large meetings. We add in tools to monitor resources in realtime, alerting at what point you need to add more power. Vultr servers in Sydney is better value for those starting out.

But longer term, a NZ host is best. Suitable private (VPS) servers are a little more costly than offshore. The best value is VPSCity starts at approx $69/mth for a 4CPU/4GB system which is fine for small (2-10 person) groups. https://www.vpscity.co.nz/vps-servers

We’re convinced Jitsi Meet technology could service multiple, independent organisations and communities across NZ. It could be one large system for everyone, or better still, multiple private baby ones. This would be a superior telehealth option where privacy and security is a top priority. These Jitsi servers are stable and can be established/upgraded quite quickly as demands change.

It’s useful to know that if one Jitsi instance goes offline, for whatever reason, it can be restored from backup in minutes or another fresh one built on another Linux host within 1-2 hours, as shown in the Crosstalk tutorial. What makes this possible, is that aside from basic authentication issues, no user data is ever held on the server itself, unlike Zoom and others.

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