Zoom Finally Has End-to-End Encryption. Here's How to Use It

Zoom has gone from startup to verb in record time, by now the de facto video call service for work-from-home meetings and cross-country happy hours alike. But while there was already plenty you could do to keep your Zoom sessions private and secure , the startup has until now lacked the most important ingredient in a truly safe online interaction: end-to-end encryption. Here’s how to use it, now that you can, and why in many cases you may not actually want to.

It’s been a long road to get here. This spring, as Zoom rode the pandemic to video call ubiquity, close observers noticed that the company was calling a feature “end-to-end encrypted” when in fact it was not. Data could be encrypted, yes, but lacked the critical “end-to-end” part, which means that no one—not Zoom, not hackers, not government snoops—can access it as it travels from one user to the other. It’s the difference between your landlord keeping a key to your apartment and being able to change the locks yourself: not the end of the world in either case, but you’d want to know for sure. Especially if you don’t trust your landlord.

You likely already use end-to-end encryption in some form or another. It’s on by default for iMessage and WhatsApp , a staple of encrypted messaging platforms like Signal , and an optional feature in Facebook Messenger . For video chat, your options are more sparse. Apple offers it for up to 32 participants on FaceTime, while WhatsApp allows up to eight people at a time. Signal can manage only one-on-one encrypted calls at the moment. Suffice to say, it’s a hard thing to get right.And so Zoom went on a spending spree, bringing on high-profile consultants from the world of cryptography and buying up Keybase , a company that specializes in end-to-end encryption. The result of that flurry: Zoom finally delivered on its security promises at the end of October.

What Zoom launched is actually a 30-day technical preview; the company will continue to refine the offering through next year. But even in its early days, it offers a significant upgrade in protection for those who need it most.

A Few Limitations

There are a few caveats before deciding whether you want to fully end-to-end encrypt your Zoom calls. First is that Zoom meetings are encrypted by default regardless, just not end-to-end. Which is to say, they’re likely safe enough for most people most of the time. You should absolutely flip the switch for sensitive conversations, but otherwise, as you’ll see in a minute, it may be more trouble than it’s worth in a lot of instances. Also remember that encryption isn’t magic ; the people that you’re talking to could still share whatever you say. And if any of your devices are compromised, well, you’re out of luck.

Turning on end-to-end encryption comes with various inconveniences. When you have it enabled, all call participants need to call in from either the Zoom desktop or mobile apps—not a browser—or a Zoom Room. (That also means no telephone participants.) Features like cloud recording, live transcription, breakout rooms, polling, one-on-one chat, and meeting reactions aren’t compatible with end-to-end encryption, and no one can join the meeting before the host does.

You also need a Zoom account to enable it, which, fair enough. But while Zoom has relented on its previous stipulation that only paying customers could access end-to-end encryption, free accounts still need a valid phone number and billing option to take advantage, which Zoom has said helps prevent abuse of the feature.

Turn on End-to-End Encryption

So! With all of that out of the way, here’s how to actually use Zoom’s end-to-end encryption, if it’s right for you. It’s a little different depending on whether you’re doing so for yourself, for a group, or for all the users in an account that you administer. The good news is, the directions are the same regardless of whether you’re on iOS, Android, or the desktop client.