Social Distancing. Odds are, you’ve probably spent a majority of the last few weeks thinking on how to go about your daily routine while staying a minimum of 6ft away from any other human being. For some, this can make the foray into the National Cyber League (NCL) Team Games difficult. Many university teams will meet up in classrooms to collaborate on different challenges, share notes, and otherwise derive enjoyment from a group of people who are truly “all in this together”.
In an effort to make sure no-one misses out on that sweet, sweet collaboration time, we’ve compiled a list of some good tools to keep in touch with your long distance hacking buddies.
A favorite of many a gamer, Discord is specifically made for having conversations during video games and setting up organized chat rooms.
Pros: Discord is relatively easy to use and can be organized with as many or as few different channels as you’d like. The voice chat is easy to use and call members can share their screen for the rest of the listeners. It’s also got unlimited messages, so none of your previous season’s discussions will disappear over time.
Cons: Discord wasn’t exactly meant for sharing documents, so some of the file size restrictions on the free version (8mb) might be limiting. There’s also no way to thread conversations, so the only way to corral discussion on a certain challenge would be to make a separate channel for it.
In my own personal opinion, Slack is just Discord but for “business-y adults.”
Pros: Slack has a similar channel setup as Discord, but with the added bonus of being able to thread conversations so discussion is more contained. Slack is good with voice calls and it’s file upload limit is 1 GB.
Cons: Unless you’ve got a paid version, all the functionality is limited. Screen sharing only exists in paid plans, and voice calls are limited to a couple of people. You also lose your old messages after you hit the 10k limit, so this might not be a multi-season solution.
Do you really need video? Do you hate yourself?
Pros: The whole platform is made for video meetings calls, so Skype is perfect for screen sharing and there’s no call length limit. If you need to share files, it’s just a drag and drop process.
Cons: There’s no way to organize text conversation. It’s good for little other than video, it’s clunky, and if you couldn’t tell already — I really, really don’t like using it.
Before we get to why this can be a problem, let’s talk about it’s good aspects.
Pros: Zoom is genuinely great for large scale video calls, sharing and annotating screens, and it’s got a nifty little chat feature in the sidebar. When you’ve gone so long without human contact, sometimes seeing a bunch of people’s faces in a nice little checkerboard can be fun!
Cons: The chat feature is essentially stream-of-consciousness, so there’s no good way to organize discussion there. Also if you don’t have a paid account, calls with three or more people will time out after 40 minutes. Yup, that’s it! No other problems!
Okay, I lied. Due to its surge in popularity, people are finding a host of security flaws.
Zoom has since remedied most of them, but since this is a security blog and all, it’s good to be aware that the problems existed. I may have spoken too soon. Researchers have found other unremediated technical issues that the casual user might want to be aware of. I also got an email from my workplace stating that we are absolutely not allowed to use Zoom calls for business communications, so take that as you will.
Quick note: According to some, all the private messages you send in the chat window are a part of the transcript that is visible to the call host at the end. So maybe keep that in mind.
May your team game be successful!
Edit on 4/10/2020: Added link to Citizen Labs research article on Zoom call confidentiality and encryption.