The Demands of Video Conferencing in the Military Will Improve Online Security for Us All

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Image of NATO HQ, representing video conferencing in the military

They sit around the same sort of conference tables as you do, run their meetings in much the same way you do, and communicate with each other using the same video conferencing provider you do.

What’s different about these people, the leaders of the NATO military alliance, is they do all these things with just a little more precision, security, and urgency than you do. And with members spread across 29 countries, two continents, and divided by an ocean, everything is a little more complex.

At the heart of the matter though, these peacekeepers and armed deterrents are using the same principles you employ in running your business over a digital network. Theirs is just a little more evolved than yours. But with commercial video conferencing vendors refining their ability to serve demanding military needs, it’s only a matter of time before video conferencing in the military helps bring everyone simple, high-security video calling.

Video Conferencing in the Military: NATO’s New Tech

When NATO, the strategic military alliance between North American and European governments, moved into its new purpose-built headquarters in Brussels last year, its leading lights were presented with brand new, state-of-the-art video conferencing facilities. It may seem a little domestic, a little workaday, to think men and women charged with protecting hundreds of millions of people would be interested in a few new webcams, but digital communication is of critical importance to the military and to organizations like NATO, and video calling is the most direct way of delivering any message.

That shiny new video calling equipment was supplied by Polycom, which held more than 20% of the world’s $16 billion video conferencing market in 2016. You don’t earn that big a market share without finding your way into a lot of corporate boardrooms. In fact, the new NATO system is derived from the highly influential Polycom RealPresence range of systems that we at VC Daily have ourselves praised for their innovative technologies.

The version Polycom built for NATO, however, has more than a few upgrades over its civilian cousin.

Polycom RealPresence Centro

To be specific, NATO is now the proud owner of a series of RealPresence Centro stations. These four-sided touchscreen units, with 360-degree pictures provided by a rising periscope camera, are designed to be sat around, not in front of. They encourage circular meeting setups, where each in-room video caller can see both their colleague across the table and the colleagues on screen simultaneously.

The unique design looks like a winner, but with a price tag of up to $49,000 per unit, they are strictly for the very high end of the commercial market. Even that level of sophistication isn’t enough for the military, however. Polycom had to rebuild its security capabilities to meet the standards of NATO’s closed internal connections and the requirements of three separate network classifications. What is more, Polycom had to meet those ultra-high standards across desktop and mobile devices.

And, remember, that’s just the demands for the new headquarters–this system will eventually roll out across the infrastructure of all member nations. Seeing as the military must have a quick response mechanism as well, there’s a need to supply ever-ready systems that can be intuitively used without requiring set-up time or the help of an IT team. That’s a huge network, requesting instant connections under the strictest security standards–what a perfect place for a vendor like Polycom to learn some tricks it can pass on to the rest of us.

Video Conferencing Security

Like internet transactions of all kinds, video conferencing comes with inherent security concerns. All of the information sent over the web is broken down into the very basic language of binary, that infinite chain of ones and zeros.

The common language of computers makes digital information prone to interception. In the case of video conferencing, to ensure privacy information must be protected at the points it is sent and received, during transit, and in storage.

It is a necessity video calling providers are increasingly acting upon. Skype recently announced a planned upgrade implementing end-to-end encryption for its messaging and audio services, and given that video chat is Skype’s specialty, surely video will get a security boost soon as well. Symphony video conferencing is using its Wall Street security expertise to try to hone in on Slack’s workplace collaboration market, and, most promisingly, Chinese engineers have been testing unhackable, quantum-level security for video calls. Then there is the continuing rise of biometric security based on webcam facial recognition in commercially available devices such as the Logitech Brio.

So, what’s next? What has Polycom learned from its dealings with NATO that we’ll soon see implemented in our workplace webcams and systems? How did they pass all those security tests?

When will we get military-grade security for sensitive, critical business meetings?

Image Source: Flickr CC User Utenriksdepartementet UD

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