Booking for trouble – Calendars are an unsecured treasure trove of data, says ZebuJackie Gill - March 13, 2020
Some things just don’t mix. Oil and water. Skittles and M&Ms. Lego and walking barefoot. Sharks and tornadoes.
What’s not on that list? Security and productivity. Because it turns out you can have both – even when it comes to planning and sharing your schedule. After all, do your coworkers really need to know that you have a therapy appointment on Tuesday afternoon?
“We want something that by default is secure, and only when I choose to share my information do I want that to go into the open,” says Zebu CTO Mike Johnson.
Zebu is a cybersecurity-meets-productivity suite of collaboration apps that includes messaging, file storage and – you guessed it – a calendar that combines the sharing functionality you need to quickly coordinate schedules with your coworkers and military-grade encryption to keep you and your business safe.
So safe that even Zebu doesn’t keep tabs on your schedule. “We don’t like to know anything about what the customers are doing,” says Johnson. “That was what drew me to this product, and why I think it’s worthy for us to spend our time doing this.”
And in their view, combining those calendars on their platform is the best way to keep your schedule organized – and secure.
Calendars risk more than a scheduling conflict
When you think of data breaches, a calendar hack probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
Most headline-grabbing data breaches involve the theft of personal information like usernames, passwords, credit card numbers and contact information from servers and databases through some kind of security hole.
But calendars can be that security hole. After all, they contain a lot of valuable information, like your daily routine, the people you meet with (and their contact details), what you’re meeting about, where and how you’ll meet, plus any files, links or messages included in the invite. In short, they’re records of everything we do.
“People don’t realize that’s at risk when they don’t read the instructions,” says Johnson. “They’re just trying to plug it in and make it go. They’re already overwhelmed, and the last thing they’re thinking about is, am I going to get scammed by this? Am I going to get clobbered by this in some way?”
If you’re a Google Calendar user, you might have gotten clobbered back in September 2019 by an exploit allowed advertisers and hackers to send invitations through linked Gmail accounts – and by default, automatically add fraudulent or intrusive entries into your calendar. Not only were 1.5 billion users at risk for unwanted pop-ups from those entries, but the vulnerability opened the door for phishing links and malicious content that might seem, on the surface, pretty legit.
No wonder trust in tech giants is broken, with one survey finding that more than 40 per cent of people don’t trust them to lawfully manage their data, and more than two-thirds reporting that they feel their online data’s at risk.
Never mind that, even on encrypted platforms, the provider can still be able to listen in on your information, says Zebu CEO and co-founder Jessé David Thé.
“The standard is that the company offering you the service has complete access to all your information. They can even at sometimes sign into your account and read everything you do,” he says. “So, at Zebu, we’re setting a new standard on the cloud because we can’t do that.”
It works like this: each calendar entry on Zebu is secured with military-grade, AES 256-bit encryption. Zebu’s team never sees the keys, meaning they can’t snoop or sell your data, even if they wanted to – which they don’t. This way, only you (and the people you share with, if you choose to share) have access. In addition to that, should one entry get compromised, the rest are safe because everything gets its own key.
“One of the things that we really want to help with is making sure that we are offering businesses a way to protect their information,” adds Thé. “And that can actually save a business.”
Safety’s first, but it’s not alone
Okay, so your calendar’s safe. But is it easy to access and use? After all, if you’re investing in collaboration software, it should boost productivity – not put up extra hurdles.
“The whole vision of Zebu was to help businesses. We wanted to create a platform to make it extremely easy and fast for people at work to communicate, schedule and manage everything that there is to do,” says Thé.
By putting everything on one platform, Zebu eliminates one of those hurdles: switching between and managing different systems like your messaging and calendar, says Johnson. “Then you don’t have two sets of users and two sets of passwords,” he says.
It also allows customers to put a lock around events they want to keep private, while simultaneously opening up sharing for meetings they need others to see, says Johnson.
“If I put in my calendar that I’m going to see my therapist, I don’t necessarily want anybody to even be able to read the subject line because I share my calendar with other people,” he says. So, you’d just mark that entry as “private” and keep the keys to yourself.
But that upcoming all-hands meeting? Everyone on your team needs to know about that – so you can choose to share the keys by selecting “public.”
Don’t limit yourself to the people on your team, either, Johnson says. “Zebu has a great partner sharing capability where you can create an external organization, so two businesses connected through Zebu can share private information between them, just as easily as we’re talking now.”
Plus, it’s available across systems and devices, so whether you’re on a Windows, Mac or Linux system in the office, or on the road with your iOS or Android device, you can check in.
“It’s very important for businesses to get that extra productivity boost, spending less time having to deal with the tedium, trying to coordinate things over many different systems or not having the proper tools in place,” Thé adds.
“Having a single solution that combines what we do, the communication schedule and file storage provides a big boost to productivity.”
Your schedule is yours – so keep it that way
If you’re like 70 per cent of adults, you rely on your digital calendar. Even if you didn’t, you’d still have one somewhere – they often come built-in with our computers and phones. They’re ubiquitous.
You might even have multiple calendars. One for work, one for personal appointments, one for managing your kids’ schedules, one for coordinating hangouts with friends… you get the idea.
But if any of them are unencrypted – or encrypted without a zero-knowledge solution like Zebu’s – your data could be at risk. That’s where tech providers need to step up their game, especially when it comes to cloud storage, and design with privacy first.
Whether it’s your calendar, your messaging or your file storage, “We want to move towards a place where it doesn’t matter if you’re at work, it doesn’t matter if it’s your personal life. You don’t have to worry about who’s listening,” says Thé.