A cheaper, riskier approach

Webcams connected to individuals' PCs are an inexpensive way to get into videoconferencing at the lower end, but they don't offer the quality or possibilities of meeting room-based services and can leave the user wide-open, security wise, if protective measures aren't taken.

Webcams connected to individuals' PCs are an inexpensive way to get into videoconferencing at the lower end, but they don't offer the quality or possibilities of meeting room-based services and can leave the user wide-open, security wise, if protective measures aren't taken.

Gavin Mitchell, chief executive of energy sector billing software company Kinetiq, says the energy sector billing software company is finding webcams an effective morale booster and uses them for face-to-face communication between six staff, three in New Zealand, one in Australia and two in the United States.

The in-house point-to-point system works well even for the Australian staffer, who uses at 56kbit/s modem. "We only use it within the organisation and while the quality isn't as good as with some of the other stuff, it's perfectly adequate for us."

The webcams allow face-to-face, point-to-point contact only, without the ability to display sales figures and pictures.

Face-to-face is all Kinetiq requires at the moment, Mitchell says. "It helps us understand the visual clues when we're talking to each other -- it helps the team spirit quite a bit."

The company has been looking for affordable multi-channel software, but has yet to find any that meets their needs and budget, he says.

ISDN-based videoconferencing services, aimed at the corporate market, require MCUs, multipoint control units, to connect more than two points.

Kinetiq's investment was minimal, Mitchell says. "It cost less than $100 per camera and two hours to set each machine up."

As for security when videoconferencing over the public internet, "we use Microsoft NetMeeting and have the option to use NetMeeting encryption, but for the type of business we’re in, we're not worried -- no one's going to see our software [via the videoconferences]."

Co-Logic Security owner Arjen de Landgraaf says hacking into a webcam-enabled videoconference, especially one being carried out via laptops, isn't difficult. "In one case, a person found out they were being looked at when they went to the internet, did a search and, by chance, saw themselves."

De Landgraaf says a hacker had planted a Trojan horse in the user's laptop, found their email address and was able to remotely connect to the laptop and listen in on the conference and see the participant using the laptop, de Landgraaf says.

"The user did a global search and, by pure coincidence, got to the hacker's website and saw themselves. It happened because the user had no protection."

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