Nextcloud 14 and Video Verification

Monday, Sep 10, 2018| Tags:

Today the Nextcloud community released Nextcloud 14. This release comes with a ton of improvements in the areas of User Experience, Accessibility, Speed, GDPR compliance, 2 Factor Authentication, Collaboration, Security and many other things. You can find an overview here

But there is one feature I want to highlight because I find it especially noteworthy and interesting. Some people ask us why we are doing more than the classic file sync and share. Why do we care about Calendar, Contacts, Email, Notes, RSS Reader, Deck, Chat, Video and audio calls and so on.

It all fits together

The reason is that I believe that a lot if these features belong together. There is a huge benefit in an integrated solution. This doesn’t mean that everyone needs and wants all features. This is why we make it possible to switch all of them off so that you and your users have only the functionality available that you really want. But there are huge advantages to have deep integration. This is very similar to the way KDE and GNOME integrate all applications together on the Desktop. Or how Office 365 and Google Suite integrate cloud applications.

The why of Video Verification

The example I want to talk about for this release is Video Verification. It is a solution for a problem that was unsolved until now.

Let’s imagine you have a very confidential document that you want to share with one specific person and only this person. This can be important for lawyers, doctors or bank advisors. You can send the sharing link to the email you might have of this person but you can’t be sure that it reaches this person and only exactly this person. You don’t know if the email is seen by the mailserver admin or the kid who plays with the smartphone or the spouse or the hacker who has hijacked the PC or the mail account of the recipient. The document is transmitted vie encrypted https of course but you don’t know who is on the other side. Even if you sent the password via another channel, you can’t have 100% certainty.

Let’s see how this is done in other cases.

TLS solves two problems for https. The data transfer is encrypted with strong encryption algorithms but this is not enough. Additionally certificates are used to make sure that you are actually talking to the right endpoint on the other side of the https connection. It doesn’t help to securily communicate with what you think is your bank but is actually an attacker!

In GPG encrypted emails the encryption is done with strong and proven algorithms. But there is an additional key signing needed to make sure that the key is owned by the right person.

This second part, the verification of the identity of the recipient, is missing in file sync and share until now. Video verification solves that.

How it works

I want to share a confidential document with someone. In the Nextcloud sharing dialog I type in the email of the person and i activate the option ‘Password via Talk’ then I can set a password to protect the document.

The recipient gets a link to the document by email. Once the person clicks on the link the person sees a screen that asks for a password. The person can click on the ‘request password’ button and then a sidebar open which initiates a Nextcloud Talk call to me. I get a notification about this call in my web interface, via my Nextcloud Desktop client or, most likely to get my attention, my phone will ring because the Nextcloud app on my phone got a push notification. I answer my phone and I have an end to end encrypted, peer to peer video call with the recipient of the link. I can verify that this is indeed the right person. Maybe because I know the person or because the person holds up a personal picture ID. Once I’m sure it is the right person I tell the person the password to the document. The person types in the password and has access to the document.

This procedure is of course over the top for normal standard shares. But if you are dealing with very confidential documents because you are a doctor, a lawyer, a bank or a whistleblower then this is the only way to make sure that the document reaches the right person.

I’m happy and a b it proud that the Nextcloud community is able to produce such innovative features that don’t even exist in proprietary solution

As always all the server software, the mobile apps and the desktop clients are 100% open source, free software and can be self hosted by everyone. Nextcloud is a fully open source community driven project without a contributor agreement or closed source and proprietary extensions or an enterprise edition.

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