Skype: Who’s Listening?

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If Skype calls are being intercepted, “Skyping” is going to see some dramatic shifts towards self-censorship among the 670 million users worldwide.

 

According to CNNhackers and bloggers are saying the changes, which push some of the video calling process onto Skype’s own computers instead of onto random machines on the Internet, could help the app spy on users’ calls, presumably at the request of a court or government.

Reportedly, Microsoft is re-engineering these supernodes to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor calls by allowing the supernodes to not only make the introduction but to actually route the voice data of the calls as well,” Tim Verry, from the website ExtremeTech, wrote last week. (Supernodes are third-party computers that act as a sort of directory service for routing calls.)

“In this way, the actual voice data would pass through the monitored servers and the call is no longer secure. It is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack, and it is made all the easier because Microsoft — who owns Skype and knows the keys used for the service’s encryption — is helping.”

Other news outlets, including Forbes and Slate, picked up on the discussion. Forbes says there is “tremendous buzz” in the hacker community on this topic.

The problem? It’s unclear what exactly changed, and a Skype spokesman contacted by CNN for clarification would not release more than a pre-written statement.

Chaim Haas, the spokesman, would not say, for instance, if the update actually enabled the company to tap into and record Skype calls. He also would not answer questions about when the update took place or whether wiretapping was a motive.

Fort Bragg blogger Kelly Tweddle points out that it is unclear from the CNN story whether that could just include audio and not the graphics. Whichever it is, however, is making some people uneasy. Microsoft’s award of US patent 20110153809, which allows for legal interception, has fuelled those fears.

This development arrives in the wake of concerns that drug cartels and other criminal enterprises had taken to using Skype as a means to communicate because it was considered more secure and free of the likelihood of wiretaps. The timing also coincides with the London 2012 Olympics, a massive global security issue which has been clouded by a planning and resource shortage fiasco.

All of this drama is likely to see increased registrations at alternative VOIP services such as ooVoo – already preferred by many of those who have long-standing reservations about security in general and about using Skype in particular.

 

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