Feeds

Skype snoop agent reads mobo serial numbers

'Quite normal' feature has been removed

The Essential Guide to IT Transformation

Skype has been spying on its Windows-based users since the middle of December by secretly accessing their system bios settings and recording the motherboard serial number.

A blog entry made on Skype's website assures us it's no big deal. The snooper agent is the handiwork of a third-party program called EasyBits Software, which Skype uses to manage Skype plug-ins.

Among other things, EasyBits offers DRM features that prevent the unauthorized use or distribution of plug-ins, and that's why Skype 3.0 has been nosing around in users' bios. Reading the serial number allows EasyBits to quickly identify the physical computer the software is running on. The practice was discontinued on Thursday, when Skype was updated to version 3.0.0.216.

"It is quite normal to look at indicators that uniquely identify the platform and there is nothing secret about reading hardware parameters from the BIOS," Skype's blog author, Kurt Sauer, assured us. He also says Skype never retrieved any of this data. We're not sure that's the point.

Skype goes to great lengths to assure users they will not be fed spyware, which the eBay-owned VOIP provider defines as "software that becomes installed on computer without the informed consent or knowledge of the computer’s owner and covertly transmits or receives data to or from a remote host." What's more, we were unable to find terms of service the spells out what EasyBits does with the information it gathers on Skype users.

It's also hard to take Skype's nothing-to-see-here notification at face value because of the lengths the software goes to conceal its snooping. As documented in the Pagetable blog, the Skype snoopware runs a .com file and prevents the more curious users among us from reading it. Were it not for errors it was giving users of 64-bit versions, we'd probably still be in the dark.

Skype's decision to remove the EasyBits DRM feature is a good start. Time now for an apology and an explanation of what has been done with the information already collected. ®

Build a business case: developing custom apps

More from The Register

next story
14 antivirus apps found to have security problems
Vendors just don't care, says researcher, after finding basic boo-boos in security software
'Things' on the Internet-of-things have 25 vulnerabilities apiece
Leaking sprinklers, overheated thermostats and picked locks all online
iWallet: No BONKING PLEASE, we're Apple
BLE-ding iPhones, not NFC bonkers, will drive trend - marketeers
Only '3% of web servers in top corps' fully fixed after Heartbleed snafu
Just slapping a patched OpenSSL on a machine ain't going to cut it, we're told
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Secure microkernel that uses maths to be 'bug free' goes open source
Hacker-repelling, drone-protecting code will soon be yours to tweak as you see fit
Israel's Iron Dome missile tech stolen by Chinese hackers
Corporate raiders Comment Crew fingered for attacks
Roll out the welcome mat to hackers and crackers
Security chap pens guide to bug bounty programs that won't fail like Yahoo!'s
HIDDEN packet sniffer spy tech in MILLIONS of iPhones, iPads – expert
Don't panic though – Apple's backdoor is not wide open to all, guru tells us
prev story

Whitepapers

Implementing global e-invoicing with guaranteed legal certainty
Explaining the role local tax compliance plays in successful supply chain management and e-business and how leading global brands are addressing this.
Consolidation: The Foundation for IT Business Transformation
In this whitepaper learn how effective consolidation of IT and business resources can enable multiple, meaningful business benefits.
Backing up Big Data
Solving backup challenges and “protect everything from everywhere,” as we move into the era of big data management and the adoption of BYOD.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Why and how to choose the right cloud vendor
The benefits of cloud-based storage in your processes. Eliminate onsite, disk-based backup and archiving in favor of cloud-based data protection.