Feeds

Skype hits back at angry wiretap reports: Rat finks? Not us

'Supernodes' are not for spooks, they're to make service better for YOU

Securing Web Applications Made Simple and Scalable

Analysis Skype has hit back against a wave of stories speculating that the internet telephony outfit has made chat recordings, call logs and other user data more available to the authorities. In truth such assistance to law enforcement has been going on for at least five years, as Skype itself acknowledges.

A series of stories in Slate, The Washington Post and elsewhere alleged that Skype changed its network's architecture since its acquisition by Microsoft last year to enable “lawful interception” of calls.

To support the theory that Microsoft is cooperating further with authorities, the articles cite a patent for “legal intercept” technology, which was granted to Microsoft in June 2011, and the fact that Skype's “supernodes" now route data through centralised servers controlled by the software giant.

These reports, in turn, provoked a hyperbolic response from some quarters, including a piece headed "It's Terrifying and Sickening that Microsoft Can Now Listen In on All My Skype Calls", by The Onion Forbes.

Skype returned fire with a blog post by Mark Gillett, the company's chief operating officer. He said said his engineers changed the VoIP service's architecture to include "mega-supernodes" in the cloud back in 2010, a move to improve reliability rather than set up a set of hubs where user data might be more easily collected and passed onto cops, spooks and g-men:

The move to supernodes was not intended to facilitate greater law enforcement access to our users' communications. Skype has had a team of Skype employees to respond to legal demands and requests from law enforcement since 2005.

While we are focused on building the best possible products and experiences for our users, we also fundamentally believe that making a great product experience also means we must act responsibly and make it safe for everyone to use.

Our position has always been that when a law enforcement entity follows the appropriate procedures, we respond where legally required and technically feasible.

Gillett denied suggestions that "Skype now monitors and records audio and video calls of our users":

Skype to Skype calls do not flow through our data centres and the "supernodes" are not involved in passing media (audio or video) between Skype clients.

These calls continue to be established directly between participating Skype nodes (clients). In some cases, Skype has added servers to assist in the establishment, management or maintenance of calls.

Gillett added that calls to regular landline or mobile networks do go through the networks of Skype's public-switched telephone network (PSTN) partners. PSTN incorporates mobile, landline, fibre-optic, undersea and satellite comms.

The cloud-based architecture means that some instant messages are "stored temporarily on our [Skype/Microsoft] servers for immediate or later delivery to a user", but again we're told this isn't to make it easier for spooks, but to improve the reliability of the network and make it easier to quickly introduce new services.

Skype acts in accordance with its privacy policy and only helps law enforcement when it is "legally required and technically feasible", Gillett reiterated.

The 1,290-word blog post is Skype's clearest position on its privacy policy and co-operation with law enforcement to date, and certainly since the time it was acquired by Microsoft last year.

The smart choice: opportunity from uncertainty

More from The Register

next story
BMW's ConnectedDrive falls over, bosses blame upgrade snafu
Traffic flows up 20% as motorway middle lanes miraculously unclog
Putin: Crack Tor for me and I'll make you a MILLIONAIRE
Russian Interior Ministry offers big pile o' roubles for busting pro-privacy browser
Mozilla fixes CRITICAL security holes in Firefox, urges v31 upgrade
Misc memory hazards 'could be exploited' - and guess what, one's a Javascript vuln
Manic malware Mayhem spreads through Linux, FreeBSD web servers
And how Google could cripple infection rate in a second
How long is too long to wait for a security fix?
Synology finally patches OpenSSL bugs in Trevor's NAS
Don't look, Snowden: Security biz chases Tails with zero-day flaws alert
Exodus vows not to sell secrets of whistleblower's favorite OS
Boffins build FREE SUPERCOMPUTER from free cloud server trials
Who cares about T&Cs when there's LIteCoin to mint?
prev story

Whitepapers

Top three mobile application threats
Prevent sensitive data leakage over insecure channels or stolen mobile devices.
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.
Boost IT visibility and business value
How building a great service catalog relieves pressure points and demonstrates the value of IT service management.
Designing a Defense for Mobile Applications
Learn about the various considerations for defending mobile applications - from the application architecture itself to the myriad testing technologies.
Build a business case: developing custom apps
Learn how to maximize the value of custom applications by accelerating and simplifying their development.