Skype Backdoor Speculations

Martin Brinkmann
Jul 24, 2008
Updated • Feb 23, 2014
Internet, Security, Software

The well respected German website Heise Online has fueled speculations about a backdoor that is implemented in the Voice over IP software Skype. According to Heise the Austrian interior minister revealed at a conference with representatives of ISPs and the Austrian regulator on lawful interception of IP based services that they were able to listen to Skype conversations which was confirmed to Heise by several attendees of the conference.

According to reports, there may be a back door built into Skype, which allows connections to be bugged. The company has declined to expressly deny the allegations. At a meeting with representatives of ISPs and the Austrian regulator on lawful interception of IP based services held on 25th June, high-ranking officials at the Austrian interior ministry revealed that it is not a problem for them to listen in on Skype conversations.

This has been confirmed to heise online by a number of the parties present at the meeting. Skype declined to give a detailed response to specific enquiries from heise online as to whether Skype contains a back door and whether specific clients allowing access to a system or a specific key for decrypting data streams exist. The response from the eBay subsidiary's press spokesman was brief, "Skype does not comment on media speculation. Skype has no further comment at this time." There have been rumours of the existence of a special listening device which Skype is reported to offer for sale to interested states.

There has long been speculation that Skype may contain a back door. Because the vendor has not revealed details of its proprietary Skype protocol or of how the client works, questions as to what else Skype is capable of and what risks are involved in deploying it in an enterprise environment remain open.

Heise was not able to get a statement from eBay about the allegations other than they would not comment on media speculations. The Austrian broadcaster ORF (German article) published an article last week that already contained the allegations that the Austrian police was able to listen to Skype conversations. The possibility to listen to Skype conversations was not trivial but doable.


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