Time To Look For A Skype Alternative
The voice over IP client Skype never got off of the radar of privacy activists. There were always rumors about backdoors in the voice communication software and that several organizations were allowed to record calls made by Skype users although Skype claimed otherwise.
Skype messages were in the focus of privacy groups when information about the filtering of text messages in China became known to the public.
Back then Skype released an official statement that the text filter applied by the Chinese Skype partner Tom Online would not affect security and encryption mechanisms of Skype, that people's privacy would not be compromised and calls, chats and other forms of communication on Skype would continue to be encrypted and secure.
Researchers and privacy activists of the University of Toronto discovered files on unprotected Chinese computers that contained filtered Skype messages that were recorded in China.
The filtering system uses a blacklist that contains words that will not be shown in Skype conversations. If a blacklisted word is send over Skype the word will be filtered and the conversation recorded including personal information about the users taking part in the chat.
Some of the words that cause the filtering and recording are Tibet, Taiwan Independence and Voice of America. There is no way of telling if and how Skype is working with authorities in other countries but who would want to risk that?
The Electronic Frontier Foundation has Skype replacements on their priority list with links to multiple voip clients that can be downloaded freely.
The complete report from the researchers can be downloaded at the Infowar Monitor website. The major findings list:
- The full text chat messages of TOM-Skype users, along with Skype users who have communicated with TOM-Skype users, are regularly scanned for sensitive keywords, and if present, the resulting data are uploaded and stored on servers in China.
- These text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information, are stored on insecure publicly-accessible web servers together with the encryption key required to decrypt the data.
- The captured messages contain specifc keywords relating to sensitive political topics such as Taiwan independence, the Falun Gong, and political opposition to the Communist Party of China.
- Our analysis suggests that the surveillance is not solely keyword-driven. Many of the captured messages contain words that are too common for extensive logging, suggesting that there may be criteria, such as specifc usernames, that determine whether messages are
captured by the system.