back to article Activists urge Skype: Tell us who is spying on us

A coalition of activists, privacy organizations, journalists, and others have called upon Microsoft to be more forthright about when, why, and to whom it discloses information about Skype users and their communications. In an open letter published on Thursday, the group argues that Redmond's statements about the …

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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Headmaster

    A translation is required

    "Microsoft has an ongoing commitment to collaborate with advocates, industry partners and governments worldwide to develop solutions and promote effective public policies that help protect people's online safety and privacy."

    What this means in plain English is "Fuck off, we don't care".

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: A translation is required

      para 2 reads: we've given the NSA a back door.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: A translation is required

        para 2 reads: we've given the NSA a back door.

        From this very organ in 2008:

        Austrian official fuels Skype backdoor rumours

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Do you even -need- to ask? Of course it's riddled with backdoors that any government can demand "lawful intercept" access to. Hell, the fucking thing downloads and executes exes that update itself without even asking my permission, so not only are your conversations being listened to, but that mechanism is guaranteed to have been subverted to supply a "special" version of the client to anyone of interest. Free keylogger and rootkit courtesy of the intelligence services! Really, if you're expecting Skype to be secure in any way, you're ludicrously deluded...

    1. sabba
      Paris Hilton

      If they are listening to my conversations...

      ...and reading my chat transcripts I hope the buggers have a high boredom threshold.

      I figure they'll give up listening before I give up talking crap!!

      Paris - because she's frequently been bored!!

  3. Shanghai Tom
    FAIL

    Not only that, but here in China you will find it xtremely difficult to use the real skype, it gets subverted to a special chines version from tom,skype.com which pushed pop up adverts in your face all fecking day.

    Not only that, it talkd to special china servers.... need you ask why ?

    I liked skype, saved me good money on calls, now it's just as cheap to buy an IP telephone card and set up my mobi to use that and skip skype.

    For messaging, I suggest google chat, it's based on Jabber so there are plenty of clients for plenty of devices and pc's. There's also Google Talk for voice, but as yet I haven't tried it.

    BTW, Skype intends to push "vocal ads" into converastions between people who don't have Skype Credit on their account "to intensify and make the internet experience more rewarding", or some similar line of bull..

    Skype ? not any more , I have many alternatives

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Tango or......?

      "Skype ? not any more , I have many alternatives"

      OK don't keep us is suspense.. what are the other options?

  4. Neil Barnes Silver badge
    FAIL

    It's all right, they'll never make it work...

    There's exactly one program on my linux box that regularly locks up: Skype. Oddly enough, it was fine until MS bought the company...

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Devil

      Re: It's all right, they'll never make it work...

      "It's all right, they'll never make it work...

      There's exactly one program on my linux box that regularly locks up: Skype. Oddly enough, it was fine until MS bought the company..."

      The people who run Microsoft are just too fucking stupid to do anything except sell repackaged shit and do everything they can to fuck up everyone they can, through any means that they can, who does not use their shitty "licensed" software.

      Even resorting to crippling Skype on Linux....

      What a bunch of fucking idiot arseholes.

      More of the Corporation USA kicking people in head and wondering why they do not come to the party to celebrate with the host.

      More lies, more NAZI DRM and SPYWARE and more Global Surveillance bullshit.....

      And more crappy software......

      Glad that the surface is a locked down epic fail.

      Serves them right.

      And the previous posters - thanks for pointing out the ALTERNATIVES to Microsoft and their bullshit.

      Satan - she loves Steve Ballmer - with a passion.

    2. Keep Refrigerated
      Stop

      Re: It's all right, they'll never make it work...

      I hate to admit it but I have to offer a counter-anecdote -

      Contrary to my expectations, I found Skype improved on my Linux since Microsoft took over - far more stable than it ever was. Before MS it would regularly crash X, force kernel panics. It still occasionally dies mid-conversation, but at least now it doesn't take my entire desktop with it.

      On the privacy stuff, yep that is rightfully a huge concern though, so hopefully they'll keep the pressure on until we get a decent response. I have attempted to move my family to alternatives with little success so far.

      1. Neil Barnes Silver badge

        Re: It's all right, they'll never make it work...

        Interesting. Such was not my experience on the last couple of years of (64-bit) Ubuntu and Mint. It doesn't crash the system; it just silently goes zombie; not responding to mouse clicks on the bar icon. I suspect it's something to do with suspend/restore (hey, who restarts a linux box?) but I'm not certain; it's possible that it just does it anyway if the machine is left running but unattended.

      2. Jamie Jones Silver badge

        Re: It's all right, they'll never make it work...

        "Contrary to my expectations, I found Skype improved on my Linux since Microsoft took over - far more stable than it ever was. Before MS it would regularly crash X, force kernel panics."

        A userland program that crashes X or even causes kernel panics.... On Linux? Don't let Eadon see this post - he'll pooh his nappy

  5. ratfox
    Angel

    Nobody, nobody

    Why would you even ask?

  6. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    Skype. An exciting source of revenue for MS.

    That's about all.

    The question is can a voice and video comms network be built without needing someone else's servers and (at some point) needing to charge for it?

    Can it be open source?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Go

      probably

      I have given exactly that some thoughts and I do think it is doable. Most problems arise from possible attacks on the distributed directory system (if you don't want to use something like DynDNS).

      At one point, there must be "trust" established. That could work by means of "benevolent dictators" signing user keys with the "dictator key". Dicatator key signing would have to be hidden behind an anonymizer/mixnet, or the dictator might be bribed or forced into attacks on the directory system.

      if you don't have the "dictator root certificate", you can't have any form of authentic directory data.

      Regarding directory topology - you basically need to automagically create a hierarchical tree of directory nodes. Each node must elevate itself to directory node based on a probability related to the total number of nodes. Determining the totoal number isn't easy in the face of attacks either. One solution could be that "node generation" includes Proof-Of-Work

      (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Proof-of-work_system). That would makie it harder to generate a large number of bogus nodes and fool legit nodes into reducing their inclination to become a directory node.

      Note that "adaptively" deciding to become or not to become a directory node is a Bad Idea, as the attacker could create tons of directory nodes and after some time start to deliver wrong results to directory queries.

      The secure voice transmission process is actually very simple and could be done based on SSL/TLS, ssh or GNUpg. Man-in-the-middle would be defeated by calculating gibberish sentences from the public key checksum and both parties would read that gibberish over the voice channel to the other party. We assume you can't synthesize voice without the other party realizing the attack, of course.

      Over typical DSL lines you don't need any codec, either. (but there are several FOSS codecs around)

      What both TOR and Skype provide is a directory system and if you want to replicate that, it is going to be some hard work. If you can live with DynDNS or even transmitting the IP address over "government phone", the technology issues are quite simple.

  7. Chris007
    Black Helicopters

    When a program/service causes American Spooks problems

    An American company ends up buying it and invariably that company has an easy ride in any ongoing govt investigation or any pending investigation disappears or stalls.

  8. dogged

    "a spokesperson said Microsoft was reviewing the letter."

    to be fair, at least they talk to you no matter how anti "M$" both this organ and its legion of commentards become.

    Unlike some other companies.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: "a spokesperson said Microsoft was reviewing the letter."

      "they talk to you" ????

      this is the same email reply they had sent and will send to any other media inquiry on the same matter, get real! And the same email would be used to reply to any other question they don't want to answer, with a simple change of a couple of words. It is really a "fuck off". Not unique, but I would, personally pretend a straight: "we have no comment to make" to this bullshit.

      1. dogged

        Re: "a spokesperson said Microsoft was reviewing the letter."

        Okay, but Apple have the Reg on a spamfilter.

  9. decourl

    Common sense applies

    Skype is not some disruptive little P2P rogue anymore, it's integrated to the Microsoft platform. Those folks on any sort of watchlist ought not require some "transparency report" to know that today's Skype isn't for them. Compliance with government data demands is how the world works, not just major internet services. Skype is no exception. How much more can it be spelled out?

    Instead of being willfully ignorant, EFF types should turn their focus to developing and evangelizing some useful A/V chat platform where the provider (if there is one) has no data visibility, and then don't sell it out.

    Google started this thing with publishing disclosure stats and yeah a few left-coast US companies have jumped aboard with them, but let's not fool ourselves, it's no major trend and it's not something you can just demand. Not when you're a bunch of twitter nobodys with no real world clout.

    1. Yet Another Anonymous coward Silver badge

      Re: Common sense applies

      It's not just a question of "people on a watchlist" worrying.

      Lots of us have rules about what medium we can use for certain communications. Anyone who works for a public listed company, files patents, works with patient data or defense contracts has these rules.

      If there is a secret NSA back door that probably only effects the bad guys - although if i were BAe or Airbus I wouldn't be using skype anymore.

      But if the data is also "passed to our partners for marketing purposes" - then the lawyers will decide that a skype call is the equivalent of publishing it. So I can't use it for anything work related. The point is that I need an official statement to wave at the lawyers.

  10. Crisp

    Don't like Skypes lack of security?

    Don't use Skype. There are plenty of software voip phones out there. Some of them even come with RTP stream encryption!

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Stop

      Re: Don't like Skypes lack of security?

      Most of the current VoiP security initiatives look like an ugly bolt-on, including the efforts of Phil Zimmermann. The whole telecom world is geared towards surveillance by whoever has enough money and authority. Don't think it is just the state. Lots of other players out there.

  11. g e
    Big Brother

    This _is_ a Transparency Report Shop, isn't it?

    Oh YES, Sir, absolutely, Sir

    Good, I'll have a transparency report for Skype, please

    It might be a bit runny, Sir...

    The runnier the better!

    Ohhhhh. The cat's eaten it.

  12. Glen Forde
    Stop

    Please, please, please

    Do not 'reach out to' corporate entities for comment. Just bloody ask them.

  13. piscator
    Pirate

    Skype - RIP

    And I'm missing it ..... that.is.all :-(

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Flame

      Re: Skype - RIP

      You really "miss it" ?? I guess you are a sado-masochist.

      1. piscator
        Gimp

        Re: Skype - RIP

        Sure - Skype ca. 2009 was fine, didn't have to be a sado-masochist to appreciate it - it was a killer app

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Linux

    FOSS Alternatives

    http://mumble.sourceforge.net/FAQ

    http://apapadop.wordpress.com/2012/07/05/a-skype-alternative-worth-its-salt-jitsi/

    http://www.webupd8.org/2011/03/open-source-skype-gnu-free-call-in.html

    http://askubuntu.com/questions/41970/what-floss-skype-alternatives-are-available

    http://www.gnutelephony.org/index.php/GNU_Telephony

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    At least google publishes gov request statistics

    Make that the bar, until all governments catch up and pass decent privacy legislation.

    Unitl then, we should just use the transparent competition's products, right?

    I rather like google +, myself.

  16. Mystic Megabyte
    Stop

    I don't use Skype any more.

    AFAIR it was president Clinton who admitted that the cold war listening post Echelon was also used for industrial espionage. Or for the benefit of American industry, something like that.

    I don't think that Skype will be any different.

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