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Skype. How big *is* the back door?

Maybe I’m just paranoid, but last summer on August 16th, Skype experienced a mysterious outage that took the service offline for nearly two days. Due to the coincidental timing of it (as efforts were accelerating with US surveillance such as warrantless wiretapping), I couldn’t help but suspect that the outage was intentionally caused because they’d inserted a back door into the software in order to enable mass eavesdropping and intentionally force all Skype users to reboot so it could function.

Others thought the same thing and blogged about it, but nothing has been proven. Of course, since Skype is closed and proprietary software, only eBay/Skype (and, perhaps, intelligence agency) personnel know the truth.

Now comes word that the Information Warfare group in Canada has discovered that China has been capturing Skype text messages en masse (report PDF), through a Skype partner in that country, TOM Online. Though laughingly crude in the method the Chinese used for storing text messages snagged (the researcher that tracked it down found the messages and the encryption key in the same directory and readable in a web browser once the server was located), it nonetheless causes concern for anyone using Skype.

Specifically that concern is the mysterious outage Skype-wide but also since Skype issued this statement when first confronted with suspicions of their partner in China’s software version, TOM-Skype, performing surveillance, and then Skype essentially blew off any hint of insecurity with their software, making it appear that TOM-Skype was just filtering inappropriate speech.

UPDATE: Skype apologizes.

eBay acquired Skype in 2005 and in an age of terrorism, surveillance and fear — coupled with a Federal government stretching our civil liberties to the breaking point all ostensibly in order to “keep us safe” — the telecom companies and who knows which other companies with our personal or transactional data are allowing mass vacuum surveillance on it.

Perhaps this explains what happened when I saw Meg Whitman, former eBay CEO, being trotted out on stage and being discussed by pundits as a contender for McCain as VP (and getting a smooch from him, pictured above). I couldn’t help but instantly think the hawks wanted to reward her for helping our government keep us safe by filtering our conversations over Skype…

…or maybe I’m just paranoid.

About Steve Borsch

I'm CEO of Marketing Directions, Inc., a trend forecasting, consulting and publishing firm in Minnesota. Prior to that I was Vice President, Strategic Alliances at Lawson Software in St. Paul where I was responsible for all partnerships at this major vendor of enterprise resource planning software products and services. Read more about me here unless you're already weary of me telling you how incredible and awesome I am.

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