Microsoft Skype Messaging Surveillance Not the Main Issue, Audio Recording (Bugging) and Computer Hijacking Are
Summary: Debates about the dangers of Skype focus on one of the least dangerous aspects of Skype
THE PROBLEM with Skype is not quite what The H focuses on. Microsoft claims to be scanning people’s conversations to mitigate the threat of phishing scams and such, but this doesn’t quite compute unless they only ever test for redirections in
HEAD. To say that Skype is tracking people’s conversations would not be shocking because even years ago (before Skype was taken up by Microsoft and the NSA) China was given access to text conversations for censorship purposes (similar to security purposes in the practical sense). This is well documented in news sites, especially in Western news sites that like to berate China over practices that the West too harbours, but always under plausible denial clauses.
For those who have not seen the widely-syndicated and discussed report from Heise (or The H), in English the summary says: “A Microsoft server accesses URLs sent in Skype chat messages, even if they are HTTPS URLs and contain account information. A reader of Heise publications notified Heise Security (link to German website, Google translation). They replicated the observation by sending links via Skype, including one to a private file storage account, and found that these URLs are shortly after accessed from a Microsoft IP address. When confronted, Microsoft claimed that this is part of an effort to detect and filter spam and phishing URLs.”
“The H and heise Security believe that, having consented to Microsoft using all data transmitted over the service pretty much however it likes, all Skype users should assume that this will actually happen and that the company is not going to reveal what exactly it gets up to with this data.”
–The HAs the article in The H puts it: “Anyone who uses Skype has consented to the company reading everything they write. The H’s associates in Germany at heise Security have now discovered that the Microsoft subsidiary does in fact make use of this privilege in practice. Shortly after sending HTTPS URLs over the instant messaging service, those URLs receive an unannounced visit from Microsoft HQ in Redmond.
“A reader informed heise Security that he had observed some unusual network traffic following a Skype instant messaging conversation. The server indicated a potential replay attack. It turned out that an IP address which traced back to Microsoft had accessed the HTTPS URLs previously transmitted over Skype. Heise Security then reproduced the events by sending two test HTTPS URLs, one containing login information and one pointing to a private cloud-based file-sharing service.”
Microsoft’s excuses didn’t pass muster (the security excuse for surveillance, where all they can really test for is a redirection). “In summary,” says the author, “The H and heise Security believe that, having consented to Microsoft using all data transmitted over the service pretty much however it likes, all Skype users should assume that this will actually happen and that the company is not going to reveal what exactly it gets up to with this data.”
And from the comments we learn it’s worse than The H originally put it: “We tested it at mooncascade.com. I can confirm there is correlation between URL-s in Skype chats and web server access logs with traces from Redmond. There are both https and http accesses.”
Another commenter says:
So much about the “AES encryption” Skype promisses:
> All Skype-to-Skype voice, video, and instant message conversations
> are encrypted. This protects you from potential eavesdropping by
> malicious users.
Aparently, this falls into the same category as “McDonalds food is
healty and tastes good”.
This whole debate, unfortunately, misses a key point; not just text conversations are being tracked but voice ones (relayed through US infrastructure) — the bread and butter of Skype — are also being tracked and Skype as a binary ensures not only that Windows is hijackable, as we showed before, but that all platforms are rendered hijackable when Skype is running in the background (Skype has no intention of addressing these issues). The debate should be altered to take account of these much greater threats. By the way, on Windows it doesn’t even take Skype to hijack a computer; Microsoft has just admitted that exploits in the wild exist that help hijack Windows through a built-in program and there is also software that lets people’s Facebook accounts get hijacked through Windows, including on Vista 8 (the operating system which hardly sells, leading Microsoft to lies and inexcusable disinformation).
“A much rarer event, however, is one of Redmond’s own unloading publicly on the faults of not only Windows, but Microsoft’s company culture.”
–GizmodoThe Free Software Foundation has long been campaigning against Skype, even before Microsoft took over. GNU/Linux with SKype binaries is just about as compromisable as other platforms. The weakest link counts. It is worth noting that even a Windows developer admits that Windows is inferior to Linux, stirring up further debate. As Gizmodo put it: “Right now, somewhere on the internet, there is a flame war occurring between devotees of Linux and Windows. It’s just the nature of passionate software evangelism. A much rarer event, however, is one of Redmond’s own unloading publicly on the faults of not only Windows, but Microsoft’s company culture.”
At Microsoft, backdoors are not a bug; sometimes they are a feature. Since nobody among the users can inspect the code or thoroughly interpret the binaries, it’s hard to remove the backdoors, let alone prove their existence. █
“You assist an evil system most effectively by obeying its orders and decrees. An evil system never deserves such allegiance. Allegiance to it means partaking of the evil. A good person will resist an evil system with his or her whole soul.” –Mahatma Gandhi