Did Microsoft Give Skype The Ability To Snoop On Calls?
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com – Your Universe Online
Reports suggest that since Microsoft purchased Skype, the online video chat company, it has shifted its answer when asked whether it could conduct wiretaps.
Skype has been known in the past to go on record saying it could not conduct wiretaps due to its “peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques,” which has effectively frustrated law enforcements who have wanted to use the service for their benefit.
However, since its May 2011 Microsoft purchase, the language Skype uses to answer questions about whether its technology is used for wiretaps has changed.
Microsoft has switched some of the peer-to-peer network technology to work on its dedicated Linux servers instead, making it easier to “wiretap” conversations.
With a peer-to-peer network, each user is a “node” that helps to connect other users, while some users are “supernodes” that hold more responsibility for traffic. Some of the “supernodes” have been switched to the Linux servers instead.
Some hackers claim that Microsoft is re-engineering these supernodes to make it easier for law enforcement to monitor calls.
“It is essentially a man-in-the-middle attack, and it is made all the easier because Microsoft—who owns Skype and knows the keys used for the service’s encryption—is helping,” Tim Verry of ExtremeTech wrote in a story earlier in July.
Mark Gillett, Skype’s Corporate VP of Product Engineering & Operations, told Verry that the changes were made to “improve the Skype user experience.”
“We believe this approach has immediate performance, scalability and availability benefits for the hundreds of millions of users that make up the Skype community,” he told Verry.
However, a December 2009 Microsoft patent application describes “recording agents” that legally intercept VoIP phone calls. The patent application is said by Slashdot to be one of Microsoft’s more elaborate and detailed patent papers.
“The document provides Microsoft’s idea about the nature, positioning and feature set of recording agents that silently record the communication between two or more parties,” Slashdot shows in a post. This patent was granted to Microsoft a month after Skype was purchased, in June 2011.
Ryan Gallagher of Slate wrote that when he tried asking Microsoft whether it could facilitate wiretap requests, it would not confirm or deny the question, saying that Skype “co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible.”