Skype, Apple, too many doubts about the privacy

Pierluigi Paganini July 24, 2012

We daily assist to continuous violations to user’s privacy, mobile apps that expose its data, communication channels apparently secure that reveals law enforcement interferences or network devices suspected to contains a secret backdoor.

The imperative is the monitoring of users, for commercial and national security purposes, we have read in many occasions of the development of surveillance systems pushed by governments all around the world.

In this weeks it has been a long discussed the real level of privacy granted by the Skype application that was considered historically wiretap-proof tool.

The popular video chat service Skype was the last bulwark of privacy, a solid barrier to law enforcement agencies able to protect the confidentiality of user’s conversations. Let’s remind the failed attempt of the German police to intercept Skype communications that also tried to catch communication using an end user Trojan commissioned to a private company.

“Skype interception is impossible”,

that’s the common creed thanks to encryption mechanisms implemented and a distributed peer-to-peer architecture, that’s why  experts have always considered impossible to eavesdrop on a conversation held over Skype.

Last year Microsoft acquired Skype for $8.5 Billion and many experts suspected that something was changing in the architecture of the popular communication system.

One month after the acquisition Microsoft obtained a patent for “legal intercept” technology specific for VOIP services such as Skype. This is pure randomness? Hard to believe! The second question is:

Has been the technology integrated in Skype platform?

It’s impossible to say for sure, but the probability is really high.

In the hacker communities many voices sustain the Skype architecture has been modified to enable “lawful interception” of calls.

Of course Skype refused the charges justifying the modifies as a necessary upgrade, denying any surveillance purpose, anyway Skype PR man Chaim Haas, referring “company policy,” and industrial secrets wouldn’t confirm or deny, declaring about  chat service

“[it] co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible.”

Analyzing Skype’s privacy policy appears clear that the company is able spy on user communications communicating them to authorities under explicit request.


Under Section 3 of the privacy policy, it is stated that

“Skype, Skype’s local partner, or the operator or company facilitating your communication may provide personal data, communications content and/or traffic data to an appropriate judicial, law enforcement or government authority lawfully requesting such information. Skype will provide all reasonable assistance and information to fulfill this request and you hereby consent to such disclosure..”

Under Section 12 it stated that

“Your instant messaging (IM) communications-content may be stored by Skype (a) to convey and synchronise your messages and (b) to enable you to retrieve the messages and history where possible. IM messages are currently stored for a maximum of 30 days unless otherwise permitted or required by law. Voicemail messages are currently stored for a maximum of 60 days unless otherwise permitted or required by law. Skype will at all times take appropriate technical and security measures to protect your information. By using this product, you consent to the storage of your IM communications as described above.”

With 663 million registered users, Skype represents a precious mine of information, a great concentrator of communications exposed to interception.

But meanwhile we are discussing about Skype and user’s privacy, another news catch my attention, Apple has pulled from its App Store an application, named Clueful,  that is able to reveal how the software installed on user’s iPhones is managing his data.

The app has been developed by security firm Bitdefender and it’s a valid privacy tool, the reason of the exclusion is a mystery. Bitdefender said

“Apple informed our product development team of the removal – for reasons we are studying – after it was approved under the same rules”

The application is really useful because it analyzes all the apps installed on the mobile providing detailed info on the data they manage and the way they transmit them.

Official website reports:

“Clueful is the only way to really understand iOS apps, how they use your private data and treat your privacy. This one-of-a-kind product identifies intrusive applications and shows you what they do behind your back.”

A study on 60,000 popular apps found that 42.5 per cent do not encrypt users’ sensible information and don’t adopt any protection mechanism for data transmission. Around 40% percent of apps can track a user’s location, and almost 20% percent access the entire address book of the mobile.

The respect of user’s privacy is one of the most important argument in the technological scenario, we assist to continue violations and it could be necessary the definition of a global recognized ethical code that requiring companies to provide users all information relating to your use of their data, hoping in future to avoid having to read such news.

Pierluigi Paganini

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