China found to snoop on Skype users
NEW YORK - A Canadian researcher has discovered a Chinese version of eBay Inc.'s Skype communications software snoops on text chats that contain certain keywords, including "democracy."
The revelation is of interest to rights groups that monitor Internet censorship and may also intrigue law enforcement and intelligence agencies in other countries, because they have been bothered by the growing use of Skype, which claims 338 million users worldwide.
Skype routes calls and chats between computers over the Internet, avoiding traditional phone networks. And the contents are supposedly encrypted, raising concerns in law enforcement that Skype could let criminals communicate without fear of eavesdropping.
In the other camp, privacy advocates and security experts are concerned Skype, while presented by the company as a secure channel of communication, has some kind of "back door" that allows eavesdropping.
On Wednesday, Nart Villeneuve at the University of Toronto revealed that a Chinese version of Skype's application is being used for wholesale surveillance of text messages.
Skype has acknowledged this version looks for certain sensitive words in text chats, and blocks those messages. Villeneuve found that the program also passes the messages caught by the filter to a cluster of servers that he was able to access.
Yesterday, Skype president Josh Silverman said the company learned of the message diversion Wednesday. It alerted its Chinese partner that the messages were insecurely stored, which was quickly fixed.