Microsoft-Skype snooping accusations push all the paranoia buttons

Hold the phone, Internet, before deciding whether Microsoft has engineered a backdoor to allow Skype wiretaps

Has Microsoft figured out a way to bug Skype calls? A report published in Slate late last week suggests this might maybe possibly be theoretically true -- cue the InterWeb's full-blown paranoia party.

In a blog post titled "Skype won't say whether it can eavesdrop on your conversations," Slate's Ryan Gallagher determined through dogged questioning that Microsoft will neither confirm nor deny that it has built a backdoor into Skype that would allow the government to wiretap VoIP calls.

[ Also on InfoWorld: On the other hand, they know who you called last summer, and those sneaking suspicions are sound. | For a humorous take on the tech industry's shenanigans, subscribe to Robert X. Cringely's Notes from the Underground newsletter. | Get the latest insight on the tech news that matters from InfoWorld's Tech Watch blog. ]

From this he naturally concludes that Microsoft really is eavesdropping on our conversations and is trying to keep it a big fat secret:

... when I repeatedly questioned the company on Wednesday whether it could currently facilitate wiretap requests, a clear answer was not forthcoming. Citing "company policy," Skype PR man Chaim Haas wouldn't confirm or deny, telling me only that the chat service "co-operates with law enforcement agencies as much as is legally and technically possible."

Shares of Reynolds Wrap aluminum foil just went up 17 percent on the news.

Gallagher's other "proof"? In June 2011, one month after Microsoft announced its acquisition of Skype, it received a patent for technology that would allow it to "silently copy communication transmitted via the communication session."

Sounds scary, don't it? The problem with that theory is a) Microsoft applied for this "Legal Intercept" patent two years before it acquired Skype, and 2) the patent doesn't really say much about how the technology would actually work, let alone bust through Skype's 256-bit AES end-to-end encryption.

Gallagher also relied on a story by a Forbes blogger, Anthony Wing Kosner, which quoted from an ExtremeTech story by Tim Verry about claims made by a hacker who goes by the handle Alien Nesby, who says Microsoft added "backdoors for government" to Skype after the acquisition was final.

Nesby made his claim based on a 43-word comment posted three months ago on Hacker News, but he wrote it in FULL CAPS, so you know it must be true.

Microsoft directly denied the claims made in Verry's post, noting it did recently overhaul its Skype network, but the changes were made to increase quality of service and security, not for spying. But that didn't stop another Forbes blogger, Eric Jackson, from jumping right on the paranoia pony and riding it to the finish line. In a blog post titled "It's terrifying and sickening that Microsoft can listen in on all my Skype calls," Eric proves he has 1) a rather delicate constitution, and b) clearly been taking courses in how to write traffic-magnet blog headlines.

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