Microsoft Helps Chinese Government Spy on Skype Users

Jeffrey Knockel, a 27-year-old graduate student at the University of New Mexico, has decrypted and published a list of the words that prompt Skype to block messages or forward them to Chinese servers.

“Unlike throughout the rest of the world, people in China must use a special version of Skype, called TOM-Skype, which is a joint venture between Microsoft and Tom Online, a Chinese wireless Internet company,” writes Computerworld’s Preston Gralla. “TOM-Skype has almost 96 million users.”

“When a TOM-Skype user sends chat messages containing ‘suspicious’ language found within the program’s periodically updated keyword list, Knockel’s research indicates an alert is sent to TOM-Skype’s servers containing the sender’s account name, message timestamp and detected word(s),” writes TechSpot’s Rick Burgess. “The list was uncovered after Knockel had been monitoring suspicious communications between TOM-Skype and its Chinese servers.”

“The words that are subject to being monitored, which Knockel updates almost daily on his department’s website, range from references to pornography and drugs to politically sensitive terms, including ‘Human Rights Watch,’ ‘Reporters Without Borders,’ ‘BBC News,’ and the locations of planned protests,” writes Bloomberg’s Vernon Silver.

“Skype has claimed in previous statements that it is committed to promoting ‘effective public policies that help protect people’s online safety and privacy,'” writes Slate’s Ryan Gallagher. “But the scale of the keyword monitoring built into its Chinese platform calls that into question.”

Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman
Jeff Goldman has been a technology journalist for more than 20 years and an eSecurity Planet contributor since 2009.

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