Skype denies traffic snooping moves

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Skype denies traffic snooping moves

Peer-to-peer comms still hard to tap.

Skype has denied reports it is changing its architecture to facilitate easier surveillance of communications over the company's voice and video calling service by US authorities.

The fears were prompted after Skype unveiled plans to move its 'supernodes' — which act as relay stations and proxies for users on the peer-to-peer communications network — to Amazon Web Services infrastructure and ultimately to data centres operated by its new parent company, Microsoft.

But chief development and operations officer, Mark Gillett, said in a blog post that the move was not made to provide police and security agencies with easier access to users' communications.

Instead, he said the transition to cloud-based supernodes — which began well before Microsoft acquired the company last year — was aimed at increasing reliability and improving user experience.

Supernodes have been a cause of controversy in the past, using more network bandwidth and processing resources to forward other users' traffic. Some well-connected institutions such as universities have banned users on their networks from running Skype in supernode mode.

According to Gillett, calls are still not routed through the newly placed supernodes, which instead act as distributed directories of Skype users. Calls, video and instant messages are still passed directly between clients, except during Skype calls to traditional landline phones.

Cloud supernodes did not "provide for monitoring or recording of calls", Gillett said.

"Skype software autonomously apples encryption to Skype-to-Skype calls between computers, smartphones and other mobile devices with the capacity to carry a full version of Skype software as it has always done," Gillett said.

The Chinese version of Skype does have a chat filter built-in that censors users' conversations over the network, however.

Skype is effectively the largest telco in the world, with a claimed 250 million active users each month and reports of 115 billion minutes of person-to-person live communications in the last month alone.

Rival telcos often block or slow down Skype, according to European Union regulators, as it is deemed a competitive threat.

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