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Someone sniffing a Skype conversation would just find digital noise. But I guess it depends on... how paranoid are you?

I'm using a laptop with Windows 7, 64-bit installed on it. Also, ESET Internet Security is fully up to date on it. I use a D-Link wireless router to connect to the internet with security key protected. Windows Firewall is not on, as recommended by the default. I use Skype to talk to my friend. How do I make sure that nobody sees or listens to us? Also, under the given circumstances, what is the possibility that I'm seen or heard by a third person?

In this excerpt from Answercast #44, I look at the issue of privacy on Skype conversations.

Skype security

So, as I understand it, and this is only my understanding – I have to throw that caveat out there (it's very possible I could be wrong, but I don't think that I am):

  • My understanding is that Skype conversations are encrypted from end-to-end.

In other words, if I'm talking to you over a Skype conversation, there's nobody in the middle that can listen. All they can see is encrypted data, which is digital noise.

Microsoft bought Skype

Now, there's been some recent concern (with Microsoft's acquisition of Skype last year and some of the architectural changes that they announced recently):

  • That maybe... maybe...Microsoft (or Skype itself) has the ability to intercept phone conversations or Skype conversations on their servers, in-between you and the person you're talking to.

They have indicated that they are apparently able to intercept or look at text messages:

  • If you're IMing using Skype, I believe that may be visible.

  • I don't know the implications on voice.

How secure do you really need to be?

Now, this is where it starts to dive into the area of, "Just how paranoid are you?" How concerned are you about this kind of thing?

My thinking along these lines is always this:

  • You know what? You and I are just not that interesting!

  • Nobody at Microsoft, nobody at Skype is going to sit there listening in to your conversation - or my conversation.

  • There's just nothing in it for them.

On the other hand, if you're paranoid... if you're really talking about something that (I don't know) threatens national security, then yes, Skype might not be the best option. There are other options out there. Skype may just not be the one.

Skype is safely encrypted

But like I said, right now my sense is that no, certainly no arbitrary person is going to be listening in on your conversations; no, certainly our ISP isn't going to be able to – those kinds of things.

It's going to be either you at your end, the person at the other end, maybe, (maybe...) there's a remote possibility that Skype in the middle could listen in. But again, I really don't see a reason and I'm not even sure that actually is true.

Article C5704 - August 16, 2012 « »

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Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

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6 Comments
Lee
August 17, 2012 10:19 AM

The NSA (National Security Agency) is capable of monitoring any communication you may have over any line, including cell phones, Skype, IM, internet, etc. and has been doing so ever since Bush signed the National Emergency Act after 9/11. That act is still in effect as it has been being renewed by the Obama adimistration as late as 2011.

That act gives the NSA the right to not only listen in to the above types of communication, but to track your movements using GPS, Northstar, and any other security monitoring video cameras.

Under that act they can collect and store that info on everyone in the country and all they have to do is declare you a "suspected terrorist" to waive most of your legal rights under the constitution including search and seizure without the benefit of warrants. They have collected so much data that they are running out of storage space at Ft. Mead.

Don't believe me? Look it up.

Lucy
August 17, 2012 10:55 AM

Leo ..... what is the privacy level when a Skype call originates on a computer but is received on a landline or cell phone? Also any security issues using Skype this way?

Mark J
August 17, 2012 11:53 AM

@Lee
Of course the NSA can monitor your Skype conversations, but it would take some effort and expense to do so. In most cases, they are just not that interested in you. Besides, if they are monitoring you, you have much more to worry about than Skype.

Mark J
August 17, 2012 12:00 PM

@Lucy
That would be as unencrypted as any phone call, at least between Skypee and the normal phone. Between your computer or phone with a Skype app, it's nor clear whether or not that part is encrypted. But that's not relevant as at least one leg of the transmission is unencrypted.

Lee
August 18, 2012 12:51 PM

@Mark J.
It's not a question of "if they are monitoring you" because the fact is they are monitoring everyone. That includes not only Skype but as I said before includes cell phone, land lines, GPS, Northstar and any other electronic means you have of communicating.
They have software set up to listen for key words & phases that triggers them to look closer at you.

Bob
October 12, 2012 4:43 AM

Lee's comments remind me of the facebook comment where someone considered naming a 10-hour loop of afro-circus (or whatever) with certain "key phrases" just so some government agent would have to watch the entire thing looking for evidence.
If you are SO paranoid that the government is watching your every move, I suggest you break out the tinfoil hat to stop the chip implanted in your skull at birth from transmitting everything you think...

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