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Dissidents Weapon of Choice: Skype for the Rebellion! (but is it hack proof?)

Updated on June 1, 2011

Skype, the internet phone service allowing you to call anywhere in the world for pennies or free. It is the best thing for a video phone depending on the connection. Skype is owned by Microsoft and recently paid a whopping $8.5 Billion. It is the weapon of choice for the rebelling dissidents in the the Middle East, Iran, Saudi Arabia and Vietnam. The rebellions were possible because of it largely, allowing those involved to communicate, as well as Facebook, which connection was eventually cut. Cell phones were used until the service was cut.

Skype works when the caller launches Skype software on their computer to call a friend. The message travels through encryptian with unique keys only known to participating computers. Tough to intercept. It also uses peer to peer networking which avoids the use of Skype's servers via a third computer. The message is decrypted at the receivers computer for video, voice and text.

Egyptian rebels found out that using Skype, while safer, is not hack proof or intercept proof when records were found in Egyptian Security offices with verbatim transcripts of calls. Many companies now make software to hack into the communication, one such company is FinSpy of the UK. It may have been their product that allowed Egyptian police to intercept and decipher the encryption of the Skype call. Rebels in Libya also found similar software in offices of Libyan police. In China, Skype is censored and heavily  monitored by Chinese police. A Hong Kong firm, TOM, developed software that intercepts and hacks into the conversation, users personal information and creates a transcript.

Some countries like Oman, Egypt, Iran, now have software that detects when Skype transmissions occur and subsequently blocked or cut. Such software is made by Boeing's, Narus Inc., and Bitek Inc. of California. The German firm, Ipoque, also creates similar software. The software can detect whenever Skype is used within a country and authorities can monitor, hack, or cut it off.

Skype has 663 million registered users and  was born from Kazaa, that ran into legal problems from downloading music for free in 2000-01. When Kazaa failed, Skype was born in 2003 from developers in Estonia, Russia, where wiretapping was rampant. Still, Skype remains a pain to intercept. In 2009, Mubarak was informed that Skype was secure and hacking into proved difficult by its secret police. Italy noticed it to with numerous criminal activity, which frequently use Skype. In January 2011, Egypt was offered software to hack Skype with trainers for $560,000. The product was from Gamma, a British company and between August and December, 2010, Egypt was testing it. Records now show, Egypt did purchase it and used it successfully in 2011. Many of the dissidents found verbatim transcripts of their calls, emails, facebook in files under their name.

The companies that make software to make Skype hackable use a technique that infects the computer or smartphone with spyware that can capture the video and audio before it is encrypted or after it is decrypted. This allows countries to eaves drop and listen to Skype conversations.


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