“…. As more and more communications move online, it is up to companies to demonstrate they are on the side of human rights – the future of freedom of expression is partly in their hands.”
Head of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International, Joshua Franco, commenting on Microsoft’s decision to introduce E2EE for Skype.
Skype is finally getting with the times. This as they’ll be following the likes of Facebook Messenger, Apple’s iMessage and WhatsApp by rolling out E2EE (End-to-End Encryption) for all voice chat in the summer of 2018.
Truly this is a long time coming as noted by Head of Technology and Human Rights at Amnesty International, Joshua Franco, quote: “It is about time that Microsoft takes its users’ privacy seriously, and we are now calling on the company to roll out default end-to-end encryption for all Skype communications. Companies who don’t install full encryption are effectively handing the keys to cyber criminals and intrusive state surveillance agents”.
Interestingly, they’ll be using the Signal Protocol as announced by Joshua Lund, a developer with Signal announced the news in a blog on Thursday. January 12, 2018.
The Signal Protocol is a non-federated cryptographic protocol co-authored by Moxie Marlinspike. In case you’ve been living under a rock, he’s the founder of Open Whisper Systems and both Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp use the Signal Protocol.
This is interesting, as it’s not a proprietary protocol, but one that’s Open Source, signally Microsoft’s increasing interest in using Open Source property.
Alas, there are some limitations.
Skype going E2EE – Not default and the NSA may be listening
With nearly 300 million months users, the test will be limited to a few million of them with users. This’ll be via Private Conversations, a forthcoming feature already available to users of Skype Insider. This is a beta build of the app Microsoft already makes available to interested parties on its site.
For now that means only version 18.104.22.168, the most recent version of Skype Insider for Android, iOS, Linux, Mac, and Windows includes end-to-end encryption. Both users of the Skype Insider app have the have the same exact version to take advantage of E2EE and oddly, it doesn’t encrypt video or group chats yet.
Also, it’s not default, as was the case with Facebook Messenger’s rollout of E2EE as noted in Facebook Messenger’s Opt-in E2EE raises Privacy Concerns.
According to Microsoft, users will have to do the following to enable E2EE in their voice and chats:
- Tap or click the “+” icon
- Select “New Private Conversation“
Once the user accepts the invitation, a private conversation will start. Oddly, the conversation will only remain confidential on that device. So if you decide to skip from your iPhone to your Mac, don’t’ expect E2EE to carry over and remain encrypted.
The functionality, at least for the moment, is a bit limited, privacy advocates, like the Electronic Frontier Foundation, called the move a step in the right direction. They have encouraged Microsoft to deploy the feature by default.
Still, these limitations are a tad unusual, as it implies they may eventually go the route of Facebook Messenger and share E2EE keys with the NSA to spy on your conversations as Whatsapp currently does as noted in “WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger may be sharing E2EE Keys with the NSA”.
So will this help Skype catch-up with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger.
Skype going E2EE – Free Calling to Landlines and Mobiles needed to beat Whatsapp
Skype still has valuable features, such as its interoperability with traditional phone networks and additional tools for TV and radio broadcasters.
But its tardiness at adopting this kind of technology left Skype playing catch-up to WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger. Thus, the adoption of end-to-end security is very welcome.
Being secure and trustworthy, albeit a necessary development, may not be enough to reinvigorate the usage of the application and beat widely used, mobile-oriented upstarts like WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger who have long surpassed Skype.
The best way Skype can catch-up with WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger is to offer free calling to Local and International mobiles and Landlines via ad subscriptions, similar to what TalkU already does as noted in the article How to make Free International Calls to Landlines and Mobiles using TalkU.
They may just have to choose their advertisers wisely….such as, say, some KFC and Burger King Coupons to go with a side order of E2EE!!
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