EU group aims to eavesdrop on Skype calls

Posted on February 24, 2009. Filed under: Skype | Tags: , , |

By Julian Sanchez

The EU’s judicial coordination group says criminals are increasingly turning to encrypted VoIP tools like Skype to evade surveillance—and is launching an effort to ensure that European law enforcement can listen in.

skypewiretapAs high-tech tools expand the ability of intelligence and law enforcement agencies to sweep up and sort vast quantities of communications traffic, European Union officials worry that encrypted Voice over IP technologies like Skype are leaving criminals with a digital hole in the telecom dragnet. In a statement released this weekend, the Italian arm of the European Union’s judicial cooperation agency, Eurojust, announced it would lead an international effort to “overcome the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of internet telephony systems.”

The statement singled out Luxembourg-based Skype as presenting particular problems, because “Skype’s encryption system is a secret which the company refuses to share with the authorities.” Eurojust officials told reporters that the new initiative comes at the request of Italian authorities concerned that organized crime was resorting to encrypted Skype communications to evade eavesdropping.

Skype, however, disputes that characterization, saying that the company has “extensively briefed” EU law enforcement agencies. “It’s unfortunate that they chose to release this report without contacting us,” spokesman Brian O’Shaughnessy told Ars, “because I think it’s pretty clear that we have capabilities and we have programs in place and they’re aware of them.”

O’Shaughnessy says that the company’s policy is to cooperate with law enforcement “where legally and technically possible.” Last year, however, Skype’s director of corporate communications told CNET that it might not be technically possible in many cases. “We have not received any subpoenas or court orders asking us to perform a live interception or wiretap of Skype-to-Skype communications,” Skype’s Jennifer Caukin told the news site. “In any event, because of Skype’s peer-to-peer architecture and encryption techniques, Skype would not be able to comply with such a request.”

That doesn’t mean police are without recourse: in 2008, a German online advocacy group called the Pirate Party leaked documents suggesting that Bavarian authorities had employed (dubiously legal) trojan horse programs to capture Skype conversations in the clear at the client’s end. And press reports earlier this month quoted anonymous sources suggesting that the American National Security Agency has offered “billions” to hackers able to provide back-door access to Skype. Of course, even if intelligence agencies already enjoyed such access, it would be in their interest to promote the impression that Skype calls were untappable.

Source: arstechnica

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