Skype Hopes To Stay On The Censor's Good Side In China

from the please-don't-cut-us-off... dept

When eBay first bought Skype, one of the big reasons they stated was Skype's widespread use in China -- where eBay had little presence. This didn't make much sense at the time, because it didn't seem likely that Chinese Skypers would suddenly start buying and selling products on eBay... but, then again, it wasn't our billions that were being spent. The "China" reason for the Skype acquisition has looked worse and worse ever since the deal happened. There have been reports of local governments banning Skype, and at least two Chinese telcos have bought or looked at Skype-blocking filters. As you might imagine, this means that Skype management is bending over backwards to do whatever the Chinese government wants to actually remain usable to the country's 1.3 billion or so residents. So, with that in mind, perhaps it should come as no surprise at all to find out Skype has a text filter in place to censor Skype text chat conversations in China. Where this becomes questionable is that Skype has always touted how its conversations are entirely encrypted -- and thus they shouldn't be able to filter anything. It also could raise questions about what else Skype has been willing to do to keep the Chinese government happy. What's next? Forced government licenses for all Skype users?


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  •  
    identicon
    Paul, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 4:44am

    Well, I think that's rather stupid.

    Remind me why the Chinease government is so strict?

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 6:28pm

      Re:

      because they're a communist country with the attitude that they need to control people to protect their power structure.

       

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 6:28pm

      Re:

      because they're a communist country with the attitude that they need to control people to protect their power structure.

       

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  •  
    identicon
    Mike, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:03am

    Commys

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:06am

      Re:

      except they aren't a communist country, it's a maoist country, but then one can't expect a simple minded american such as yourself to understand the difference

       

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        identicon
        Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:18am

        Re: Re:

        Re: by Anonymous Coward on Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:06am
        except they aren't a communist country, it's a maoist country, but then one can't expect a simple minded american such as yourself to understand the difference


        Yes, and being insulting would be the best way to explain such a difference? Attack the argument not the person. Show some integrity.

         

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        identicon
        Frankie Robertson, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:19am

        Re: Re:

        LOOK! Nationalism for no reason. I sure do love nationalism for no reason. LOOK! I fork in the eye. I sure do love a fork in the eye.

         

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    identicon
    Justin, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:06am

    Memory lane

    And I thought the early 20th century was retarded. Big corporations have no morals, just accounting.

     

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    some french guy, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:13am

    RE: Anonymous Coward

    Yea! and only a censor prone simpleton could call a person a "simple minded" american. Think about it, Anonymous Coward?? a french guy.

     

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    identicon
    Eric, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:25am

    Who Cares?

    Communist, Maoist......who gives a crap. They both suck!

     

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      Spyke Jhones, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 5:51am

      Re: Who Cares?

      Exactly. Regardless of whether you're communist, Maoist, Fascist or illusory democracy, if you have to go to these lengths to control what your people *say* to keep from being overthrown then your government is irreparably flawed.

       

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        Justin, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 6:08am

        Re: Re: Who Cares?

        And what do you make of governments and corporations complicity abetting such repression? This isn't about shady underground characters making a buck off authoritarian regimes, but a publicly traded icons of American business.

         

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      identicon
      Laughing, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 2:12pm

      Re: Who Cares?

      Suck? How would you know?

       

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    identicon
    Moogle, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 8:33am

    View A: China has different morals than individualistic westerners are used to. Since many people tend to value the health of the group above the individual (even themselves), spreading dissent is seen as harmful. It is the will of their people that the public be protected from harmful ideas that would only cause problems.

    View B: The citizens of china are either brainwashed into believing the government rhetoric, or are rightfully afraid to public go against the system. China's leaders are hoping to contain any opposing factions and keep them from spreading. The less public knowledge of opposing viewpoints, the less dissatisfaction with their totalitarian control.

    Someone pick A, someone pick B, we'll give you each a weapon and let you fight it out gladiator style.

    Get your tickets! Geeet your tickets here!

     

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    •  
      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Sep 4th, 2008 @ 9:44pm

      Re: Property Donation

      I don't mind. I like weapons. Besides the Chinease government have given me rites to your home. I'll be around Sunday. Leave beers in fridge. Leave the fridge.Thanks

       

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    identicon
    Ron, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 8:36am

    Chinese Government

    I wonder: is it better to be overtly oppressed by one's government as happens in China and some other places or covertly as is being done here? I seem to recall a statement that "The people get the government they deserve". Perhaps the truth is no one has the government they want.

     

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      Jim Gilbert, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 8:57pm

      Re: Chinese Government

      Ron, the fact that your comment appeared at all shows what's better. I wish you had a week to visit some the Chinese folks I know who've been hung up by the handcuffs. Then you'd be thankful for the government here. "Covert" indeed. Sheesh, what a sheltered little mind with too much time to read the Daily Kos.

       

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    bloggaru, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 8:45am

    skype

    skype better hope china welcomes them!

     

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    identicon
    Moogle, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 8:45am

    Now for an actual comment on the story...

    I suspect that this is going to be a natural result of the way some businesses are created. Someone wants to get rich, so they invent/innovate/outcompete/steal to get seen, and sell their new company for profit. Selling to the highest bidder means the company is now in the hands of groups and people who are trying to get rich by any means, so they have to be in every market, and hire a CEO, who also wants to get rich by pumping up stock and cashing out before he runs it into the ground. No one in the process is in it for the long term unless they get a stranglehold on the market or enough momentum to lobby for a monopoly.

    On the other hand, there's nothing to say that any one of these groups can't have morals and decide they've made enough money, they want to provide a service and industry to the world. I really think these kinds of people and companies exist. There was the story about the lawnmower company that refused to sell to wallmart because they were in the market for the long term. I think google's in a good spot as well, since the founders seem to have decide that several hundred million each is enough and they're maintatining controlling shares in the company. (I know they're doing the china sellout as well, but I really feel that from their perspective, it would hurt china more to have only their less scrupulous competitors. While standing up for what you believe is good and I encourage it, it does not equate to what helps people the most. More worldly chinese citizens is the first step to change)

     

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      identicon
      Murray, Sep 4th, 2008 @ 9:55pm

      Re: Worldly Chinese

      The most 'worldly' Chinese sir,are in other peoples countries. But Go China Go. Maybe they'll give a Russian business rites over google,eh?

       

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    identicon
    Jeff, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 9:35am

    Google does what is necessary

    Googles motto is "do no harm". While many argue that they always try to do good and their record is consistent with this, they are being criticized for selling out in China just like Skype is. The thing is though that sometimes in an imperfect world things can't always be perfect. Skype and Google "selling out" might not be the most perfect thing everyone can imagine but it is a better alternative than the other alternatives. You could say it is not good but it is necessary and the best thing anyone can think of given the circumstances.

     

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      FrogOnTheBoil, May 15th, 2006 @ 6:10pm

      Re: Google does what is necessary

      1. I have read nothing (yet) that says that Skype's text chat capability is protected by the same mechanism(s) as its voice chats.
      Presuming the worst case, that means text-Skyping is done in the clear. Someone from Skype prove me wrong by showing me source code and a signed affadavit from the executive management team offering to resign if they're proved to be lying.

      2. IF text chats are actually encrypted from user-point to user-point, that still leaves a huge potential vulnerability (in the modified client) on the Chinese User's workstation.

      IOW, Skype could theoretically provide all of its Chinese Users with a modified version of the software (we can't know if the CN version's got spyware in it, since Skype won't release open source). Whit Diffie one pointed out that "the screen can always be photographed", meaning that once your ciphertext is decrypted into plaintext at the other end, it's now fairly easy to capture/intercept by capturing that plaintext.

      If it's text (not voice), and it did get encrypted (still don't know if that's true, but if it is...) then the "localized"/Government-approved Chinese Skype Software can be engineered to decrypt, then provide a subliminal channel to CN Govt observers/spies who can review the plaintext... the User has no easy way of knowing this.

      To be trustworthy, Skype needs to stop telling us all to "trust us" and finally OPEN its SOURCE code for extensive security reviews. Their argument is that their proprietary security implementation is their value, but it's FREE software: they're not charging for anything associated with the client. Maybe they charge big businesses for server functionalities, but that's not relevant here. Until they release open source, any security associated with Skype by any User is pure wishful thinking.

      No offense intended, but please don't anyone tell me that, just because one clever guy (TB) was paid and then nondisclosed by Skype and then allowed to look at some architectural diagrams and/or a few small parts of the code specific to crypto key mgmt, it's now considered OK for everyone to feel safe and secure using. Homey don't play dat. AFAIK, he didn't see all of the source code, only certain aspects of the cryptographic architecture; he never saw the detailed implementation and; he's only one guy, albeit a clueful one, but not an army of unbiased geeks.

      That's my $0.02, as a professional security architect and cryptographer.


      PS: Google's motto is not "do no harm". One of their ten or so operating principles is "Don't be Evil" but I think we can all agree now: that ship has sailed. Shortly after they IPO'ed and started raking in Billions of dollars in fictional money that is itself part of a global Dirty Money network used by wealthy kleptocrats to hide Trillions of dollars in money stolen from Poor people around the world (Billions of whom, living in abject squalor in developing countries in Africa and Asia, will never use a computer, much less make a telephone call), they joined the ranks of the Corporate Goons, and whatever line of BS their PR company is now handing you about what groovy folks they are is just another load of hooey.

       

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      identicon
      FrogOnTheBoil, May 18th, 2006 @ 12:25am

      Re: Google does what is necessary

      1. I have read nothing (yet) that says that Skype's text chat capability is protected by the same mechanism(s) as its voice chats.
      Presuming the worst case, that means text-Skyping is done in the clear. Someone from Skype prove me wrong by showing me source code and a signed affadavit from the executive management team offering to resign if they're proved to be lying.

      2. IF text chats are actually encrypted from user-point to user-point, that still leaves a huge potential vulnerability (in the modified client) on the Chinese User's workstation.

      IOW, Skype could theoretically provide all of its Chinese Users with a modified version of the software (we can't know if the CN version's got spyware in it, since Skype won't release open source). Whit Diffie one pointed out that "the screen can always be photographed", meaning that once your ciphertext is decrypted into plaintext at the other end, it's now fairly easy to capture/intercept by capturing that plaintext.

      If it's text (not voice), and it did get encrypted (still don't know if that's true, but if it is...) then the "localized"/Government-approved Chinese Skype Software can be engineered to decrypt, then provide a subliminal channel to CN Govt observers/spies who can review the plaintext... the User has no easy way of knowing this.

      To be trustworthy, Skype needs to stop telling us all to "trust us" and finally OPEN its SOURCE code for extensive security reviews. Their argument is that their proprietary security implementation is their value, but it's FREE software: they're not charging for anything associated with the client. Maybe they charge big businesses for server functionalities, but that's not relevant here. Until they release open source, any security associated with Skype by any User is pure wishful thinking.

      No offense intended, but please don't anyone tell me that, just because one clever guy (TB) was paid and then nondisclosed by Skype and then allowed to look at some architectural diagrams and/or a few small parts of the code specific to crypto key mgmt, it's now considered OK for everyone to feel safe and secure using. Homey don't play dat. AFAIK, he didn't see all of the source code, only certain aspects of the cryptographic architecture; he never saw the detailed implementation and; he's only one guy, albeit a clueful one, but not an army of unbiased geeks.

      That's my $0.02, as a professional security architect and cryptographer.


      PS: Google's motto is not "do no harm". One of their ten or so operating principles is "Don't be Evil" but I think we can all agree now: that ship has sailed. Shortly after they IPO'ed and started raking in Billions of dollars in fictional money that is itself part of a global Dirty Money network used by wealthy kleptocrats to hide Trillions of dollars in money stolen from Poor people around the world (Billions of whom, living in abject squalor in developing countries in Africa and Asia, will never use a computer, much less make a telephone call), they joined the ranks of the Corporate Goons, and whatever line of BS their PR company is now handing you about what groovy folks they are is just another load of hooey.

       

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    identicon
    pg, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 9:58am

    technicality

    As developer I try to understand how the filtering is possible. Digitized voice and text messages bytes leave your PC encrypted towards your pal through a supposedly Peer-to-Peer path until it reaches destination, where they get de-encrypted and presented. How is the filtering done then??? How can words be removed from messages if it is assumedly impossible in reasonable time to inspect the content of the information flowing?

     

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      identicon
      Anonymous Coward, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 10:27am

      Re: technicality

      Filtering is possible if you have the keys. That of course means that Skype has given China the keys. I would venture a bet that the NSA has the keys too.

       

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    identicon
    Dave, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 10:37am

    What's encrypted?

    As far as I can recall, Skype only ever promised to encrypt voice conversations. I think we all just assumed that meant the IM component was encrypted, too. I know I did.

     

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      pg, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 11:04am

      Re: What's encrypted?

      I don't think so. When chatting through skype, in the lower right corner of the dialog box a lock icon appears and the tooltip reads "This chat message is encrypted"

       

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    identicon
    mbuel76, Apr 19th, 2006 @ 12:13pm

    AC mentioning maoism:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Communist_Party_of_Nepal_(Maoist)

    as for the story? Yahoo handed over someone for emailing "sensitive" information today (remember when our government asked comcast for IP addresses of file sharers, and they gave them the finger?)

    If you don't think this is vital to our own freedom, consider how our corporate leaders greeted the president of china on _OUR OWN TURF_. Bill Gates and others all BOWED to the president of china. If someone comes to YOUR home they should follow your rules _NOT_ vice versa!

     

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    identicon
    Argentinean anti-Comunist, May 25th, 2006 @ 12:21pm

    WIsh

    I hope one day all comunist move to china. All.

     

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    identicon
    Voice of treason, Jun 27th, 2006 @ 12:19pm

    "So, with that in mind, perhaps it should come as no surprise at all to find out Skype has a text filter in place to censor Skype text chat conversations in China."

    In theory couldn't these filters simply be implemented at the client? Yes, I know it is more likely to think that there is an intermediary snooping and filtering the conversations but it is not required for simple filtering. The forbidden words/phrases can be associated with the chinese skype client and filter them before encryption when sending text and can be filtered after decryption when receiving text.

     

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