Skype has long ben a popular way to hold an audio or video chat with one (or several) people, and has typically thought to be far more secure from snooping than other forms of communication – until now, at least. According to a report from The Guardian, based on new documents provided by NSA whistle-blower (and American hero, IMO) Edward Snowden, it appears that Microsoft “worked closely” with the NSA, willing allowing them to tap into private Skype conversations, as well as Outlook.com web chats, and a private SkyDrive cloud storage accounts.
Access was granted for audio, video, and text chat that took place through Skype, and Microsoft was apparently all-too-eager to fork over the keys to their customers’ private data.
Microsoft has collaborated closely with US intelligence services to allow users’ communications to be intercepted, including helping the National Security Agency to circumvent the company’s own encryption, according to top-secret documents obtained by the Guardian.
The files provided by Edward Snowden illustrate the scale of co-operation between Silicon Valley and the intelligence agencies over the last three years. They also shed new light on the workings of the top-secret Prism program, which was disclosed by the Guardian and the Washington Post last month.
The documents show that:
• Microsoft helped the NSA to circumvent its encryption to address concerns that the agency would be unable to intercept web chats on the new Outlook.com portal;
• The agency already had pre-encryption stage access to email on Outlook.com, including Hotmail;
• The company worked with the FBI this year to allow the NSA easier access via Prism to its cloud storage service SkyDrive, which now has more than 250 million users worldwide;
• Microsoft also worked with the FBI’s Data Intercept Unit to “understand” potential issues with a feature in Outlook.com that allows users to create email aliases;
• In July last year, nine months after Microsoft bought Skype, the NSAboasted that a new capability had tripled the amount of Skype video calls being collected through Prism;
• Material collected through Prism is routinely shared with the FBI andCIA, with one NSA document describing the program as a “team sport”.
Microsoft has responded to issuing an official statement on the matter – without actually denying their involvement:
We have clear principles which guide the response across our entire company to government demands for customer information for both law enforcement and national security issues.
First, we take our commitments to our customers and to compliance with applicable law very seriously, so we provide customer data only in response to legal processes. Second, our compliance team examines all demands very closely, and we reject them if we believe they aren’t valid. Third, we only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks, as the volumes documented in our most recent disclosure clearly illustrate. To be clear, Microsoft does not provide any government with blanket or direct access to SkyDrive, Outlook.com, Skype or any Microsoft product.
Finally when we upgrade or update products legal obligations may in some circumstances require that we maintain the ability to provide information in response to a law enforcement or national security request. There are aspects of this debate that we wish we were able to discuss more freely. That’s why we’ve argued for additional transparency that would help everyone understand and debate these important issues.
While Microsoft allegedly provided the information only when it was “ordered by a court,” the fact is that they didn’t put up any traces of resistance – as they probably should have (and as many other companies have). What a shame. Big Brother is listening to your Skype calls now – and there’s apparently not a damn thing you can do about it.