Skype ditched peer-to-peer for mobile, not snooping

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Skype ditched peer-to-peer for mobile, not snooping

Employee says switch from secure peer-to-peer tech was a practical move to keep up with mobile users.

Skype’s principal architect has defended its shift away from peer-to-peer technology, after the firm was accused of trying to make it easier for government agencies to snoop on calls.

The VoIP firm reportedly set up a secret, internal programme called "Project Chess" to explore how to let intelligence agencies monitor VoIP calls while staying within the bounds of the law.

It’s also previously been accused of rerouting its peer-to-peer architecture through Microsoft’s servers to give spies easier access to its users’ communications.

Principal architect Matthew Kaufman refused to comment directly on Project Chess or Skype’s ability to intercept calls and messages, but said the infrastructure change was necessary to keep the service running smoothly for an increasingly mobile user base.

The Skype peer-to-peer network, and many of its functions (such as instant messaging) was built for a world where almost every machine is powered by a wall socket

"I'm obviously not in a position to comment on what Skype can and cannot log or intercept, nor how and when that data (if any) is passed on to third parties," he said.

He explained that Skype’s "supernodes" setup, where the service elects certain machines to act as directories, relied heavily on Windows PCs running the latest Skype client.

"This proved to be a problem when not once, but twice, a global Skype network outage was caused by a crashing bug in that client... bootstrapping the network back into existence afterwards was painful and lengthy," he said.

That drove Skype to switch to server-based "dedicated supernodes", giving the company more control but also, in theory, making it easier to wiretap. Kaufman added that the company had discussed the change long before the Microsoft deal had been announced and will likely continue to move away from peer-to-peer as Skype's mobile user base grows.

"The Skype peer-to-peer network, and many of its functions (such as instant messaging) was built for a world where almost every machine is powered by a wall socket, plugged into broadband internet, and on for many hours a day," he said.

"And over time you will see more and more services move to the Skype cloud, offloading memory and CPU requirements from the mobile devices everyone wants to enjoy to their fullest and with maximum battery life," he said.

Copyright © Alphr, Dennis Publishing
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