Indexing Silence and New Tagging Challenges

By Arnold, Stephen E. | Information Today, March 2013 | Go to article overview

Indexing Silence and New Tagging Challenges


Arnold, Stephen E., Information Today


Microsoft owns Skype. In October 2011, Microsoft assumed control of the company, which is closely associated with VoIP. Since Skype was developed in 2003, it has continued to provide a no- or low-cost alternative to traditional voice telephony.

In the past 8 years, Skype has become a hugely popular application of more than 600 million users worldwide. According to a document found on Cryptome.org, Skype has a law enforcement relationship management team "to ensure the safe and responsible use of its communications platforms and to encourage legal prosecution of those responsible for misconduct on them."

While I am neither an attorney nor a privacy specialist, the language in Skype's document, if accurate, suggests that calls made via Skype (and their content) may not be confidential and private. For me, free services such as Skype and Yandex.mail save money. But there is no free lunch, a fact I learned when I forgot my lunch money at Oxon Hill Elementary School in 1951. It was true then, and it's still true today.

Can Microsoft Skype be used to pass confidential information and secret misusages? The answer, much to the dismay of some government officials, is, "Yes, if one uses SkypeHide," according to a report in Discovery News:

   The group that created the
   technique for SkypeHide was
   led by Wojciech Mazurczyk,
   an assistant professor of computer
   networks and switching
   at the Warsaw University of
   Technology. Mazurczyk and
   his colleagues specialize in
   network steganography. Spy
   nerds know that's the science
   of hiding information and messages
   within computer networks.
   SkypeHide works using
   something called "packet
   hijacking." Mazurczyk, along
   with Maciej Karas and Krzysztof
   Szczypiorski, found that
   whenever we use Skype, the
   program keeps sending 70bit
   data packets during the
   silences that occur within a
   conversation. So the computer
   scientists put their own secret
   messages into those data packets,
   according to Nancy Owano
   at Phys.org.

Secret Skype Messages

The method, as with many sophisticated information manipulation tricks, makes detection difficult. When Microsoft recently rolled out Skype Version 6.1, one of the major changes was the addition of Outlook integration. Skype can be used within the widely used email, calendar, and contact management system available to most Microsoft Office users.

Prior to Microsoft's acquisition of Skype, the ubiquitous-operating-system-and-application-software company was working in the legal intercept sector. "Legal intercept" is a buzzword that connotes an organization's lawful cooperation with government investigatory entities (think police, intelligence agencies, and government entities such as the Drug Enforcement Agency, the Capitol Police, and the Federal Bureau of Investigation).

In my experience, having a general awareness of the legal intercept provisions for communications is low, and it is pegged somewhere between the top speed of the SS United States (built in 1952) and the number of patents Google was awarded in the U.S. in 2012 (answers: 38.3 knots and 1,151 Google patents).

For some entrepreneurs, Skype's legal intercept policy is an opportunity. Viber, a competitor to Skype, is produced by Viber Media, Inc. (based in Cyprus with development centers in Belarus and Israel). According to the Viber Wikipedia entry, the system "is a proprietary cross-platform instant messaging voice-over-Internet Protocol application for smartphones developed by Viber Media. In addition to text messaging, users can exchange images, video and audio media messages."

Critical Differences

As with Skype, Viber lets users make voice calls, send text messages, and exchange photographs. But there are some important differences between Viber and Skype. Viber is available for free, and as of Jan. 10, 2013, it does not offer for-fee options. …

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