Skype End-to-End Encryption Gives Communication Security a Boost

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Skype end-to-end encryption will protect text messages but not video calls.

What works in the wilds of the African savanna and during a late-night club crawl through a major city also holds true for your internet security–there’s safety in numbers. The more of us that can use secure passwords, avoid shady websites, and stop opening virus-laden emails, the better. It’s much harder for a virus to spread if no one opens the cyber door for it in the first place.

This safety-in-numbers rule also applies to video conferencing. As the technology works its way from corporate boardrooms to the more casual, everyday world of social media, it becomes a more attractive and less sophisticated hacker target–one which is still carrying highly personal information.

Help is at hand for the growing video conferencing masses, however. Skype has recently announced that it beefed up its online security…although there is one major catch. While Skype end-to-end encryption will protect your messages, the top-of-the-line security measure hasn’t been applied to video calls.

Skype End-to-End Encryption

To be fair to Microsoft’s video conferencing giant, the new security system is still in the beta-testing phase and available only to Skype Insiders. You would think the final product, currently called Private Conversations, would have to include security protection for video calls, because what is Skype if not a video conferencing platform? It’s one of the few products that can be accurately described as synonymous with its field. For now, though, the end-to-end encryption will apply only to audio calls, texts, and multimedia messages.

Setting that potentially fatal flaw aside (for now), news that Skype is increasing security at all is a good thing. The app has 300 million active monthly users, which means there’s a lot of data flowing through its servers and between computers, tablets, and smartphones the world over. Currently, Skype protects that data during part of its journey, but end-to-end encryption will take things to the next level.

End-to-end encryption wraps your outgoing data up into small encoded packets that can only be decoded and opened by your intended receiver. The information is so secure that even the servers through which it travels can’t open it. Every exchange uses a unique code to protect the data, so even if you regularly video call the same person, each conversation carries its own unique protection.

It’s the highest practical level of video calling security currently available, and Skype has chosen a trusted source to provide its protection.

Messenger and WhatsApp Encryption

Skype will use the popular Signal Protocol to supply its end-to-end encryption. That’s the same strong, open source tool currently used to protect user connections on Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp. The protocol doesn’t render your conversations entirely invisible–Skype will still be able to see who you called, when, and for how long–and once the information reaches your phone it’s unpacked and freely available to anyone who can access the device, but it is good enough to keep your content private.

Eventually, we will move on to far more sophisticated security devices, such as the quantum mechanics-based, space-traveling, unhackable communications system Chinese engineers are currently developing. But as Skype and its social media cousins gain more and more video calling users, there will be an emphasis on lightweight yet large-scale security measures that can operate as efficiently on a smartphone as they do on a desktop computer with its relatively huge processing power.

Which brings us back to safety in numbers. What Skype is attempting, and what others such as WhatsApp have already installed, is a basic level of security that can be accessed by the everyday video consumer. If you’re Skype, that protection MUST extend to video calls.

Lock Up Your Video Calls

For Skype, not to extend its final Private Conversations coverage to video calls is misleading to people who assume the new end-to-end encryption security will apply to all communication via the platform. It’s also just bad business to risk a security breach. VC Daily recently gave a thumbs down to the video calling app IMO because its security had come under question, and a reputation like that is hard to shake.

There are other forms of security Skype could incorporate as well. Video conferencing platform LyteSpark has introduced a “lock and knock” system that lets the host of the video meeting control who can access a conversation–so there’s no chance of spying eyes hopping on a video call without the host being notified. Skype owner Microsoft is itself busy proving that biometric security like facial recognition can be included in a mass consumer interface by adding the feature to Windows 10.

Ultimately, though, the real significance of the Skypes and WhatsApps of the world introducing end-to-end encryption to their services is the number of people now protected by this technology. Every user who is protected by end-to-end encryption is one less weak link in the enormous chain that connects us all digitally–and one less threat the rest of us have to fear.

Image Sources: Flickr CC Users DennisM2

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