UPDATE #1: Ironically, email to “firstname.lastname@example.org” bounced. I did send it to several other addresses, though.
UPDATE #2: The iSkoot FAQ indicates that passwords are encrypted using SSL. So either the FAQ is now wrong or Dameon’s capture is wrong.
UPDATE #3: Dameon has now posted a packet trace clearly showing a Skype user name (“insecure-user”) and a password (“insecure-password”).
UPDATE #4: iSkoot CEO Mark Jacobstein has commented on this post stating unequivocally that they always encrypt with SSL.
UPDATE #5, April 27, 2008: As Jim Courtney notes in a comment to this post, iSkoot CEO Mark Jacobstein sent messages to several of us indicating that after further research on their end, there IS an issue with the Symbian version of the iSkoot software and that will be addressed quickly.
UPDATE #6, April 28, 2008: For those interested, I’ve published a chronology of the communication that occurred around this issue.
UPDATE #7, April 28, 2008: As noted here, iSkoot now has issued a formal statement and plan for a fix.
If you use iSkoot to put Skype on your mobile phone, could it be that your Skype credentials (username, password) are transmitted in the clear? Based on some disturbing news from Dameon Welch-Abernathy, a.k.a. “PhoneBoy”, it certainly looks that way. In his post late last night, “iSkoot Transmits Your Data In The Clear“, he discusses his tests of capturing network traffic from both the new Skype for Mobile client and also from iSkoot. The difference is disturbing:
First of all, Skype appeared to use a TCP connection on a non-standard port. Fine with me. I looked at the raw packets generated by Skype Mobile and saw an opaque blob–exactly what I expected to see.
iSkoot uses TCP port 80–the same port used by HTTP, the lingua franca of downloading web pages. It sends various things as a series of HTTP GET calls. The scary part of this that your text chat messages–and lots of other interesting information, including your Skype credentials–is being transmitted in the clear. That’s right, iSkoot takes all that perfectly good encryption that Skype employs and throws it out the window. For no good reason.
If true (and I have no reason to doubt Dameon), this is obviously of great concern. Someone using iSkoot from their mobile over WiFi is effectively allowing their Skype credentials to be seen by anyone who can intercept their traffic (i.e. is either on the local WiFi network or is between them and iSkoot’s servers). Yes, Skype chats can also be intercepted (but that’s been a known issue with iSkoot) and while that is of concern, especially because users may assume the chats are encrypted as they are with Skype, the larger concern is interception of credentials… if someone gets your Skype username and password they can obviously login to Skype.
I am a bit surprised by the exposure of credentials (and did email Dameon back to confirm he could definitely see them) because when I raised my concerns about iSkoot last July, Jacqueline Van Meter from iSkoot Product Management responded to my concerns in a comment (left, actually, to a subsequent post I made about iSkoot) and stated this:
Of course, we take the issue of password security very seriously. Login and password information are always encrypted. The information is stored on the handset only—never the server—and only in cases where the user selects the auto sign-in option. The communication from the client to our server is also encrypted and secured, using https.
Downside 5: Because Skype hasn’t shared their encryption algorithms with iSkoot, your Skype chats aren’t encrypted, although your login is.
If Skype credentials are now exposed, this is indeed a serious matter that iSkoot needs to address, especially given the millions of users of the 3 Skypephone which uses the iSkoot client. Did something change during one of the releases and the protection referenced above was inadvertantly removed? If HTTPS was used for encryption why didn’t Dameon see that? (Or did Dameon see the unencrypted chats but miss that the login was encrypted?)
Before we jump to conclusions, though, it strikes me that we need to do a couple of things:
- Verify again with a packet trace that the Skype username and password are visible during the iSkoot login (or subsequent message exchange). This is what I’ve asked of Dameon but with time differences, he is asleep right now. If anyone else has the capacity to test this, it would be good to have that confirmation. Unfortunately, I can’t personally as I don’t have any WiFi devices on which to run iSkoot.
- Understand how often the Skype credentials are sent by the iSkoot client. Is it only at the very first login? Or are they sent with every transaction?
- Contact iSkoot to see what they say. (I’ve just sent an email.)
After all of that, we can understand what risk is here right now.
Regardless of the outcome (and I hope that the credentials are not in the clear), this whole experience does show a stark difference between Skype’s new Mobile version and the iSkoot client. Skype, obviously, can secure all of the chats and communication in general. iSkoot, being a third-party app, can’t. Will that matter in the market place? Or does iSkoot have a friendlier model for carriers?
Meanwhile, let’s do some testing… I’ll update this post with more info as we can get it.