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Are My Skype Calls Recorded?

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Is Skype really not recording my private video calls on their servers anywhere on the internet or on hard copy?

In the past, my answer was that I thought it extremely unlikely that your Skype calls are recorded … at least by Skype. Recently there’s been a wrinkle that indicates things may not be quite as private as we thought.

I’ll dive into a number of reasons I believe that it’s still mostly private and nothing, really, to worry about.

However, there’s another, potentially much more dangerous scenario a lot of people overlook. Unfortunately, many are paying a very steep price for that.

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Skype’s been listening

It turns out there are scenarios where Skype (owned by Microsoft) may be listening in — kind of.

The Skype translation service offers real-time automated translation from one language to another. Microsoft has admitted that contractors may have access to recordings of at least portions of those conversations.

The reason is simple: while the real-time translation is automated, real people may listen to conversation snippets in order to improve future translations.

The big take-away from all that? If you have something that really needs to be private, don’t use the translation service.

I expect most people will read that as “don’t use Skype”, instead.

Skype calls recorded by Skype: unlikely

For other types of calls — text, audio, or video — I don’t believe Skype is recording or listening … but it’s now clear that it would be possible.

Encryption in Skype remains murky. On one hand, Microsoft is pretty clear1 that Skype-to-Skype traffic is encrypted end-to-end. However, instant messaging traffic (text) is sent via Skype servers, and apparently only encrypted only en route.

Skype Encryption

On top of that, there’s really no reliable way to tell what kind of connection you have, or even if you do have a Skype-to-Skype connection, that the information still isn’t being mirrored to Skype’s servers somehow.

So, while we would like to rely on encryption as a clear indication that no Skype calls are recorded (at least by Skype), that’s not a conclusion we can make. It’s clearly possible.

Pragmatism rears its ugly head

Privacy? Who's Watching?The fact is, wholesale recording of Skype audio or video calls is simply unfeasible.

Given the amount of data being transferred in an audio call (and even more in a video call), the amount of storage Skype would require to record everything would be enormous. So enormous that in my opinion, wholesale recording of all Skype traffic is quite impractical.

Not to mention that it would be a public relations nightmare if discovered.2

So the question is, since they probably don’t record everything, why would they record your conversation?

You and I just aren’t that interesting

In this regard, I point to what I believe boils down to many people’s over-inflated sense of self-importance (and even occasional paranoia).

You and I just aren’t worth the effort. No one cares about your Skype calls or video. Period. They have better things to do than listen to your mundane conversations.

However …

What if you are really are “interesting”, by someone’s definition? It’s possible — perhaps even likely — that government agencies have access, under certain conditions, to your Skype conversations.

If that’s you, my advice is simple: don’t use Skype. There are alternatives that claim to be secure.

Skype calls recorded by someone else: very possible

Here’s a scarier and much more likely scenario:

  • A gentleman is approached by a woman, online.
  • They establish some semblance of a “relationship”.
  • Part of that relationship involves using video chat.
  • Eventually enough trust is built, and the gentleman is convinced to perform salacious acts for his girlfriend on camera.
  • Unbeknownst to him, his online “girlfriend” is no friend at all; she, or her handlers, have recorded the conversation.
  • They extort money from him, threatening to release the video publicly if he doesn’t pay ransom.

I want to be very clear about this: there is no technology that can prevent this. In fact, the recording part is easy.

The person at the other end of your conversation — be it video, audio, instant messaging, or email — can record it all, and there’s nothing you can do about it. If they can see it, they can record it.

From what I’ve seen, this type of extortion — which is not limited to Skype at all — is on the rise.

Prevention is as simple as it is low tech: don’t say or do anything on camera (or anywhere online) that you wouldn’t want your mother — or the world — to see.

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Footnotes

1: Skype FAQ: Does Skype use encryption?

2: The only thing that has prevented this most recent discovery from causing more outrage is that a) it’s limited to the translation service and b) the explanation for its existence makes sense.

29 comments on “Are My Skype Calls Recorded?”

  1. I’m not a lawyer, and this might not actually be the case, but I would imagine that Skype recording your conversations would be a violation of Federal wiretap laws, so I would assume they would avoid recording your calls like the plague. From what I understand, Skype is much more secure than a normal phone call because of their end to end encryption.

  2. User Information is not the same as videos. User information is stored, so govt can pull that information with warrant – but videos, if not stored would not be able to be pulled – warrant or not.

  3. Slashdot.org recently ran an item about the Russian FSB performing warrantless taps on Skype calls. The item references a story in Barents Observer which references a story in the Russian publication Vedomosti.

    The Slashdot item is at

    http://tech.slashdot.org/story/13/03/15/1241229/russian-fsb-can-reportedly-tap-skype-calls

    and contains links to the other publications. (Reader comments may, or may not, help clarify the issues.)

    Apparently it is possible to intercept and decrypt Skype calls, as well as identify the Skype caller.

  4. The only thing that is somewhat related is that in group conversations, Skype uses servers to aggregate content in order to ensure messages and video are delivered correctly. However, just because it goes through their servers doesn’t mean that it is recorded. As Leo says, that would be impractical and basically pointless. The only time a company like Skype would record anything is if they received a court order for some reason, or if they had a ‘rogue employee’ etc.

  5. would a v p n help prevent this? I run a vpnservice when getting media content from bittorrent sights. Nothing salacious, kust tv shows that have already aired. Not into the freaky stuff…and If I were It is no ones business but mine. lol have a great day.

  6. Tried before. Would a vpn service help prevent this? I use one when transfering files of a sensitive nature between clients. just wondered.

    • Since Skype requires a logon a VPN would not prevent Skype from knowing who you are. A VPN only encrypts between your computer and the VPN server. From there any web site only sees the VPN, but any personal information you send such as logons are associated with your account.

      And this won’t protect you against the most dangerous problem of someone on the other end recording you and blackmailing you if you’ve sent them any identifying information. If you open a fake Skype account while using a VPN, disguise your voice against voice recognition software and wear a mask, you might be safe unless the VPN is subpoenaed and turns you in.

  7. While Skype calls may not be being recorded by a 3rd party, a lot of it can stay on your computer. We (and other digital forensics experts) frequently harvest plenty of Skype chats and other such data from the computer where the call/chat is originated. It can stick around for a long time. So, in a sense, your own computer may be recording some of your Skype communications.

  8. While it may not be practical to record your calls, scanning the call for key words or phrases is practical to build a user profile.
    Think G-mail advertisements.
    It is not happening now, but Microsoft being the technology follower that it is, is migrating slowly to becoming a marketing platform like Google.
    There is a financial reason Microsoft paid billions for Skype instead of just downloading it for free. :-O

  9. I dated someone for a few months that, without my knowledge, video and audio recorded our Skype calls. He also saved every text message I ever sent him, transferring them to the computer, and every e-mail I had sent him. Going through his computer one day, as I thought something was fishy, I found the same information from other women he had “archived” going back many years. Eventually I found he had done the same with me. I am grateful I never gave him a picture of me nor allowed him to take one of me or the two of us. No more online dating or correspondence for me.

    • Obviously I don’t know the guy and perhaps you haven’t given us all the details, but I don’t find anything particularly wrong with saving the emails of someone you are dating. In fact I did it myself. Now I have two large binders of all the emails that my wife and I wrote to each other before we got married (the electronic versions have since been lost, although I did make a backup copy on a floppy disk that is kept in one of the binders – I wonder if the floppy still works?). It’s the modern day equivalent of the guy/girl who keeps the stack of love letters in a trunk in the attic.

      Mind you, had I not married my wife, I probably would have deleted them. I can’t imagine why someone would want to keep them, after you break up.

  10. Interesting article!

    Whilst I am so boring I cannot imagine anyone wanting to listen to my calls, I did wonder if Skype calls via a special Skype phone, via the “router’ and not using a computer, with the other party on a regular land line, are safe from snooping.

  11. I’m sure that if required (by law, NSA, Microsoft etc) all calls can be recorded simply because Skype is not an open source solution, you cannot verify the source code against backdoors etc. Unknown encryption used.. Moreover, it is a well know fast that Microsoft confirmed that they monitor skype chats (google it, if needed). So expect that your calls can be intercepted at any time by skype staff if required.. If you are looking for true phone call encryption, in my opinion, the only solution is to peer to peer encryption solutions based on open encryption standards without intermediate server(s). An example would be http://www.securevoicegsm.com

  12. Dear Leo, being a subsciber to your newsletters for many years now, I’d like to comment on the the topic of internet- phone- Skype- email- or chat-conversations anywhere: when I was young there was no internet, very few people had telephones. You had to meet in person or write a letter to share your thoughts, plans, and secrets – and you did not meet with or write to strangers.
    I admit, the internet is a wonderful thing to get speedy information and to connect in seconds with people all over the world. BUT – normal people are too generous with telling the world about themselves, maybe it’s the ego or they are lonely (because of the computer age). We all know through the media that the governments are collecting data from anyone anywhere if they want to, not to mention hackers.
    So, if you want to launch a bomb attack: don’t use the internet, if you are cheating on your wife/husband: don’t use the phone or the internet (i.e. Prince Charles and Camilla), if you have any dirty secrets: don’t use the internet, if you have money: don’t tell anyone, etc. etc.
    And especially don’t get “cosy” with any online person you have not met and got to know personally. Life would be so much easier if everybody would be a “nice” person you could trust. But unfortunately it is not like that anymore. One has the feeling that everybody is out there to “get you” one way or another.
    The only way one can protect oneself is to NOT give private information (including address, sex, money, photos, spouse, children etc. etc.) to anyone you don’t know in person.
    I know from my own experience: the daughter of a close friend of mine had an online chat friend which developped into quite a serious “affair” over a few weeks, but only online, she had never met him nor did she know who or what he was, how he looked or what he did for a living. She was in love with a phantom. One day he told her a desperate story about needing money for something. She never told my friend what is was for, but she managed to “lend” him a substancial amount (she even took a loan from her bank). She never heard of him again after that. To make a long miserable story short, she discovered that he was a co-worker of her’s in the same company she worked for, he was an undesirable person. The police took care of the situation, and she got off without financial loss, but a big loss to her illusions.
    “It could have been worse” we told her, but she had not only a broken heart for a long time but had no trust in anybody afterwards – which in my opinion – is a bigger loss.
    Leo, you don’t have to publish this story, I just wanted to let you know that if people would not be so eager to expose themselves to strangers and would look for companionship and friends in their own circles there wouldn’t be such a big problem with “privacy concerns” on the internet.
    Regars, Heidi

  13. dear Leo, i wanna know, can someone hack and record my boyfriend or my skype video call during or after video call?
    (sorry because of grammar mistake. my first language is not English)

    • If there is malware on either of your machines, yes. And of course you or your boyfriend could record it. Everything else is answered in the article you commented on.

  14. Hi Leo,
    Are you able to confirm if it is anyway illegal to record a conversation via the skype video facility?
    I am a UK citizen that is currently in a grievance situation with my employer who has developed a wall of lies around themselves in order to deflect the truth. I recently had cause to have a mobile telephone conversation with a manager who had (unwittingly I think) become embroiled in the lies and was actually giving me feedback on a situation that revealed a very different story and was actually the truth.
    Knowing that the staff member would at some point be put under enormous pressure and be bullied by the employer to “bend” the truth on his behalf, I recorded the conversation on skype, although in order to not scare the person off I didn’t tell them at the time I was doing this. The conversation the manager had with me does not name anyone else or indulge in heresay but was an honest, and I believe, factual account of events that she said had occurred.
    My union and I want to be able to use this recorded evidence in the case.
    Do you know if this is within the law?
    Thank you.

    • That’s a question you’d have to ask a lawyer. You might be able to get legal advice through your labour union.

  15. Unknown person was saved my video while talking on the skype I was blocked that person I want to know the video can be saved are not

    • The person on the other end of a Skype conversation can easily record the conversation and there’s no way for you to delete it once it’s been recorded.

  16. Hi.is there any software which can record conversation or video calls of Skype manually or automatically in between first party and second party?let me know.

    • There are numerous programs that can do that. You could simply record onto your computer using something like Audacity. Or you could get a program that interfaces with Skype, such as Pamela recorder.

  17. I utilize AECall to secure my Skype call.
    AECall is an hardware crypto which could encrypt cell phone call and APP call.
    Encrypting the voice before sending into VOIP sever is better. Even the call is recorded, the voice content is still sucure.

    • Skype and some other video chat software use end-to-end encryption. Any servers along the line shouldn’t be able to record the chat, unless you are using a video chat service which doesn’t use end-to-end encryption..

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