China is running a massive operation to track and store text messages sent over Tom-Skype, a joint venture between a Chinese wireless provider and eBay-owned Skype, The New York Times reports.
China has about one million censored messages, many of which contain personally identifiable information, according to the human rights advocates at CitizenLab, based at the University of Toronto.
Here are some of the findings:
- The full text chat messages of TOM-Skype users, along with Skype users who have communicated with TOM-Skype users, are regularly scanned for sensitive keywords, and if present, the resulting data are uploaded and stored on servers in China.
- These text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information, are stored on insecure publicly-accessible web servers together with the encryption key required to decrypt the data.
- The captured messages contain specific keywords relating to sensitive political topics such as Taiwan independence, the Falun Gong, and political opposition to the Communist Party of China.
- Our analysis suggests that the surveillance is not solely keyword-driven. Many of the captured messages contain words that are too common for extensive logging, suggesting that there may be criteria, such as specific usernames, that determine whether messages are captured by the system.
The question is whether Tom and eBay are cooperating with the Chinese government. In talking with the Times, eBay was exclusively concerned with the fact that CitizenLab hacked the system, and didn't address concerns about collaboration with the government.
The security breach does not affect Skype’s core technology or functionality. It exists within an administrative layer on Tom Online servers. We have expressed our concern to Tom Online about the security issue and they have informed us that a fix to the problem will be completed within 24 hours.