Hackers taunt Skype: 'Stop spying on people!'

The Syrian Electronic Army targets the public faces of Skype, hacking messages to its blog and to its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

Jon Skillings Editorial director
Jon Skillings is an editorial director at CNET, where he's worked since 2000. A born browser of dictionaries, he honed his language skills as a US Army linguist (Polish and German) before diving into editing for tech publications -- including at PC Week and the IDG News Service -- back when the web was just getting under way, and even a little before. For CNET, he's written on topics from GPS, AI and 5G to James Bond, aircraft, astronauts, brass instruments and music streaming services.
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2 min read
Skype viewed via Outlook.com
A Skype window in Outlook.com. Who else might be listening in as you video chat? Microsoft/Screenshot by CNET

The publicity-minded Syrian Electronic Army on Wednesday targeted the public faces of Skype, posting antisurveillance messages to the video-chat service's blog and to its Twitter and Facebook accounts.

On Skype's Twitter account, for instance, this message appeared: "Stop spying on people! via Syrian Electronic Army." That tweet, noted quickly by The Next Web, was removed within an hour, but a record of it lingered a bit longer on Skype's Web site. (We've posted a screenshot below.)

The Skype blog carried a similar headline: "Hacked by Syrian Electronic Army.. Stop Spying!"

Like other widely used Internet communications services, Microsoft-owned Skype has been swept up in the surveillance controversy unleashed in mid-2013 by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden. Leaked slides from the US National Security Agency reportedly have revealed that Skype has installed a "back door" that enables monitoring by governments of Skype video and audio calls, and officials in Luxembourg, where Skype is based, are said to be investigating whether Skype has shared information on its Luxembourgian users with the NSA.

Charges of back doors and cooperation with government spying efforts have also been leveled at Microsoft as a whole, along with other Internet heavyweights including Yahoo, Facebook, and Apple.

Over at Facebook on Wednesday, the Skype account featured a broader message from the Syrian Electronic Army about Microsoft's communications services: "Don't use Microsoft emails (hotmail,outlook), They are monitoring your accounts and selling it to the governments. More details soon. #SEA." That post, too, was quickly deleted, but not before The Next Web got a screenshot. The hacker group also posted the same message to its own Twitter account.

Skype responded later in the day to CNET's request for comment. "We recently became aware of a targeted cyber attack that led to access to Skype's social media properties, but these credentials were quickly reset," a spokesperson for Skype said in an e-mail message. "No user information was compromised."

Microsoft has vehemently decried government snooping done outside legal channels -- general counsel Brad Smith in December called it "an 'advanced persistent threat,' alongside sophisticated malware and cyberattacks" -- and promises to use stronger, 2,048-bit encryption and techniques such as Perfect Forward Secrecy to protect the privacy of Internet traffic routed through its data centers.

The Syrian Electronic Army has taken credit for a number of high-profile hacks of sites and services ranging from Twitter and the New York Times to Thompson Reuters, the BBC, and the popular Viber messaging app.

Update 5:57 p.m. PT: Added comment from Skype.

Skype hack by Syrian Electronic Army
The Syrian Electronic Army has a message it wants to get across to Skype users -- and to Microsoft. Screenshot by CNET
(Via The Next Web)