Last month, Microsoft made the biggest deal in its history with the acquisition of Skype for $8.5 billion, presumably to establish itself as a formidable player in the web telephony segment. With Skype in the bag, the Redmond giant would have hoped for better things to come. But things haven’t gone according to plan.
Last month, Skype suffered yet another outage. Though the services were quickly restored, it poses several challenges for Microsoft as the outage created doubts about Skype’s viability for business use, as well as integrating it into Lync – Microsoft’s upcoming next-generation unified communications platform.
To make matters worse, Efim Bushmanov - a Russian freelance researcher last week claimed that he has successfully been able to reverse engineer the official Skype desktop implementation in an attempt to make the service open source. The ‘protocol’ has been Skype’s best kept secret till date and it’s the single most important reason why Skype is the ‘Big Daddy of Internet Telephony‘ despite a plethora of other similar web-based calling services. While the company has been quick to denounce ‘nefarious’ reverse engineering, there may be more to this issue than what meets the eye.
Bushmanov setup a dedicated blog to post his findings and to share the binaries that he had extracted. He is now calling upon other developers to join the project and help him completely reverse engineer the software. He claims Skype uses strong AES and RSA encryption with public key infrastructure. He says he was inspired by a WSJ story which detailed how Middle Eastern countries’ security agencies possessed tools that enabled them to eavesdrop on Skype communications. Bushmanov say he is determined to make Skype open source.
As expected, Skype has reacted strongly to his claims. The company says it is prepared to take all necessary steps to prevent/defeat nefarious attempts to subvert Skype’s experience. Interestingly, the law seems to favor Bushmanov as the copyright law makes an exception for reverse engineering software, provided it’s done correctly. The catch is that ‘reverse engineering’ is deemed legal if it helps in terms of interoperability, if the technology is also not patented.
Ever since Bushmanov came out with his findings, the notion of ‘open source Skype’ seems to be gaining momentum. Sophos’ Paul Ducklin believes an “open-source Skype implementations for Linux and OS X would probably be in Microsoft’s overall interest”. He further suggests that Microsoft should use this as an opportunity to “build an attractive-enough back-end service for Skype” and look for additional monetization opportunities. However, open source and Microsoft rarely go together, especially after the latter spent a fortune to gobble up Skype.
I, for one, would love to see Skype going the open source route, provided the user security isn’t compromised. Whether this marks the beginning of an open source Skype or will Microsoft uses its prowess to ensure that Skype remains a closed platform, time will tell. None the less, I’ve no doubt that Skype protocol is ‘The Da Vinci Code’ of the modern web and to crack it is no mean achievement. Have your say by leaving a comment below this post.