Skype is currently testing a new feature called Private Conversations, which is protected by end-to-end encryption and made possible by Microsoft's partnership with Signal.
The preview is now ready to use by Skype Insiders, allowing them to make audio calls, send messages, and share files with the assurance of a robust security and privacy protection. The latter technology was courtesy of Signal Protocol and developed by Open Whisper Systems.
"Skype is one of the most popular applications in the world, and we're excited that Private Conversations in Skype will allow more users to take advantage of Signal Protocol's strong encryption properties for secure communication," Signal said in a post on its official site.
Using the feature is easy, according to Skype. To launch Private Conversations, simply tap the + icon on the Skype application and select New Private Conversation then pick a contact to chat with. Skype will send an invite to the chosen contact that will be valid for seven days. If not accepted, the invitation will expire and a fresh invite will need to be re-sent to start another protected conversation.
Private Conversations, however, will only offer full protection for exchanges within its facilities as Skype made clear the company "is not responsible for the content of external sites."
"All Skype-to-Skype voice, video, file transfers and instant messages are encrypted. This protects you from potential eavesdropping by malicious users. If you make a call from Skype to mobile and landline phones, the part of your call that takes place over the PSTN (the ordinary phone network) is not encrypted," the company said in a statement.
No Total Protection
Skype's Private Conversations, however, is not seen as robust enough, and going by what happened to WhatsApp that also made use of end-to-end encryption technology, the reservation seems fair. WhatsApp, which Facebook owns, was found by German security researchers with flaws, specifically the app's group messaging feature that allows the addition of new members to encrypted conversation without the need to authenticate.
In addition, Signal's encryption tool was found by the same group with a bug that could allow uninvited listeners to private group chats. These findings could put into question the same technology that Skype intends to use on its upcoming Private Conversations feature unless there have been improvements done since the WhatsApp bugs discovery.
But Skype catching up with its rivals on security features is a welcome development. It should be interesting to see if end-to-end encryption will give Microsoft's Skype the traction it needs to recover the lost grounds from competitors like Facebook Messenger and WhatsApp.