On Thursday, Signal announced that it would be partnering to bring end-to-end encryption to Skype calls.
Called “private conversations”, the feature is now available to Skype Insiders, which allows users to test new features before they are unrolled to the rest of Skype’s hundreds of million of users worldwide. For now, Skype Insiders will only be able to test it with other Skype Insiders. Some of the features of private conversations will be no notifications, and messages not appearing in the chat list.
Signal is an open-source encrypted communications system from Open Whisper Systems, one of the leading encrypted communications systems, alongside Telegram and Wire (which was backed by Skype co-founder Janus Friis.
Open Whisper Systems is behind the open source Signal Protocol, a cryptographic protocol that has become an industry-wide standard, with everyone from Apple’s iMessage, Facebook Messenger, Whatsapp, to Google Apps’ Allo messaging app using the protocol for private messaging. Meanwhile, messaging app Viber also uses the same principles, while Wire’s encryption protocol, Proteus, is based on it as well.
Skype currently uses 256-bit AES encryption for its calls, but end-to-end encryption takes security a step further, as it’ll ensure that not only can the content of messages only be read by the two parties involved, but that they also will not be accessible on Microsoft’s servers. Skype usually worked with Wire on encryption, but a representative for Skype explains that they went with Signal,because it “is a respected cryptography solution and has seen widespread adoption across the industry.”
This will be a welcome change for users, as there have been a number of issues raised over the years about Skype’s security, with the Snowden NSA leaks showing in particular how the NSA had been listening in on Skype conversations since 2011. In addition to American law enforcement, Chinese and Russian authorities have also acquired access to Skype chats, even without warrants, and a number of hacks have also been discovered.
Update: This article has been edited to reflect Skype and Wire’s relationship. It previously said that Skype had partnered with Wire in the past.