How dangerous is Skype?

Skype expert Michael Gough examines the top five security misconceptions

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Skype FUD

Now that you have an understanding of how Skype works, we can look at whether it's dangerous. There are a lot of misconceptions floating around about Skype. Here are the five most common:

  1. Skype uses a lot of bandwidth on a network.
  2. Any computer can be a Supernode.
  3. Skype is like any other IM application and susceptible to IM worms and viruses.
  4. Skype is hard to stop on my network.
  5. Skype is encrypted so I cannot archive IM messages.

Let's take a look at each of them in turn:

Myth No. 1: Skype uses a lot of bandwidth on my network

Skype actually uses very little bandwidth, approximately 30Kbit/sec. per voice call. If a user's computer becomes a Supernode, then yes, a Supernode will consume a tremendous amount of bandwidth. But remember you must be on a system directly connected to the Internet in order to become a Supernode, and in most corporate configurations PCs aren't directly connected to the Internet, so this is normally not an issue.

Myth No. 2: Any computer can be a Supernode

We've already learned that a system must have a routable IP address and sit directly on the Internet to become a Supernode.

If a computer resides in a typical company network protected by a firewall that provides NAT, using a 192.168.x.x or 10.x.x.x private IP address scheme, then it's impossible for it to become a Supernode. NAT firewalls and even home routers prevent many systems from becoming Supernodes.

Myth No. 3: Skype is susceptible to IM worms and viruses

Last year, there were 1,355 virus or worms that affected IM clients through early December, according to Akonix Systems Inc., and not one of those affected Skype. Though Skype did have two security alerts in 2006, four in 2005 and one in 2004, none of these has been exploited.

The main vulnerability of IM applications is their file transfer feature, which can be exploited to allow anyone to send a file that contains possible malware. To protect against this, Skype file transfers can be scanned with any antivirus application that is up to date and current and running in "auto-protect" mode. In addition, many antivirus applications have specific IM-scanning options. So if you have a current, up-to-date antivirus application that runs in "auto-protect" mode, you have little to worry about. You can also disable Skype's file transfer feature.

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