The Story Behind the Story: How a Canadian cracked the Great Firewall of China

As a four time graduate of the University of Toronto, I am glad to see the atmosphere for investigative research is thriving at my alma mater. A researcher at their unique Citizen Lab, “focusing on advanced research and development at the intersection of digital media and world civic politics”, is responsible for uncovering the Tom-Skype security breach that has widespread coverage.

Globe and Mail reporter Matt Hartley has obviously gone to the lab for an interview with researcher Nart Villeneuve for his article in today’s editions: How a Canadian cracked the Great Firewall of China. …. the irony of where “lost passwords” can lead you:

When he couldn’t remember the password to his Chinese MySpace account he decided to take a look at Skype.

…Using a TOM-Skype account on one computer and a regular Skype account on a nearby laptop, Mr. Villeneuve would type a word into one computer and see if the other computer received the message, to see what information would be filtered out by the service’s censorship tools. When he typed in a common four-letter expletive and hit send, it didn’t show up on the other computer. But he noticed something else.

Read on. Further along Matt reports:

After he contacted Skype on Wednesday to inform them of the breach, the company moved quickly to plug the holes in the TOM-Skype servers, Mr. Villeneuve said.

And, as Phil has already reported, Skype President Josh Silverman responds here, including this comment:

It’s important to remind everybody that the issues highlighted in yesterday’s Information Warfare Monitor / ONI Asia report refer only to communications in which one or more parties are using TOM software to conduct instant messaging. It does not affect communications where all parties are using standard Skype software. Skype-to-Skype communications are, and always have been, completely secure and private.

New York Times, Oct. 2 (registration required)

Wall Street Journal (may encounter a walled garden), noting that TOM-Skype has 69 million users, places this story in the perspective of other “Doing business in China” stories involving Microsoft, Google and Yahoo.

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About Jim Courtney

Bringing over thirty years' experience in the sales, marketing and management of cutting edge technology businesses.

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