Skype was founded by Niklas Zennstrom and Janus Friis in Talinn, Estonia in 2003.
Skype (/skaɪp/) is a proprietary telecommunications application operated by Skype Technologies, a division of Microsoft, best known for VoIP-based videotelephony, videoconferencing and voice calls. It also has instant messaging, file transfer, debit-based calls to landline and mobile telephones (over traditional telephone networks), and other features. Skype is available on various desktop, mobile, and video game console platforms.
Skype was created by Niklas Zennström, Janus Friis, and four Estonian developers and first released in August 2003. In September 2005, eBay acquired Skype for $2.6 billion. In September 2009, Silver Lake, Andreessen Horowitz, and the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board bought 65% of Skype for $1.9 billion from eBay, valuing the business at $2.92 billion. In May 2011, Microsoft bought Skype for $8.5 billion and used it to replace their Windows Live Messenger. As of 2011, most of the development team and 44% of all the division's employees were in Tallinn and Tartu, Estonia.
Skype originally featured a hybrid peer-to-peer and client–server system. It became entirely powered by Microsoft-operated supernodes in May 2012; in 2017, it changed from a peer-to-peer service to a centralized Azure-based service.
As of March 2020, Skype was used by 100 million people at least once a month and by 40 million people each day. During the COVID-19 pandemic, Skype lost a large part of its market share to Zoom.
Registered users of Skype are identified by a unique Skype ID and may be listed in the Skype directory under a Skype username. Skype allows these registered users to communicate through both instant messaging and voice chat. Voice chat allows telephone calls between pairs of users and conference calling and uses proprietary audio codec. Skype's text chat client allows group chats, emoticons, storing chat history, and editing of previous messages. Offline messages were implemented in a beta build of version 5 but removed after a few weeks without notification. The usual features familiar to instant messaging users—user profiles, online status indicators, and so on—are also included.
The Online Number, a.k.a. SkypeIn, service allows Skype users to receive calls on their computers dialed by conventional phone subscribers to a local Skype phone number; local numbers are available for Australia, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Denmark, the Dominican Republic, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Hong Kong, Hungary, India, Ireland, Japan, Mexico, Nepal, New Zealand, Poland, Romania, South Africa, South Korea, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. A Skype user can have local numbers in any of these countries, with calls to the number charged at the same rate as calls to fixed lines in the country.
Skype supports conference calls, video chats, and screen sharing between 25 people at a time for free, which then increased to 50 on 5 April 2019.
Skype does not provide the ability to call emergency numbers, such as 112 in Europe, 911 in North America, 999 in the UK or 100 in India and Nepal. However, as of December 2012, there is limited support for emergency calls in the United Kingdom, Australia, Denmark, and Finland. The U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has ruled that, for the purposes of section 255 of the Telecommunications Act, Skype is not an "interconnected VoIP provider". As a result, the U.S. National Emergency Number Association recommends that all VoIP users have an analog line available as a backup.
In 2019, Skype added an option to blur the background in a video chat interface using AI algorithms purely done using software, despite a depth-sensing camera not being present in most webcams.
Skype uses a proprietary Internet telephony (VoIP) network called the Skype protocol. The protocol has not been made publicly available by Skype, and official applications using the protocol are also proprietary. Part of the Skype technology relies on the Global Index P2P protocol belonging to the Joltid Ltd. corporation. The main difference between Skype and standard VoIP clients is that Skype operates on a peer-to-peer model (originally based on the Kazaa software), rather than the more usual client–server model (note that the very popular Session Initiation Protocol (SIP) model of VoIP is also peer-to-peer, but implementation generally requires registration with a server, as does Skype).
On 20 June 2014, Microsoft announced the deprecation of the old Skype protocol. Within several months from this date, in order to continue using Skype services, Skype users will have to update to Skype applications released in 2014. The new Skype protocol—Microsoft Notification Protocol 24 was released. The deprecation became effective in the second week of August 2014. Transferred files are now saved on central servers.
As far as networking stack support is concerned, Skype only supports the IPv4 protocol. It lacks support for the next-generation Internet protocol, IPv6. Skype for Business, however, includes support for IPv6 addresses, along with continued support of IPv4.
Many networking and security companies have claimed to detect and control Skype's protocol for enterprise and carrier applications. While the specific detection methods used by these companies are often private, Pearson's chi-squared test and naive Bayes classification are two approaches that were published in 2008. Combining statistical measurements of payload properties (such as byte frequencies and initial byte sequences) as well as flow properties (like packet sizes and packet directions) has also shown to be an effective method for identifying Skype's TCP- and UDP-based protocols.
Skype 2.x used G.729, Skype 3.2 introduced SVOPC, and Skype 4.0 added a Skype-created codec called SILK, intended to be "lightweight and embeddable". Additionally, Skype has released Opus as a free codec, which integrates the SILK codec principles for voice transmission with the CELT codec principles for higher-quality audio transmissions, such as live music performances. Opus was submitted to the Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF) in September 2010. Since then, it has been standardized as RFC 6716.
VP7 is used for versions prior to Skype 5.5.
As of version 7.0, H.264 is used for both group and one-on-one video chat, at standard definition, 720p and 1080p high-definition.
Skype acquired the video service Qik in 2011. After shutting down Qik in April 2014, Skype relaunched the service as Skype Qik on 14 October 2014. Although Qik offered video conferencing and Internet streaming, the new service focuses on mobile video messaging between individuals and groups.
Skype was claimed initially to be a secure communication, with one of its early web pages stating "highly secure with end-to-end encryption". Security services were invisible to the user, and encryption cannot be disabled. Skype claims to use publicly documented, widely trusted encryption techniques for Skype-to-Skype communication: RSA for key negotiation and the Advanced Encryption Standard to encrypt conversations. However, it is impossible to verify that these algorithms are used correctly, completely, and at all times, as there is no public review possible without a protocol specification and/or the program's source code. Skype provides an uncontrolled registration system for users with no proof of identity. Instead, users may choose a screen name which does not have to relate to their real-life identity in any way; a name chosen could also be an impersonation attempt, where the user claims to be someone else for fraudulent purposes. A third-party paper analyzing the security and methodology of Skype was presented at Black Hat Europe 2006. It analyzed Skype and found a number of security issues with the then-current security model.
PRISM: a clandestine surveillance program under which the NSA collects user data from companies like Skype and Facebook
Skype incorporates some features that tend to hide its traffic, but it is not specifically designed to thwart traffic analysis and therefore does not provide anonymous communication. Some researchers have been able to watermark the traffic so that it is identifiable even after passing through an anonymizing network.
In an interview, Kurt Sauer, the Chief Security Officer of Skype, said, "We provide a safe communication option. I will not tell you whether we can listen or not." This does not deny the fact that the U.S. National Security Agency (NSA) monitors Skype conversations. Skype's client uses an undocumented and proprietary protocol. The Free Software Foundation (FSF) is concerned about user privacy issues arising from using proprietary software and protocols and has made a replacement for Skype one of their high-priority projects. Security researchers Biondi and Desclaux have speculated that Skype may have a back door, since Skype sends traffic even when it is turned off and because Skype has taken extreme measures to obfuscate the program's traffic and functioning. Several media sources reported that at a meeting about the "Lawful interception of IP based services" held on 25 June 2008, high-ranking unnamed officials at the Austrian interior ministry said that they could listen in on Skype conversations without problems. Austrian public broadcasting service ORF, citing minutes from the meeting, reported that "the Austrian police are able to listen in on Skype connections". Skype declined to comment on the reports. One easily demonstrated method of monitoring is to set up two computers with the same Skype user ID and password. When a message is typed or a call is received on one computer, the second computer duplicates the audio and text. This requires knowledge of the user ID and password.
The United States Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has interpreted the Communications Assistance for Law Enforcement Act (CALEA) as requiring digital phone networks to allow wiretapping if authorized by an FBI warrant, in the same way as other phone services. In February 2009, Skype said that, not being a telephone company owning phone lines, it is exempt from CALEA and similar laws, which regulate US phone companies, and it is not clear whether Skype could support wiretapping even if it wanted to. According to the ACLU, the Act is inconsistent with the original intent of the Fourth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution; more recently, the ACLU has expressed the concern that the FCC interpretation of the Act is incorrect. It has been suggested that Microsoft made changes to Skype's infrastructure to ease various wiretapping requirements; however, Skype denies the claims.
Sometime before Skype was sold in 2009, the company had started Project Chess, a program to explore legal and technical ways to easily share calls with intelligence agencies and law enforcement.
On 20 February 2009, the European Union's Eurojust agency announced that the Italian Desk at Eurojust would "play a key role in the coordination and cooperation of the investigations on the use of internet telephony systems (VoIP), such as 'Skype'. The purpose of Eurojust's coordination role is to overcome the technical and judicial obstacles to the interception of internet telephony systems, taking into account the various data protection rules and civil rights."
In November 2010, a flaw was disclosed to Skype that showed how computer crackers could secretly track any user's IP address. Due to Skype's peer-to-peer nature, this was a difficult issue to address, but this bug was eventually remedied in a 2016 update.
In 2012, Skype introduced automatic updates to better protect users from security risks but received some challenge from users of the Mac product, as the updates cannot be disabled from version 5.6 on, both on Mac OS and Windows versions, although in the latter, and only from version 5.9 on, automatic updating can be turned off in certain cases.
According to a 2012 Washington Post article, Skype "has expanded its cooperation with law enforcement authorities to make online chats and other user information available to police"; the article additionally mentions Skype made changes to allow authorities access to addresses and credit card numbers.
On 13 November 2012, a Russian user published a flaw in Skype's security, which allowed any person to take over a Skype account knowing only the victim's email by following 7 steps. This vulnerability was claimed to exist for months and existed for more than 12 hours since published widely.
On 14 May 2013, it was documented that a URL sent via a Skype instant messaging session was usurped by the Skype service and subsequently used in a HTTP HEAD query originating from an IP address registered to Microsoft in Redmond (the IP address used was 22.214.171.124). The Microsoft query used the full URL supplied in the IM conversation and was generated by a previously undocumented security service. Security experts speculate the action was triggered by a technology similar to Microsoft's SmartScreen Filter used in its browsers.
The 2013 mass surveillance disclosures revealed that agencies such as the NSA and the FBI have the ability to eavesdrop on Skype, including the monitoring and storage of text and video calls and file transfers. The PRISM surveillance program, which requires FISA court authorization, reportedly has allowed the NSA unfettered access to its data center supernodes. According to the leaked documents, integration work began in November 2010, but it was not until February 2011 that the company was served with a directive to comply signed by the attorney general, with NSA documents showing that collection began on 31 March 2011.
On 10 November 2014, Skype scored 1 out of 7 points on the Electronic Frontier Foundation's secure messaging scorecard. Skype received a point for encryption during transit but lost points because communications are not encrypted with a key the provider does not have access to (i.e. the communications are not end-to-end encrypted), users cannot verify contacts' identities, past messages are not secure if the encryption keys are stolen (i.e. the service does not provide forward secrecy), the code is not open to independent review (i.e. not available to merely view, nor under a free-software license), the security design is not properly documented, and there has not been a recent independent security audit. AIM, BlackBerry Messenger, Ebuddy XMS, Hushmail, Kik Messenger, Viber and Yahoo Messenger also scored 1 out of 7 points.
As of August 2018, Skype now supports end-to-end encryption across all platforms.
Skype comes bundled with the following locales and languages: Arabic, Bulgarian, Catalan, Chinese (Traditional and Simplified), Croatian, Czech, Danish, Dutch, English, Estonian, Finnish, French, German, Greek, Hebrew, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Latvian, Lithuanian, Nepali, Norwegian, Polish, Portuguese (Brazilian and European), Romanian, Russian, Serbian, Slovak, Slovenian, Spanish, Swedish, Thai, Turkish, Ukrainian, and Vietnamese.
As the Windows desktop program offers users the option of creating new language files, at least 80 other (full or partial) localizations are also available for many languages.
In January 2010, Skype rescinded its policy of seizing funds in Skype accounts that have been inactive (no paid call) for 180 days. This was in settlement of a class-action lawsuit. Skype also paid up to US$4 to persons who opted into the action.
As of February 2012, Skype provides support through their web support portal, support community, @skypesupport on Twitter, and Skype Facebook page. Direct contact via email and live chat is available through their web support portal. Chat Support is a premium feature available to Skype Premium and some other paid users.
Skype's refund policy states that they will provide refunds in full if customers have used less than 1 euro of their Skype Credit. "Upon a duly submitted request, Skype will refund you on a pro-rata basis for the unused period of a Product".
Skype has come under some criticism from users for the inability to completely close accounts. Users not wanting to continue using Skype can make their account inactive by deleting all personal information, except for the username.
Due to an outage on 21 September 2015 that affected several users in New Zealand, Australia, and other countries, Skype decided to compensate their customers with 20 minutes of free calls to over 60 landline and 8 mobile phone destinations.
Although Skype is a commercial product, its non-paid version is used with increasing frequency among teachers, schools, and charities interested in global education projects. A popular use case is to facilitate language learning through conversations that alternate between each participant's native language.
The video conferencing aspect of the software has been praised for its ability to connect students who speak different languages, facilitate virtual field trips, and engage directly with experts.
Skype in the classroom is another free-of-charge tool that Skype has set up on its website, designed to encourage teachers to make their classrooms more interactive, and collaborate with other teachers around the world. There are various Skype lessons in which students can participate. Teachers can also use a search tool and find experts in a particular field. The educational program Skype a Scientist, set up by biologist Sarah McAnulty in 2017, had in two years connected 14,312 classrooms with over 7000 volunteer scientists.
However, Skype is not adopted universally, with many educational institutions in the United States and Europe blocking the application from their networks.