SkypeMorph Makes Subversive Communication Look Like Harmless Video Chat

The Tor network has long been used by web-surfers around the globe in countries where the Internet is less than free. Tor employs packet encryption techniques and randomized routing in order to secure the information along the way and to protect the location of its originator. This means that the recipient (such as a blog, or a leaks site) cannot locate the source. Tor has been a powerful way to ensure Internet anonymity. In fact, no one was able to crack Tor communications until recently, when the Chinese government began to discover that Tor packets were unique and could be traced.

In order to combat this, Tor developer Ian Goldberg has created something he calls SkypeMorph. According to an ars technica artice by Dan Goodin published on April 3, 2012 this new software provides a lot more security to those wishing to use the Tor network. Check out the article, it’s what I’ve based most of this post on.

An overview of how SkypeMorph works

Essentially, this program alters the nature of Tor packets and makes them appear, to the outside observer, as packets carrying a Skype call. SkypeMorph works hard to make them very, very similar. At the moment it is impossible for China’s Internet monitors to single these packets out for censorship. One option for the government is to heavy-handedly block all Skype traffic. According to Goodin, repressive governments will be reluctant to take such measures because it will anger newly Skype-less citizens.

After reading Evgeny Morozov’s The Net Delusion, I’m not so sure that this new SkypeMorph will be as powerful as we may think. If the government creates a viable video-chat alternative and makes it available to its citizens, the backlash from blocking all Skype traffic will be severely mitigated. And, it’s just a matter of time before the government figures out a way to single out SkypeMorph packets from full-blooded Skype ones. In fact, any Chinese government official with Google can look up the Goodin article and figure out exactly where they need to start poking around in order to crack the system.

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