Are you sure that's Skype you're using? How to avoid TOM in China

With over 600 million registered users, Skype is the worlds most popular online voice call service, and has also become the largest international voice carrier. Many people in China use it to keep in contact with friends abroad, as well as for international business calls. Importantly, voice calls as well as chats over Skype use a highly encrypted protocol which makes it difficult or impossible for the government to monitor what we say. In China though, as often is the case, there is a twist. Most Chinese users aren't in fact using Skype, but instead a client made by TOM, Skype's local partner.

 

What is TOM?

To the user, TOM looks very much the real Skype client. Behind the interface though, there are crucial differences. TOM is a company operating in China under Chinese regulations, meaning that all traffic is open to control by the government. Skype has been heavily critized for this cooperation, both in the media and on it's own forum. And here's a clip from NTDTV talking about the differences (in Chinese).

How to tell the difference between Tom and the real Skype

  1. Open up Skype on your computer
  2. Click About from one of the menus
  3. Does it say TOM anywhere?

If yes, then you are not in fact using Skype but TOM, and all your chats and calls are open for control by the government. You probably didn't notice when you downloaded and installed it. This is because, if you're in China, when you try to visit [skype.com] you are redirected to skype.tom.com. And unless you're on a VPN, there's no way to avoid the redirection.

Hey, what's this redirection?

When you are redirected to a website hosted in China you should be aware that Chinese regulation applies - meaning that whatever you read and write can be censored as well as reported to the authorities. You might easily be redirected without noticing. Because of this problem, we have given a special status to websites that are redirected to China.

How to get the real Skype behind the GFW

If you're on a VPN it's easy - just download the real Skype from skype.com and you're set to go. Once you've installed it, you can disconnect the VPN, make a call and enjoy the secure encryption. What if you don't have a VPN? In fact, you can still download the real Skype - using direct dowload links. Three of these - Skype for Windows, Skype for Mac and Skype for Ubuntu are listed in the table top-right on this page. If you follow those links, you can avoid the redirection and get the real Skype.

Will Skype be blocked in China?

In December, news that China would make Skype illegal emerged, but so far that has come to nothing - Skype is still possible to use behind the Great Firewall. We'll keep monitoring the situation.

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Fri, Mar 27, 2015

CNNIC censored Google and Mozilla’s posts about CNNIC CA

This week, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains, the root CA of which is CNNIC. Google and Mozilla both publicly disclosed this security incident and published blog posts(Google, Mozilla). However, Chinese translations of Google’s and Mozilla's blog posts were censored on the Chinese Internet.

  • William Long is a prominent Chinese blogger on IT and tech. He translated Google’s security post without adding any personal opinions. The Chinese blogpost ranked #1 when searching CNNIC MITM in Chinese on Google and Baidu. He tweeted that he received a phone call from propaganda department demanding the post to be removed immediately. The post http://www.williamlong.info/archives/4183.html was deleted. Google cache is still available.

Wed, Mar 25, 2015

Evidence shows CNNIC and CAC behind MITM attacks

Since 2013, we have repeatedly called on major software vendors to revoke CNNIC-issued certificates. Most notably, we raised this issue when we reported on the Cyberspace Administration of China’s (CAC) man-in-the-middle (MITM) attacks on Google, Microsoft’s Outlook, Apple, Yahoo and Github. Mainstream media have reported about these security vulnerabilities before and on March 24, Ars Technica reported on Google’s announcement that they have definitive evidence that CNNIC (China Internet Network Information Center) was behind a new MITM attack on Google.

From our October, 2014 blog post:

Thu, Mar 19, 2015

We are under attack

We are under attack and we need help.

Likely in response to a recent story in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ), we’ve experienced our first ever distributed denial of service (DDoS) attack. This tactic is used to bring down web pages by flooding them with lots of requests - at the time of writing they number 2.6 billion requests per hour. Websites are not equipped to handle that kind of volume so they usually “break” and go offline.

This kind of attack is aggressive and is an exhibition of censorship by brute force. Attackers resort to tactics like this when they are left with no other options.

We are not equipped to handle a DDoS attack of this magnitude and we need help. Some background:

  • The attack started on March 17 and we are receiving up to 2.6 billion requests per hour which is about 2500 times more than normal levels.

Thu, Mar 12, 2015

Collateral Freedom and the not-so-Great Firewall

Recognizing that the authorities have been hesitant to crackdown on our method of circumvention, we have accelerated our expansion of the development of collateral freedom, in three key areas.

Mon, Jan 26, 2015

An Open Letter to Lu Wei and the Cyberspace Administration of China

January 26, 2015

Beijing, China

 

Mr. Lu Wei

Director of the Cyberspace Administration of the People’s Republic of China 中央网络安全和信息化领导小组办公室主任

Director of the State Internet Information Office 国家互联网信息办公室主任

Deputy Director of the Central Propaganda Department of the Chinese Communist Party 中共中央宣传部副部长

Cyberspace Administration of China,

Floor 1, Building 1,

Software Park, Chinese Academy of Sciences,

4 South 4th Street, Zhongguancun,

Beijing, China, 100190

 

Dear Mr. Lu,

On January 22, 2015, the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC), which is under your direct control, wrote a response to a story we published about an MITM attack on Microsoft. In the post, your colleague, Jiang Jun, labelled our accusations as "groundless" and  "unsupported speculation, a pure slanderous act by overseas anti-China forces".

We at GreatFire.org take great offense to these comments and we will refute them in this letter.

Subscribe to our blog using RSS.

Comments

skype tom is a nightmare.. Almost impossible not to download in China and it is heavily censored and totally monitored. Okay if you're a schmuck and dont' care then go for it.. but its' way too scary to use.

I started with Skype while in the USA. However I did buy Skype credits while in china. Now all Skype go to TOM. Skype service told me to create a new account. I created a new account while I was in the US. The Problem remains. Even the Skype message board direct to Skype Tom. From Skype service “use a different computer. Not a good answer. PLEASE NOTE. Skype Tom is not the same as Skype US. The Chinese Secret police record all Skype Tom Traffic and several people have been imprisoned because of messages sent over Skype. “China jails dissident Zhu Yufu over poem sent on Skype--Reuters in Beijing--guardian.co.uk, Friday 10 February 2012 07.02 EST “
It would seem that Skype USA (now Microsoft) has been unwilling to address this issue. Nowhere on the Skype Terms and conditions does it state that if you use Skype while in the PRC you will forever put through Skype Tom. Now that I am in the USA, I do not know if Skype Tom and the PRC secret police still monitor my messages. This is possibly something that the US dept of justice should look into.

It's a stupid decision for skype to choose TOM.com as a partner in China. Look at their users in China, no growing up at all. Chinese ppl hates to have such a software full of advertisement and be monitored.

It's a stupid decision for skype to choose TOM.com as a partner in China. Look at their users in China, no growing up at all. Chinese ppl hates to have such a software full of advertisement and be monitored.

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