Tom Skype is dead. Long live Microsoft surveillance.

There is a special version of Skype for China which monitors user conversations and reports flagged conversations automatically. We wrote an extensive blog post last year on this subject. Since Skype launched its “partnership” with TOM, it has been nearly impossible to download the original (international) version of Skype as and all related domains are redirected to, the Chinese partner's website. Microsoft intentionally redirected Chinese users so that they would download a different program, one which looks almost the same as Skype but opens up a user’s communications to surveillance by the Chinese state.

Furthermore, the user experience on the TOM Skype web page is similar to the Skype web page which means that users will unknowingly download TOM Skype and therefore have their conversations and messages monitored and even automatically uploaded to servers in China.

We signed an open letter to Skype, where we asked Microsoft to publicly share what knowledge they have of the surveillance and censorship capabilities that users may be subject to in TOM Skype. Microsoft released its first transparency report after the letter but we believe the data request only included the official Skype client and does not include TOM Skype. After all, sensitive conversations on TOM Skype are automatically uploaded to servers in China and our guess is even Microsoft does not know how many users are affected in this way. Furthermore, in the transparency report, Microsoft did not mention TOM Skype nor the surveillance nature of the product.

On November 7, TOM announced that Microsoft will take over Skype and Microsoft stopped redirecting to As a result, Chinese users can download the original version of Skype. However, existing TOM Skype users are still subject to surveillance without their knowledge. Microsoft has since publicly stated that while their partnership with TOM has ended, they will be announcing details of a new joint venture partnership so that they can continue to “meet obligations under local law”.

Given these changes, we believe the following questions should be addressed directly by Microsoft:

  1. What happens to the text messages, along with millions of records containing personal information stored on Chinese servers now that the partnership with TOM has ended?
  2. Will Microsoft notify all TOM Skype users that their conversations have been monitored and that their chat history with personal information has been uploaded without their knowledge?
  3. Will Microsoft notify all TOM Skype users to suggest that they update their Skype to the original version of Skype immediately, before a new joint venture partnership is launched?
  4. With your new joint venture partner, will Microsoft make another special Chinese version of Skype? Will it have more or less surveillance capacity compared to the TOM version? Compared to the ‘global’ version?
  5. Microsoft has previously noted:  “TOM Online provides access to Skype for Chinese customers, using a modified version that follows Chinese regulations, called TOM Skype”. Microsoft: can you please release the planned surveillance policy for Chinese users so that everybody can know how your company “follows Chinese regulations”? Please also reference the specific “Chinese regulations” that you plan on following.
  6. Skype even has a special Chinese version in the App Store. The standard international version for iOS called “Skype for iPhone” is not available in the China App Store. But a special Chinese version called “Skype” is available only in the China App Store. Chinese iPhone users can only download the special version. Microsoft, when do you plan on making the international version of the app available in the China App Store?

We contacted Skype’s Luxembourg headquarters about this story but had not received a response when this story went to press. As with our previous stories, we would be happy to publish Skype’s response on our web site.

Illustrated History of TOM Skype

Here's how Microsoft worked its deception with TOM Skype for users in China, including those who wanted to download an English language version of Skype. This information originally appeared in our earlier blog post about Skype in China.


To download Skype, you'd probably enter in your browser and look for a download link. If you are in China, however, when you go to, you used to be automatically redirected to Skype did not ask if you wanted to be redirected. They also did not inform you of the difference between the regular Skype and the Tom Online version. The websites look very similar. Skype and Microsoft are actively misleading users into thinking that they are using the regular version of Skype. We suspect this deception will continue with the new joint venture partner.

Regular Skype Tom Skype (English) Tom Skype (Chinese)


The English version of Tom Skype looks exactly the same as the regular version while installing. The Chinese version is based on an earlier version of Skype and looks somewhat different. (Click on any screenshot to see the full version.)

Regular Skype Tom Skype (English) Tom Skype (Chinese)

Logging in

The login screens are very similar, misleading users into thinking that they are using the regular version of Skype.

Regular Skype Tom Skype (English) Tom Skype (Chinese)


If you click to the About window in the Skype client, you can find out if you are running the Tom Online version of Skype or not. If you are, then your communications (voice and chat) are passing through Chinese servers and are made available to authorities upon request.

Regular Skype Tom Skype (English) Tom Skype (Chinese)



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Thu, Sep 24, 2015

Apple blocked CNNIC CA months after MITM attacks

In March of this year, Google found unauthorized digital certificates for several Google domains. The root certificate authority for these domains was the China Internet Network Information Center (CNNIC). CNNIC was controlled by the Chinese government through the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology and is now under the management of the Cyberspace Administration of China (CAC). CNNIC was recognized by all major browsers as a trusted Certificate Authority. If CNNIC signs a fake certificate used in a man-in-the-middle attack, no browser will warn of any unusual activity unless the certificate is pinned.

Wed, Sep 23, 2015

Malicious Xcode could spread via download manager Xunlei

What’s at stake?

We reported last week that popular Chinese iOS apps were compromised in an unprecedented malware attack. We discovered that the source of the infection was compromised copies of Xcode hosted on Baidu Pan. Apple has published an article urging developers to download Xcode directly from the Mac App Store, or from the Apple Developer website and validate signatures. We’ve now discovered that even if a developer uses a download link seemingly from Apple, he might still be possible to obtain a compromised copy of Xcode.

Please note that we do not have evidence that such attacks has happened. But it is an easy attack that anyone can implement.

How does it work?

This compromise happened because of Xunlei. Xunlei is the most popular download manager in China. Much of its popularity is due to the fact they can accelerate download speeds by pulling resources from other Xunlei users as well as cached copies on the Xunlei server. All of this, however, is invisible to users. Users can simply enter a regular http download address into Xunlei  download manager and the download will start. Chinese developers were using direct download addresses such as to download Xcode.

Mon, Sep 21, 2015



Sat, Sep 19, 2015

Popular Chinese iOS apps compromised in unprecedented malware attack

What happened?

According to recent reports, some versions of Xcode used by developers in China have been compromised and are being used to inject tracking codes in iOS apps without developer knowledge. (1,2). Unaware of the injection, those developers then released their compromised iOS apps to the App Store which were then later approved by Apple. At the time of writing this post, the compromised apps are still available in the App store. Any user who has installed and launched these compromised apps will be a victim of these tracking codes.

This is a significant compromise of Apple’s app store. Apple notoriously manually reviews all app submissions and, in comparison to Android stores, has been relatively malware-free. This is the most widespread and significant spread of malware in the history of the Apple app store, anywhere in the world.

The compromised version of Xcode was hosted on Baidu Pan. It is unlikely that Baidu was aware of the compromised version of Xcode. The company removed the files yesterday when news of the compromise surfaced. Because of slow download speeds from foreign websites in China, many Chinese developers prefer to download apps from domestic websites. Many Chinese also use download software like Xunlei, rather than downloading directly from the official Mac App Store.

According to users reports, many prominent Chinese apps are affected. We have included links to the compromised apps in the list below but DO NOT DOWNLOAD these apps. We are simply linking to them so that users can recognize the apps. Affected apps include:  

Wechat The most popolar messaging app in China 

Wed, Sep 16, 2015



Roya, David, Nick, nweaver, Vern, 和我刚刚完成了关于GFW主动探测系统的研究。这个系统在几年前就被用来探测翻墙工具,比如Tor。我们在之前的博文中介绍过GFW主动探测系统是如何工作的。但有几个问题我们没有回答。比如这个系统的物理结构是怎样的。那些用来主动探测的IP是归GFW所有的么? 有猜测GFW短时间内劫持了部分IP来用来主动探测,但没有证据。这次研究回答了这些问题。


  • 通常来说,如果Tor的某个网桥代理被GFW检测并封锁,它会一直被封锁。但是这意味着网桥代理完全无法访问吗? 我们让中国的VPS一直连接我们控制的网桥代理。我们发现,每25小时,中国的VPS可以短暂的连接到我们的代理网桥。下图显示了这个现象。每个数据点表示中国的VPS试图与网桥代理建立连接。中国联通和中国教育网都有这个周期性现象。有时候,网络安全设备在更新规则时会默认允许所有流量,但我们不知道GFW周期性现象是不是因为这个原因导致的。

  • 我们找到了规律,GFW主动探测的TCP头暗示那几千个IP都来自与同一个地方。下图显示了数据包的初始序号和时间。每个数据点都是一个主动探测连接。如果每个主动探测都是从不同地方发出的,我们应该看到随机的数据点,因为数据包的初始序号是随机选择的。但是下图显示主动探测连接虽然来自不同IP,但是非常有规律。我们认为主动探测的初始序号是按照时间产生的。


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