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Researchers ID Skype, BitTorrent Users

Soulskill posted more than 2 years ago | from the cross-contamination dept.

Privacy 180

itwbennett writes "Researchers have figured out a way to link online Skype users to their activity on peer-to-peer networks like BitTorrent. The team was able to sift out the nodes through which Skype calls are routed and determine the user's real IP address by sniffing the packets. To correlate the identified Skype users with files shared on BitTorrent, the researchers built tools to collect BitTorrent file identifiers, a BitTorrent crawler to collect IP addresses on the network and a verifier to match an online Skype user with an online BitTorrent user (PDF). 'As soon as the BitTorrent crawler detects a matching IP address, it signals the verifier, which immediately calls the corresponding Skype user and, at the same time, initiates a handshake with the BitTorrent client,' they wrote."

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180 comments

Scary (1)

AcesHidden (2490796) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795530)

Privacy is but an illusion.

Re:Scary (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795838)

Privacy is but an illusion.

Yep. RIAA & MPAA dollars at work? If not, I bet they are keenly interested. Very keenly.

Still bugs me, 15+ years on that a lot of spam and other mischief on the internet hasn't been shut down. All the information is there.

Re:Scary (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796082)

Privacy is but an illusion.

Yep. RIAA & MPAA dollars at work? If not, I bet they are keenly interested. Very keenly.

Still bugs me, 15+ years on that a lot of spam and other mischief on the internet hasn't been shut down. All the information is there.

Tor project is getting more popular every day. http://www.google.com/insights/search/#q=tor%20project&cmpt=q. As your IP becomes less and less of a shield for intrusion, it could happen that more and more stuff will just move to the next level of privacy... secrecy. And with it, the crime, spam, etc.

Re:Scary (1)

shoehornjob (1632387) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796890)

Maybe the so called "researchers" (MAFIAA research department) need to leave that sh!t alone and respect my privacy. I looked into using Skype for Video conferencing but their application was incredibly intrusive.

Quick! (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795542)

Unplug the internet!

Re:Quick! (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795836)

Unplug the internet!

Destroy the computer!

Researchers? (1, Flamebait)

HellYeahAutomaton (815542) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795560)

C'mon!

  Where do they get off calling these guys researchers, when they are clearly criminals attempting to invade the reasonably expected privacy of Skype users and BT users? These guys are peeping toms at best and identity thieves at worse.

Hold the organizations that employ these guys accountable.

Re:Researchers? (2)

bigredradio (631970) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795666)

I guess it will depend on who they are working for. If it is for the CIA, FBI or RIAA, then they are crime fighters. If they work for Anonymous, Wikileaks, or the Chinese government, then they are criminals.

Re:Researchers? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796398)

What if they're professors from the Polytechnic Institute of New York University using a grant from the National Science Foundation? They only acknowledge the one grant for funding. They say it was "partially" funded through that but I have a hard time believing that a part of NYU would leave something as important out as getting funding from a party that had uncomfortable relations with the subject.

Besides, if you read the paper, they call it a "security threat" and the theoretical users of the method "attackers." Plus they throw the word "scheme" around a lot too. It might be used by the RIAA but it's not like the vulnerability didn't exist without this study.

Re:Researchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796532)

I guess it will depend on who they are working for. If it is for the CIA, FBI or NSA, then they are crime fighters. If they work for Anonymous, Wikileaks, RIAA / MPAA or the Chinese government, then they are criminals.

FTFY

Re:Researchers? (5, Insightful)

joebok (457904) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795706)

If they were criminals, wouldn't they keep their methods secret in order to blackmail or otherwise monetize it in some way? Research like this is the only way that security gets better.

can't tell if you're serious (3, Insightful)

Chirs (87576) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795720)

If the researchers can do it, the bad guys may already be doing it.

Re:can't tell if you're serious (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796054)

If the researchers can do it, the bad guys may already be doing it.

If you mean RIAA or MPAA, they usually don't bother with this level of stuff, they just kick down your door, grab your stuff and up-end their Bucket o' Lawyers on your.

Re:can't tell if you're serious (1)

ArhcAngel (247594) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796780)

I don't think the sale of Skype is finalized yet but you can be sure as soon as it is this will be an invaluable tool of the Empire to combat piracy.

Re:Researchers? (2)

pclminion (145572) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795734)

Are you some kind of dumbshit? You'd rather the government did this to you and you had no idea it was possible? Now we know this form of tracking is possible and we can develop a defense against it.

"Identity Thieves" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795748)

But that implies the identity is stolen, when in fact it's copied. If I copy yours you have it too, one for me and one for you. What's wrong with copying? Let's embrace it.

Re:"Identity Thieves" (1)

MobileTatsu-NJG (946591) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796066)

In the situation you described, measurable damage is actually caused.

You get a D-. Go study chapters 3 and 4 again.

Re:"Identity Thieves" (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796458)

"Thief" is still the incorrect terminology, whatever "measurable damage" notwithstanding

Re:Researchers? (4, Informative)

Stalks (802193) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795782)

If you use bittorrent, then you should expect no privacy at all as the protocol openly allows others to get the list of users.

Re:Researchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796356)

People using BT are already doing IP changing and have other tracking obfuscators at work.

Re:Researchers? (1, Informative)

Joce640k (829181) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796954)

If bittorrent data is arriving at your machine then somebody's got your IP address. Period. No way around it.

Re:Researchers? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37797230)

If you are successfully connected to the internet, and data is leaving from / arriving at your machine, then someone has your IP address.

Don't like it? Pull the plug.

Re:Researchers? (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795980)

C'mon!

Where do they get off calling these guys researchers, when they are clearly criminals attempting to invade the reasonably expected privacy of Skype users and BT users? These guys are peeping toms at best and identity thieves at worse.

Hold the organizations that employ these guys accountable.

I can only hope that my taxpayer money hasn't gone to fund this "research".

Re:Researchers? (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796022)

invade the reasonably expected privacy of Skype users and BT users?

For Skype users you might have a point but bittorrent works by publicly broadcasting your IP to the swarm. That's like standing outside shouting your name and social security number and claiming you had an expectation of privacy.

Re:Researchers? (1)

jdavidb (449077) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796274)

reasonably expected privacy

In other words, you'd like everyone to see this issue the way you do, so you call your expectations reasonable and anyone who disagrees with you is unreasonable.

Privacy costs. Not necessarily money, but it costs. Sure I avert my eyes if I run into someone's private moment, but if I really want to be private, I consider it my own responsibility to take precautions to achieve that.

Re:Researchers? (1)

HellYeahAutomaton (815542) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796612)

> In other words, you'd like everyone to see this issue the way you do, so you call your expectations reasonable and anyone who disagrees with you is
> unreasonable.

I can buy into Linus's law for the idea of making public problems that exist in security and software. However, this goes above and beyond and has directly subjected 100,000 users purposefully to unwarranted intrusion (an act of aggression) on their communications directly. It doesn't matter *who* does this.
It is wrong.

reasonable expectation of privacy: An objective, legitimate or reasonable expectation of privacy is an expectation of privacy generally recognized by society.

Is it a public service as a researcher to point out that if a person's home which appears to be secure is currently no longer secure while leaving the front door wide open? Perhaps.

Is it a public service for the researcher to walk inside and help themselves to your wife and your beer? Absolutely not.

Re:Researchers? (1)

MrSmith0011000100110 (1344879) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796538)

Hasn't anyone learned from Aaron Barr? Don't fuck with people on the net you don't know. They can/will get you. That's obviously besides the legal implications of these "researchers". First, sniffing internet traffic is illegal...even google got in trouble for doing that "accidentally". Second, there is absolutely no way to correlate the data without stealing files or potentially protected IP from the "target" computer. So these "researchers" should be prosecuted to the fullest degree of the law...just like the people they're working for usually want to do to the rest of us.

Privacy (1)

Alunral (2477578) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795586)

So what's this old thing we used to call privacy? Is this even legal for them to be doing? Or will it, like everything else, fall into that gray area and be used against everyone?

Re:Privacy (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795672)

What's illegal about it? What federal or state statute have they violated?

Re:Privacy (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796002)

What's illegal about it? What federal or state statute have they violated?

They have wiretapped your Skype calls for identifying information. Is that enough for you?

Re:Privacy (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796044)

No they haven't. They've.only figured out the ip address. They aren't tapping the call.

Re:Privacy (1)

localman57 (1340533) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796520)

On top of that, it's not even like they're sniffing out packets on a public network. As I understand it, Skype uses YOUR computer to route / connect calls you may not be involved in. It seems to me that if someone sends an IP packet to your PC, you should be able to do anything with it you please. Sending malicious packets to another PC may be another story...

Re:Privacy (4, Interesting)

znerk (1162519) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796004)

What's illegal about it? What federal or state statute have they violated?

Wiretapping. Conspiracy to collect information assumed to be private, via technological means.
Robocalling (the Skype phone, duh). Wardialing (same thing).

They've violated a boatload of communications regulations... and the fact that they did it as part of a multi-researcher study means it was premeditated, and they conspired to do it. Conspiracy to commit a misdemeanor is a felony.

The problem here would be that anyone who tries to have them arrested and/or takes them to civil court will be presumed guilty of something, because why else would we care if someone can tie our online activities to our real-world identities?

Re:Privacy (1)

nfc_Death (915751) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796020)

Um collecting and storing personal data without an investigators license.

Re:Privacy (2)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796064)

An ip address you.publicly broadcast is personal information?

Re:Privacy (1)

nfc_Death (915751) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796644)

Personal information gathered without an investigators license is against the law. Correlation of a skype phone number with an IP address and data mining for that correlation is acting as a private investigator without a license.
Your argument is what? That an IP is semi-public info?
What does that have to do with the price of tea in china?

Re:Privacy (3, Insightful)

Jackie_Chan_Fan (730745) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796670)

It should be considering it is the path to the machine that holds all of your personal information.

When you get a key duplicated, a key maker can easily sell a copy of that key, and link it to your name. What if your name is Bill Gates? "This key here is for Bill Gate's personal safe, and this one is for his house, perhaps you would like a copy?"

Just because its available, doesnt mean its not private, or doesnt come with some expectation of privacy. I dont expect the key maker to sell a copy of my key to someone who intends to harm me.

IPV6. Problem solved. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795682)

Give every program and protocol its own IP address.

Packet sniffing (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795692)

Seeing as how this relies on packet sniffing of an unaware party's network traffic, I'm pretty sure any application of this without a warrant would constitute wiretapping. Correct me if I'm wrong, but that's my understanding of it.

Re:Packet sniffing (2)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795840)

People are actually unaware that they are broadcasting their ip address when on the internet? Really? Especially those using bittorrent that works through broadcasting yourself to the swarm.

Re:Packet sniffing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796402)

Not necessarily being unaware that they are broadcasting it, just unaware that it is being sniffed. Example: satellite TV signals are being broadcast at you all the time, but it's illegal to receive and decrypt them without paying the provider. Example2: You are having a verbal conversation; it is illegal for that to be recorded without either a warrant or consent of at least 1 party (all parties in some states) despite the fact that you are broadcasting your voice for all to hear.

Re:Packet sniffing (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795948)

Skype uses your computer to carry other people's traffic, and I assume BT is very similar. The question is whether you're entitled to sniff the data that's flowing through your own computer.

In other words, if you stand outside my window, talk on your cell phone, and I hear you, it's not eavesdropping.

That being said, Skype traffic is supposed to be encrypted.

Re:Packet sniffing (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796406)

That being said, Skype traffic is supposed to be encrypted

I'm replying to you, because you're the best comment I've seen and still, you obviously didn't read the article.

Because Skype uses a proprietary protocol and encrypts the payloads of its messages, packets coming from the called party can't be inspected, the researchers wrote. Instead, they looked at the patterns between a caller and the Skype nodes.

I honestly expected to find some intelligent discussion here, but everyone assumes this research relies on packet sniffing. It doesn't. My place of work doesn't allow Skype exactly because it does stupid stuff like sharing your data all over the internet. Just like BitTorrent.

Re:Packet sniffing (1)

Bucky24 (1943328) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796460)

The Skype protocol should be easy enough to detect, and all they need to know is that Skype is in use, not the communication data.

Re:Packet sniffing (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796092)

Nope doesn't seem that it requires any kind of interception, just specialized local traffic analysis. It does require that you have accurate personal information in your Skype profile. Good luck finding me from that.

Skype incoming call... (4, Funny)

Andrewkov (140579) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795700)

Ring ring... incoming Skype call, it's the RIAA.

Re:Skype incoming call... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795770)

hahahaha!

Re:Skype incoming call... (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795984)

That's why I don't use Bit Torrent.

Re:Skype incoming call... (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796068)

AND the reason why I quit using Skype.

Re:Skype incoming call... (1)

interval1066 (668936) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796250)

Skype alone isn't worth the time developers seem to be spending on it, so I avoid it where possible. The quality is so bad, I can't understand anything the other party is saying. I'm not dropping my torrent streams though.

Re:Skype incoming call... (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796326)

Skype is very good for me, as long as the network is reliable on both ends. Having the firewall port open on both ends (uPnp should do it) is helpful too.

dump skype? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795702)

Another great reason to dump skype? Skype in a sence not bad from prespective of security, but, there are other reasons.

Eitherway, bit torrent is not so good with privacy either... People need to shift to decentralised distributing systems. I have no idea what i just said, but it sounded pretty cool!

Re:dump skype? (2)

icebraining (1313345) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796108)

Decentralizing doesn't really help, since it doesn't change the fact that Bittorrent works by advertising the IPs of the nodes and the torrents they're downloading/seeding.

What you'd need is something like onion routing, where it's hard to know who you're sharing with, even with centralized trackers.

Luckily, that exists in the form of Bittorrent over I2P [i2p2.de].

Re:dump skype? (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796568)

I've looked at BT over I2P. It's completely incompatible with regular Bittorrent. It's a great idea but there just aren't enough users on there to make it a replacement for regular Bittorrent.

This years hottest horror movie (2)

Jumperalex (185007) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795704)

ring ring ring
"Hello." ... ... ...
"Hello? Is there anyone there?" ... ... ...
"We know what you downloaded last summer!!!"

Re:This years hottest horror movie (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795964)

ring ring ring
"Hello." ... ... ...
"Hello? Is there anyone there?" ... ... ...
"We know what you downloaded last summer!!!"

"Um. My house was burgled who curiously didn't break a window, lock or leave fingerprints anywhere. Prove me wrong!"

Re:This years hottest horror movie (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796330)

"Um. My house was burgled who curiously didn't break a window, lock or leave fingerprints anywhere. Prove me wrong!"

Are you saying they're guilty of falsely accusing you? I think they're innocent unless proven otherwise. You're going to jail, buddy.

Re:This years hottest horror movie (1)

Jumperalex (185007) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796474)

"We have a recording of your voice eminating from your Skype call at the IP assigned to your modem ... muwahahahahaha"

Re:This years hottest horror movie (1)

mcavic (2007672) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796048)

Don't forget the sequel: We still know what you downloaded 3 years ago.

This is not research. (5, Insightful)

spicyed (954272) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795736)

All it is is data mining packets from skype nodes and comparing them to open torrent peer lists. This is not really surprising or scary to me. There are other 'researchers' who can link alot more data to you then this.

Re:This is not research. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795974)

The devil is in the details. In the full paper they talk about things like how to track a user even if they have specifically blocked you, etc. This work points out interesting, previously unknown privacy flaws in a widely used system. It's much scarier than what is portrayed in the summary.

Re:This is not research. (1)

ackthpt (218170) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796152)

All it is is data mining packets from skype nodes and comparing them to open torrent peer lists. This is not really surprising or scary to me. There are other 'researchers' who can link alot more data to you then this.

All the better reason to lock down your wireless network.

TOR (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795740)

good thing I am running a tor exit node on my PC

Encryption? (0)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795760)

Are there any BT clients out there that don't encrypt their packets these days?

Re:Encryption? (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795874)

You are still broadcasting your ip even when using encryption. How else do you think you create connections to others in the swarm?

Re:Encryption? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795952)

What about using TOR? Does that anonymize your IP address?

Re:Encryption? (2)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796200)

Yes but you shouldn't run BT over Tor. It will be slow as shit for you and you'll be hogging the network. I encourage Tor node operators to block bittorrent over Tor (in fact I think it's blocked by default in recent releases).

Re:Encryption? (1)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796032)

I don't know what you're talking about. My computer seeks out shady middlemen over dark fiber to ensure that all communications remain discreet.

Re:Encryption? (1)

Hadlock (143607) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796104)

Well if all they're doing is matching up IP addresses between two databases, what does it matter what protocol they're using? For that matter, why is this even newsworthy? The encrypted payload, and how they're tracking encrypted BT (or perhaps, more imporantly how they know the encrypted packet is a BT packet) packets without violating the DMCA is what I'm curious about.

Re:Encryption? (1)

Lunix Nutcase (1092239) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796184)

How is crawling a bittorrent swarm violating the dmca? You do realize that your IP address is publicly broadcasted, right?

Re:Encryption? (1)

GameboyRMH (1153867) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796140)

Most are set not to force encryption by default. That said I've forced outgoing encryption on my seedbox and the uplink stays pegged all day. I've been thinking of forcing incoming encryption to see how it goes, pretty much all BT clients do support encryption.

CLEARLY authoritative (4, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37795764)

Because NAT and UPNP wouldn't make a random Skype user and a different BitTorrent user appear to be coming from the same IP address..

Re:CLEARLY authoritative (1)

vux984 (928602) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795978)

If the IP traces back to a verizon dsl modem, then its authoritative enough to know its either you or your mom. Just because there is some edge case out there doesn't change the fact that this CAN be used to sniff users out with high reliability a large percentage of the time.

Re:CLEARLY authoritative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796684)

You would be amazed how many of my parent's neighbors use their wireless.

Re:CLEARLY authoritative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796764)

or a guest at your home, or a neighbor using your unsecured wireless signal.

Only in America does an IP address equal a person.

Re:CLEARLY authoritative (1)

Technician (215283) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796440)

For us poor linux users with poor Skype performance and and such, I've used SIP instead. Just recently the SIP provider IPPI.fr has added a skype gateway that appears to work great.

I rarely use Bit Torrent as FTP is much faster for legal files, even if I was talking to someone on Skype while using BT, It would not show a connection. The Skype connection would be an IP in France.

I use SIP instead of Skype. i can connect it to a telephone with an old Vontage adapter or a Linksys PAP2T. With IPKall, I have unlimited free incoming minutes. Like Skype, SIP to SIP calls are free worldwide. With IPPI, I also get a free INUM number for incoming international calls. Most SIP accounts can call a INUM for free. The speed dialer included allows me to enter Skype numbers so they can be speed dialed with just the phone. No computer needed.

New: ippi lets you call Skype users for free!

If you follow ippi on Twitter and Facebook, you already know since late July that ippi can make calls to Skype users for free! Even better, ippi also allows Skype users free calls to users ippi !

Directions:

- To call from ippi to Skype, dial skype_id@skype.ippi.com and start the call

- To call from Skype to ippi, dial skype2ippi (add this contact for ease), then, when you get a chat message, send as a chat message the ippi login you wish to call (or ippi number)

For more information, our support is at your disposal.

Re:CLEARLY authoritative (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796986)

Read the article! They specify a technique where by calling you and Skype and connecting to you on BitTorrent they verify that the two users are one and the same, despite a NAT.

Re:CLEARLY authoritative (1)

znerk (1162519) | more than 2 years ago | (#37797160)

Because NAT and UPNP wouldn't make a random Skype user and a different BitTorrent user appear to be coming from the same IP address..

No, it wouldn't. "Random" implies that they wouldn't necessarily know each other, whereas "same ip" implies they have knowledge of one another, since they are operating from the same physical network address.

And Why Are We Happy About This? (1)

Nom du Keyboard (633989) | more than 2 years ago | (#37795958)

And why are we happy that researchers seem to think that the more that they can do to strip away privacy as actually a Good Thing? Why not instead work out systems to make our computers more resistant to virus/trojan/rootkit infections. THAT would actually benefit the majority of us overall.

Re:And Why Are We Happy About This? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 2 years ago | (#37796624)

Security/privacy research involves finding holes as well as hardening systems because if you never find any holes in your security, then you have no reason to think your system is insecure. Once an attack like this one has been found, then a security system has to avoid this attack in order to be considered secure.

From TFA (1)

Dunbal (464142) | more than 2 years ago | (#37796154)

to determine the current IP address of identified and targeted Skype user (if the user is currently active)

Moral of the story - make sure you are logged off from Skype before file sharing.

Re:From TFA (1)

misterooga (1172837) | more than 2 years ago | (#37797116)

But what other apps, besides Skype, can be used for this type of tracking? I don't use BT or Skype but I'd like to know if there are any ways to prevent this, besides not using XXX or YYY. (at least at the same time.)
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