All great inventions have the possibility of misuse. Skype, the leading Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP), is no exception. While the benefits of free online telephone and video calls are many, Skype also has risk factors. Uneducated or careless use of Skype can lead to breach of personal security, downloads of viruses and malware and contact by pedophiles.
With the launch of the beta version of Skype in 2003, Internet communication entered a new phase. The ability to text, speak, share files and even see each other through a one-stop, free, computer-to-computer “Skype Call” has attracted millions of users. While other VoIP services exist, Skype uses a peer-to-peer model and not a server-client model like its competitors. In addition to the traditional free computer-to-computer video-chat, users can also make computer-to-phone calls for a small fee, depending on location.
Because Skype is a free, universally downloadable product that allows one computer to connect to another, it is vulnerable to transmitting viruses. According to a 2009 article by Len Rosen of Kiwicommons.com, viruses and malware can be embedded in a file-share transaction such as an instant message or an attachment to a message. However, when compared to other chat services including AOL, MSN Messenger and Yahoo! Messenger, Skype has the best protection and detection of potentially malicious software. To stay protected, never download any attachments from a stranger and always have the most updated version of anti-virus software. An extra safety precaution is to confirm that an attachment was sent and the name of the file, even when dealing with a friend online.
Breach of Security
There are two different types of computer security concerns to consider when using Skype. First, the possibility that a person may be posing as someone else online, such as a friend or family member, or even a Skype employee, and will ask for personal information, (a password, credit-card or Social Security number, etc). All official correspondence regarding a Skype account occurs on their Web site. Choosing a strong password with a variety of letters, numbers and symbols protects an account’s security. The second danger to computer security is a privacy issue. According to a 2006 article by Derek Sooman of TechSpot.com, Skype will give governmental organizations information on public use if requested.
When dealing with any Internet communication software used by children, the potential for sexual predators exists. Much like the danger of breach of security or downloading malware, the pedophile may pose as a friend or family member to gain access to the child. Rosen recommends never posting an address or home phone number on a Skype profile. Another option for parents is to use the parental control feature, Skypito. This allows parents to approve and monitor a child’s activity on Skype.