Skype has business customers in its sights

Expanding its user base to corporates is a goal of Skype 3.0

Skype plans to carry on marketing to the business sector, by adding functions that address specific business needs, said company executives at a recent media briefing held at the company’s development centre in Tallinn, Estonia.

Skype 3.0, the most recent version of the company’s software, allows system administrators to configure and control Skype use across an organisation. Skype aims to build on this. The software provides internet telephony as well as messaging, video-conferencing and file transfer facilities.

Initially, Skype will rely on the growth of an “ecosystem” of third parties to adapt and integrate Skype for specific enterprise uses. “My opinion is that it is better to provide good information and let [other] people build the Skype ecosystem,” said Skype’s chief security officer, Kurt Sauer.

Skype’s vice president of mobile and telecom services, Michael Jackson, joked that “we will not… be having installers in Skype trucks visiting businesses”. However, Skype integrators “may come along” and “Skype for business” will evolve as a set of functions that can be switched on or off and fine-tuned according to need.

Jackson pointed to a set of features for system administrators in Skype 3.0 that allow for extensive control, making Skype “more suitable” for company use. These include the ability to implement a usage policy and allocate pre-paid service credits and accounts.

About 30% of Skype use is currently business use, mainly by small businesses, but bigger companies are becoming increasingly interested, says Jackson. He cites the integration of a Skype click-to-call feature on the US Robotics website as an example of a “mainstream business” adopting a technology first designed for home use.

Sauer addressed the issue of a worm that is alleged to have propagated in the Skype network, as well as claims that corporate networks using Skype could become overloaded “supernodes”.

“We have done reverse engineering on this so-called worm, and it is not a worm but a real piece of malware… [that uses] Skype to send an instant message to users which contains a web URL that allows the download of other malware that was apparently targeted at Pay Pal,” said Sauer. The offending site has now been shut down. Pay Pal is the payment system owned by Skype parent eBay.

As for the supernodes — these were used to track 300 Skype users in a kind of distributed directory of all users to form a “global index” for Skype. “Supernode traffic is just short query traffic that uses little bandwidth, [and] supernodes are not involved in speech traffic,” explained Sauer.

However, Skype’s executives were vague about whether Skype penetrated company and personal firewalls. Sauer said that when both parties involved in a Skype call have firewalls it is impossible to form a peer-to-peer link, so a system of “relays” using other nodes is used. “This relaying is what is understood as punching holes in firewalls.”

The briefing also provided a rare look at Skype’s low- profile Estonian development centre, where more than 200 programmers from 32 countries work on three floors of an open-office environment, where rooms and cubicles have Estonian names to help employees learn something of the language.

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