How To Set Up Privacy In Skype

How to set up security and privacy in Skype, the popular internet voice and video call program. There are few concerns in the news with Skype privacy (compared to the constant fears surrounding sites like Facebook etc) but recent experience prompted us to take a look at privacy in Skype.

Skype allegedly provides secure communication as all traffic is encrypted behind the scenes. However, the protocols used and the program source code are closed i.e. they are not open to peer review. This means that nobody can say for certain that calls and messages cannot be intercepted.

Frankly we would be surprised if there was not some kind of ‘back door’ built into the encryption that allowed law enforcement to analyze and record conversations/messages, subject to the usual legal restraints – like a phone wiretap.

We’re not too worried about that – we’re not the bad guys and Skype is probably more secure from casual eavesdropping than standard phone lines and cell phone calls. What we are worried about is making sure our privacy settings in it are set securely.

Setting Up Privacy – Most important is to make sure you have the latest version of Skype – new versions include better security and fix security holes found in older versions. To check if you have the latest version, open Skype and in the menu bar at the top, click ‘Help’ then ‘Check For Updates’.

If you see a message that you already have the latest version installed you are good to go. If you see a message advising there is a newer version available, follow the instructions to download and upgrade it automatically. Now set up Privacy options:

Click ‘Tools’ then ‘Options’ to open the Skype Options window.
Click the ‘Privacy’ tab to display the Privacy Settings.
Click the ‘Show Advanced Options’ button.

  • Set ‘Allow calls from’ to ‘People In My Contact List Only’ – unless you want strangers to be able to cold call you…
  • Set ‘Automatically receive video from’ to ‘People In My Contact List Only’ – unless you want to see strangers prancing around in front of their home webcam…
  • Set ‘Allow IMs’ (Instant Messages) to ‘People In My Contact List Only’ – unless you want to be plagued by unwanted IMs from strangers…
  • Set ‘Keep history for’ to ‘No history’ – if you do want to keep a history then choose a duration in weeks/months or forever…

Tip:the History is stored in your computer and contains the actual IM messages received/sent and the duration/contact name for calls made. The history is not encrypted and can easily be read (outside of Skype) by anyone having access to your computer using a program like Nirsoft’s SkypeLogView.

  • ‘Allow my online status to be shown on the web’ – this is NOT related to your friends being able to see your Skype status i.e whether you are online or not. It is only useful if you intend to create and use Skype buttons which can be put on your own website/blog to let other people contact you. Unless you plan to create Skype buttons then leave this unticked
  • ‘Accept Skype browser cookies’ – Cookies are little pieces of information that Skype may store on your computer’s hard drive – for best privacy we recommend leaving this unticked
  • ‘Allow Skype to use non-personally identifiable info etc’ relates to targeted adverts from third parties – for best privacy we recommend leaving this unticked

Tip: Clicking the ‘Clear Skype Cookies’ button will delete any existing Skype cookies stored in your computer.

  • Click the ‘Save’ button when you have finished updating settings to save all your changes.

File Transfers Between Skype Users

One additional feature of Skype is the ability to send and receive files directly to/from your contacts. This can be very useful but, like any file transfer, could be a security or privacy risk if the file is malicious – e.g. if a virus infected your contact’s computer and sent out infected files to all their contacts…

There is no way to switch off file transfers temporarily or for individual contacts – the only option is to disable it completely. For this reason we prefer to leave file transfers enabled – we find the usefulness outweighs the risk.

However, if you really want to disable transfers then unfortunately this option is not built into the Skype interface itself – it has to be done via the Windows Registry.

Warning: The Windows Registry is an important database used by Windows – always create a system restore point before editing it. If you don’t know much about the Registry, our advice is to leave it well alone.

To disable Skype file transfers for the whole computer (all users) – add the following registry key:

  • HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Skype\Phone
  • In that new key add the DWORD value of DisableFileTransfer and set to [1] to disable file transfers or [0] to enable file transfers e.g. your registry would look like this:

HKEY_LOCAL_MACHINE\Software\Policies\Skype\Phone, DisableFileTransfer, REG_DWORD = {1}

To disable Skype file transfers for an individual user – add the following registry key:

  • HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Skype\Phone
  • In that new key add the DWORD value of DisableFileTransfer and set to [1] to disable file transfers or [0] to enable file transfers. E.g. your registry would look like this:

HKEY_CURRENT_USER\Software\Policies\Skype\Phone, DisableFileTransfer, REG_DWORD = {1}

Note: The registry key for the local machine (all users) takes precedence over the registry key for the local user if there is a conflict.