Skype starts testing new 'private conversations' with end-to-end encryption

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As first reported by ITPro, Skype is partnering with popular encrypted communication company Signal to bring end-to-end encryption to its service. But that's set to change.

Microsoft announced the launch of a "Private Conversations" feature today, initially available as a preview via the Skype Insider program. It only works with one-to-one chats at this stage - so video calls and group chats remain unencrypted.

The content of communications on Private Conversations will be hidden in the chat list and also in notifications.

On the other hand - and given how mainstream a comms platform Skype is - then even partial e2e encryption could be seen as a bit of a step forward, perhaps most especially because Skype is adopting the Signal Protocol for its crypto addition.

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With Private Conversations, you can have end-to-end encrypted Skype audio calls and send text messages or files like images, audio, or videos, using the industry standard Signal Protocol by Open Whisper Systems. Private conversations should roll out to non-Insiders in the coming weeks, though it's not clear yet when it will be available in the Skype UWP app. This is the same end-to-end encryption protocol used by Facebook for WhatsApp and Facebook Messenger, and by Google for the Allo app. End-to-end crypto ensures only each end of the conversation - the people talking to each other - can decipher messages. Its development is headed by dreadlocked computer security guru Moxie Marlinspike at Whisper Systems, and the code is endorsed by the likes of Edward Snowden and Bruce Schneier. One has to wonder why it has taken so long for Microsoft to get onboard. Especially as video chats - the flagship Skype feature - aren't covered. That doesn't mean this data can't be intercepted in other ways, of course, but it's still more secure than most methods of online chat. A separate invite must be sent to switch over to another device.

To start a private conversation, you need to tap on + icon and select "New Private Conversation".

Whether Microsoft's latest move to Signal will really help is in question, given the software goliath's past tactics ad cooperation with Uncle Sam.

One of the best features of WhatsApp has been its end-to-end encryption since day one.