Office 365: The New Microsoft “Cloud” Likely Comes with Spying Inside

By Software Freedom Law Center | June 29, 2011

Microsoft’s much hyped “cloud”-based replacement to its $20 billion-per-year Microsoft Office business comes with new features such as real-time multi-user collaborative editing, instant messaging, video conference, online meetings and more. What Microsoft does not tell you in their press release is that when you, your business, or your friends sign up, you may be getting an unadvertised feature as well: free spying.

A patent application published by the USPTO last Thursday reveals that Microsoft has been researching, since before December 2009, how to redirect VoIP calls to intercept devices and law enforcement agents. The method disclosed by the patent application is devious—subverting routing protocols so that packets sent by any person tagged by a monitoring request will be routed through a recording agent. The application discloses “gaming systems, instant messaging protocols that transmit audio, Skype and Skype-like applications, meeting software, video conferencing software, and the like” as technologies that can use this method. In other words, Microsoft has reason to believe that their interception method can be applied to the newly acquired Skype (recently deployed in Congress), Xbox 360, and the video conferencing features in Office 365.

The publication of this patent application coupled with the announcement of Microsoft’s new service highlights the need for adoption of free and open source software solutions. When the same companies making the tools that we need to remain connected are researching ways to spy on their customers, why should we trust them and why shouldn’t we look for something better? At SFLC we use an Asterisk server and the Twinkle softphone to provide free, encrypted voice communication anywhere any of us has a network connection. Our free software system provides communications security and saves us money. Every small business as well as every large one stands to gain by using VoIP, but no business gains by losing its privacy. Microsoft is offering “unified communications” with unified one-stop spying likely built in. Free software will work for your business, not for people who think your business is their business.

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