Arik Hesseldahl

Recent Posts by Arik Hesseldahl

Skype Is Working, No Explanation Yet for What Happened

After two days of struggling with an embarrassing pre-holiday system failure, Skype appears to be running again today. CEO Tony Bates appeared in a video message overnight announcing that customers would be compensated for the loss of service. Free and pay-as-you-go customers will get credit for a free 30-minute SkypeOut call to any landline phone in the world. Paid subscribers will get credit for a week’s worth of service.

Offline instant messages and group video chat services remain offline, he said.

Bates said Skype now knows what caused the crash, but he didn’t disclose it. He ruled out the possibility of some kind of malicious attack, and said it’s conducting a detailed postmortem.

This would probably be the worst time for Skype to experience a high-profile outage. Though the Skype service is working today, lots of people who might have used it to call family members heading into Christmas may have made alternate plans.

However, the failure, whatever its cause, is also a reminder that Skype isn’t always in charge of its own ability to stay online. In 2007 an otherwise routine Windows security update issued by Microsoft forced an abnormally high number of PCs running Skype around the world to restart at roughly the same time. A software flaw prevented the Skype peer-to-peer network from compensating properly and the service crashed for two days.

This incident will also hurt its reputation with two key constituencies: Prospective business customers and potential investors. Business customers will rethink plans to deploy Skype. And potential investors will question whether this company has its act together, hurting the potential benefit from its forthcoming IPO.

To its credit, Skype did manage to restore service much faster than it did in 2007, as SkypeJournal notes here.

System failure is one of the risks that Skype admits to in its S-1 filing with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Of the 2007 failure, Skype says in its filing:

“We experienced significant adverse publicity and lost net revenues as a result of this outage, and any similar outage in the future would likely harm our business. As we increasingly introduce products particularly targeted at business customers, any system failures could have a significant impact on our ability to attract or maintain our relationships with business customers.”

Bates’s video message to customers is below.

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I think the NSA has a job to do and we need the NSA. But as (physicist) Robert Oppenheimer said, “When you see something that is technically sweet, you go ahead and do it and argue about what to do about it only after you’ve had your technical success. That is the way it was with the atomic bomb.”

— Phil Zimmerman, PGP inventor and Silent Circle co-founder, in an interview with Om Malik