Man Waving to Skype CameraIt seems as if every few days brings a new round of Internet hacking dangers. You may wonder which programs on your computer are open to attack from hackers.

Sadly, the answer is that just about every program is able to be hacked—that is, they can allow hackers access to your computer or personal information. Skype can be used to hack your computer, but there are also a few things that you can do about it.

What is Skype?

Skype is a program that allows users to communicate using Voice over Internet Protocol—or VoIP—technology. Essentially, you can use Skype to talk or chat with other Skype users. This can be done from a computer to a landline phone to a cell phone or any combination thereof, for varying degrees of cost. Skype offers free and paid accounts.

Skype users on a computer can talk to other Skype users on a computer for free using the microphones and video cameras of the computer to video chat. Each user can see and hear the other, making the technology innovations of The Jetsons a reality. Generally, using Skype with a cell phone or landline phone requires charges to a credit card.

Skype was bought by Microsoft in 2011 for $8.5 billion. In addition to video chatting, Skype also allows users to Instant Message chat back and forth, to videoconference with multiple users, and to transfer files between users.

There have been a few instances in the past years that highlight Skype’s ability to be used inappropriately by hackers. Unfortunately, such issues are not just problems with Skype alone.

How has Skype been used by hackers in the past?

Near the end of 2012, someone in Russia posted the steps to take in order to hack into a Skype account. Six steps. All a hacker would need to hack into a user’s Skype account would be the email address used to set up the account. The hacker could then create another Skype account with the address and request a new password.

Skype would allow the hacker to use the new account to change the password of the old account, essentially giving the hacker access to the account and locking the original user out. The hacker could then use the account as he or she saw fit or to access account information such as possible credit cards used to pay for the services.

Skype disabled the reset password function to solve the issue after it was published online.

Can Skype be used to send a virus to my computer?

For the most part, video chatting on Skype poses little danger as long as that is all you are doing. You aren’t really connected computer to computer—there are intermediaries between all of the ends of a Skype chat.

However, transferring files can allow a transfer of a virus just like the transferring of a file of any other program or Internet website. Instant messaging with Skype can also allow for viruses and corrupted files to reach your computer.

Your antivirus program should be able to detect viruses sent through Skype communications just like any other download, so make sure your antivirus programs are up-to-date.

Are there other Skype concerns?

One of the larger concerns with Skype has to do with the possibility of conversations via Skype being less private than you would want to believe. The Free Software Foundation contends that Skype can be used to eavesdrop and that the Chinese government is sure to have already done so.

Skype is a bit tight-lipped about the ability of Skype to eavesdrop. The American Civil Liberties Union contends that, because VoIP technology is not considered to be in the same category as landline telephones, wiretaps that would be illegal on landline phones can be applied to VoIP communications like Skype without warrants or consent.

However, if you just use Skype to let the grandkids chat with grandma and grandpa in another state, your conversations aren’t going to involve information any more important than how the potty training is going.

What can I do to protect myself?

As with all programs, the important thing is to maintain your virus protection programs, choose strong passwords, and avoid transferring data or personal information with those who are unknown to you.

Skype recommends that you set a strong password and change it regularly. They also advise that you scan attachments with antivirus programs and verify the contents directly from the sender. Making sure you receive updates from Skype and other programs is also recommended.

Furthermore, always verify a website or merchant that you are giving your credit card information to, such as using the Skype site directly to purchase Skype credit and subscriptions rather than third-party vendors. Watch out for scammers posing as reputable companies—like Skype—in order to gain login and other personal information.

Lastly, contact Skype if you feel there is a problem. Change your password immediately and check your bank and credit card accounts for suspicious activity.