When someone's identity is stolen, we usually suspect some malignant chunk of spyware or sketchy online merchant. Surely giant, well-funded products like Skype are just lousy with special security measures aimed at avoiding an embarrassing security hole. They've got to have something in place to protect your private data. Right?
See, it turns out somebody inside Skype goofed. They left the user data files completely unencrypted, and accessible. Any person or app that knows where to look can find them, get inside, and learn everything about you. One user posted up full instructions for compromising Skype's "security".
A few minutes work can net a "hacker" access to your account balance, name, date and place of birth, phone numbers, email addresses, bio, contacts and your instant message history. Credit card data isn't compromised, but that's about the only piece of important data you won't lose. With this sort of information, you could probably impersonate someone well enough to trick a bank representative.
So Skype isn't safe...but what is?
Last July Facebook lost control of private data for around 100 million users. A few months ago, thousands of Gawker subscribers had their user info exposed to hackers. You aren't even safe when you stay away from the Internet. Private data for 3.5 million Texans was recently found to have been exposed for more than a year.
Even if you sell your smartphone, take your computer offline and move out to the woods far away from the nearest WiFi connection, your ID is still only as safe as a government record. Big security companies spend billions every year fighting hackers, but no amount of money can make up entirely for ingenuity. Epsilon- the giant Dallas-based email marketing firm that was recently hacked- had plenty of resources to spend on security.
There will always be cunning profiteers out to make a dishonest buck, and the "good guys" are never immune to slipping up. We can flay Skype alive and shame Epsilon into Chapter 11, but it won't make you any safer- not in the long run. Be diligent in your personal security, keep an eye on your checking account, and don't put anything online that you can't afford to have read.