Expanding on its current small business offerings, Skype, a popular Internet communications company, has announced Skype for Business, a program the company says is designed to help SMBs better manage communications, improve productivity and reduce costs.
Thirty percent of Skype's 75 million customers use the service to conduct business, and most of them have fewer than 10 employees said Niklas Zennstrom, the company's CEO, in a written statement. The company plans to market Skype for Business at that demographic.
The new offering includes a dedicated Web site www.skype.biz that offers tools designed to improve managing Skype accounts. For example, the Skype for Business Control Panel (a re-vamping of what was previously known as Skype Groups) now lets you use one account to buy Skype credits in bulk and automatically distribute them -- along with SkypeIn numbers and Skype Voice-mail to all the people in your company.
Another feature, the Skype Toolbar for Outlook, lets you integrate your Skype and Outlook contacts. According to the Web site, you can also:
- Call Skype Names and phone numbers written in e-mails
- See when your Outlook contacts are online
- Start instant message conversations to follow up e-mails
- Add a Skype Button to your e-mail signature, so other people can just click to call you
Skype also announced an addition to its Skype-certified business hardware, the Voyager 510 Bluetooth headset from Plantronics. Among its features is the capability of switching between mobile and Internet-based calls.
Security: Does Using Skype Invite Trouble?
The new service roll out comes amid continued questions about the integrity of Skype's security. Last November, Info-Tech Research Group warned of the following risks associated with using Skype:
- It's not standards-compliant, allowing it and any vulnerability to pass through corporate firewalls
- Its encryption is closed source [proprietary] and prone to man-in-the-middle attacks
- Companies that use Skype risk a communication barrier with organizations that have already banned it
- It is undetectable, untraceable and unauditable, putting organizations that are subject to compliance laws at risk.
More recently, The Burton Group also raised security concerns in its February, 2006 study, Debunking the Hype about Skype. The report notes that Skype's proprietary software makes it possible for people to make untraceable calls outside of the company, which can lead to security breaches.
In response to questions involving Skype security, a company spokesperson told SmallBusinessComputing that "many of the concerns [in these reports] can be easily addressed by a competent system administrator and well-communicated IT policy."
Addressing the standards-compliance issue, the spokesperson said, "Skype is designed to make sure as many people as possible can use it, while remaining secure. Businesses who have IT expertise in-house can manage the deployment of Skype to ensure that employees use specific and authenticated proxies." The company suggests potential customers visit its security page for more information.
Skpye also reported that while it does send "data travels over a network the same as data packets, this does not mean that the conversations or any other message content are subject to being read by third-parties. This technology renders any snooped or captured data packets as unreadable by an attacker."
The spokesperson added, "Skype has swiftly reacted to reports of security vulnerabilities by releasing software updates and circulating information about how to resolve any problems. All buffer overflow problems were corrected within hours of detection, and no current version of the product has this problem."
In response to questions surrounding the sound quality of Skpye calls, the spokesperson told SmallBusinessComputing.com, "Skype continually works to improve the voice quality and the feedback from our customers is that the voice quality is quite good (and it is free)."
Lauren Simonds is managing editor of SmallBusinessComputing.com.
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