Skype account unlocked with the help of the registration timestamp in the client database

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post about trying to get my Skype account unlocked and the arcane questions I was being asked by Skype Customer Support. I’d been meaning to write that post for a while… and I’m glad I finally got around to it because John Buston (a former colleague from my days at Fujitsu) pointed me at some advice in the Skype Community that proved to be very useful indeed

The Skype client (which I still had access to on one of my PCs) uses an SQL database called main.db, found in %appdata%\Skype.  The SQLite browser can be used to view the contents of this database and locate the registration_timestamp in the Accounts table.

Registration timestamp inside the Skype client database (main.db)

Take the number from the registration timestamp, multiply it by 60 and you’ll have the Unix time (the number of seconds since 1 Jan 1970, UTC) from when you registered for Skype. Put that number into a converter (like this one) and you’ll have the exact time when you registered for your Skype account.

Armed with that information (and some more that I could guess, like the email address I used to register for Skype; plus some more that I knew, like my personal details and some names from my Skype contact list) and I was finally able to get my account unlocked.

Thanks again John!

One man’s battle with unlocking his Skype account…

I’ve blogged and tweeted many times about identity in the Microsoft cloud (“Microsoft accounts” vs. “work or school accounts”, formerly known as “organizational accounts”) but I completely forgot another set of credentials – Skype accounts, an anomaly from before Skype was bought by Microsoft but which should have been killed off by now… Then, a few weeks ago, I got an email from Skype (noreply@notifications.skype.com) to say that

“At Skype, we take customer safety and security very seriously. We have identified a potential compromise with your Skype account: […] and we have temporarily suspended access until you reset the account’s password.”

A day later (possibly after I followed the advice in the first email, I can’t remember now), I got another email

“The password for the Skype account: […] was recently changed. If you requested this change then you can ignore this email. If this wasn’t you, your account may have been compromised. Please follow these steps to reset your password.”

Never mind, I thought, I’ll just click the link (after checking it’s genuine) and reset my password then.

No. It’s not that simple.

I then entered a bizarre process of answering questions and then going into a hold loop for about 24 hours before someone checks your responses and effectively says “you’re in”, or “no, try again”. There’s no number to call, no person to speak to, but there appears to be a human element to the process. The official response from Skype Customer Support is: “Unfortunately I am not able to check on the details on your account because you did not pass the verification”. I can get access to my bank account with the right combination of mother’s maiden name, place of birth etc. but to unlock my Skype account I need:

  • Country
  • Language
  • First name
  • Last name
  • Email address
  • Email address provided when registered
  • Date when I created my Skype account (mm/yy)
  • Five names from my Contacts list
  • Name (first and last) provided when registering for my account
  • Country selected when registered

And optionally:

  • If you used a credit card, please provide any two of the first six digits of the credit card number and any two of the last four digits of the credit card number.
  • If you used PayPal or Skrill, please provide the email address that is associated with your PayPal or Skrill account.
  • If you used another payment method, please specify which one you used.
  • What is your date of birth (dd/mm/yy)?
  • What is the total cost of a recent order that you have made?
  • On what date did you place the recent order (dd/mm/yy)?
  • Please provide two phone numbers that you have recently called or contacted using Skype.
  • What is your full billing address?

I’ve had my Skype account for so long now that Microsoft possibly don’t have a record of when it was created. I certainly don’t know exactly when I did it (I probably used an old work email address and I don’t have any of the associated emails) but I can be sure it was more than 10 years ago. I’ve never topped up my Skype account with credit (I don’t use it to make paid calls). And I’ve repeatedly failed the verification checks to unlock my account. My last-ditch attempt was to answer just the mandatory questions and hope I get the month/year right. I may need a few more attempts yet for a brute force attack… Security is great, but when the service provider locks the account for you, and then won’t let you back in, it’s not so good. Skype’s official advice is to open a new account. With a name like Mark Wilson it’s pretty hard to get a decent username. I have a really good Skype username (my name) and I still live in hope of one day being able to answer the questions I need to get it back. In the meantime, thankfully, my Microsoft account credentials still work with Skype…

Short takes: Windows 10 download location; btvstack.exe and Skype

Some more mini-posts glued together as a “short take”…

Windows 10 download location – no need to wait for a notification

As a “Windows Insider” (yeah, right, me and several million others…) I’ve been patiently waiting for the notification icon on my Family PC to tell me that Windows 10 is ready for me to download and install.  I didn’t expect it immediately on July 29th – anyway, I was on holiday last week so I could wait a few days – but I did hope I’d get it over the weekend (especially as I had a new PC to set up for my wife… more on that in a future post).

Well, after tweeting my frustration, I received multiple replies asking me why I didn’t download it directly. It seems you don’t need to wait for a notification icon, just download from the Microsoft website (either for a direct update, or to create media for other PCs). Just take note that this will not work for enterprise editions.

Incidentally (and thanks to Garry Martin for this tip), Rufus is a handy app for creating USB media from an .ISO image.

btvstack.exe wants to use Skype

When I launched Skype yesterday, it told me that btvstack.exe wants to use Skype and presented two options – allow or deny access. How do I know which to chose? What is btvstack.exe? Is it a piece of malware that will start running up huge Skype bills for me? Should I allow it.

Well, Rob Schmuecker (@robschmuecker) has already done the legwork and written a post that tells us “What is BtvStack.exe and why is Skype asking me to allow it?“. If the Skype developers were being a little less cryptic they might have said “Skype wants to use your computer’s Bluetooth radio to connect to a device – is that OK?”. You probably don’t need to allow access but if you use a Bluetooth headset, then maybe you will…

Changing the default app used to open tel: links on Windows

Earlier this morning I had a missed call notification in Outlook. I clicked the number, Windows asked me which app I wanted to open that type of link (a tel: URI) and I clicked the wrong option. All of a sudden I had phone numbers opening in the Skype Windows 8 app rather than in my Skype for Business client (previously the Lync client).

It turns out that it’s a relatively simple change to make but it’s not necessarily obvious that the UI to do this is the one to change file type associations (this is a link, not a file…).

  1. In Control Panel go to Default Programs and then Set Default Programs (the quickest way is to hit the Windows key and type “Default Programs“).
  2. Scroll down to Lync (desktop). Despite the name, this is the Skype for Business desktop client.
  3. Select Lync (desktop) and click Chose defaults for this program:
  4. You’ll see that the URL:Tel Protocol entry is not checked, because it’s associated with Skype:
  5. Select the Checkbox next to TEL and click Save:
  6. If you look at the Skype program associations, TEL will now be showing as defaulting to Skype for Business (desktop):

There’s more information in Paul Thurrott’s Windows 8 Tip on Changing File Associations.

McAfee, Internet Explorer and a lack of quality control at Toshiba

Last week, I wrote about helping my father-in-law to ensure that the insurance company wasn’t fleecing him whilst replacing his stolen laptop.  His new machine (a Toshiba Satellite C855-12G) arrived this week (although it appears to be a discontinued model, which is presumably the reason it was discounted…) and I’ve spent part of the evening on family IT support duty getting it set up for him.

Unfortunately, I also found that the webcam is faulty (at least, neither Toshiba’s webcam application, Windows Device Manager nor Skype can see it, despite having downloaded the latest drivers from the Toshiba website), suggesting that Toshiba’s quality control is pretty shoddy (this doesn’t appear to be an isolated incident – see link 1, link 2, link 3). Back in the day, Toshiba was a respected notebook PC brand but I guess I should have insisted on Lenovo, Samsung or Dell…

Anyway, the real purpose of this post was to record some of the issues (and resolutions) that I found whilst removing the “crapware” from this new PC. To be fair, I’ve seen worse and the main thing to remove (apart from a non-English version of Windows Live Essentials) was McAfee Internet Security.  It never ceases to amaze me how many people will shell out cash for this type of application when there are perfectly good free alternatives, so I replaced it with Microsoft Security Essentials.

Unfortunately the McAfee uninstaller wouldn’t run, displaying an Internet Explorer-esque “Navigation was cancelled” screen (but without any chrome).  As Skype was also having problems adding contacts, I started to suspect something was blocking web traffic and that hunch turned out to be valid. Disabling Internet Exploder 9’s Content Advisor did the trick. How anybody can use it is beyond me (I had to enter a password four times  just to switch from Windows Update to Microsoft Update) but, once Content Advisor was disabled, both Skype and the McAfee uninstaller worked as they should.

 

 

Microsoft Unified Communications: part 4 (a brief note on Cisco, QoS and codecs)

As might be expected for a series of blog posts about the Microsoft view of Unified Communications (UC), it is heavily biased towards Microsoft products but I wanted to take a brief look at another major player in the unified communications space – Cisco. It should be said that I have very limited experience of Cisco’s UC offerings (only as an end user of their IP telephony products) but it’s worth highlighting the differences between the Microsoft and Cisco approaches.

Microsoft and Cisco are partners, but they are also competitors. Some googling suggests that Cisco and Microsoft’s VoIP products can be integrated but not always without challenges (Aaron Tiensivu’s post on integrating Microsoft Exchange and Cisco CallManager is just one example of such a challenge) but it should be considered that they have come to UC from different directions.

Cisco are a networking company and they have approached UC as a networking problem for which there is a networking solution. On the other hand, Microsoft are a software company – they have looked at the overall user experience an attempted to engineer a software solution.

Whilst Cisco concentrates on providing a VoIP solution that offers Quality of Service (QoS) and has grown out of PBX technology, Microsoft relies on codecs that are tolerant of poor network conditions to deliver what they refer to as Quality of Experience (QoE). Those with far more experience than I have commented that the Microsoft approach is sensible for calls that are routed across the Internet (where there is no QoS) but less so in an enterprise environment and Ed Horley made a very valid observation that network links, particularly WAN links, tend to be under-provisioned. I have to say that using the SCCP/UCM solution at work provides fantastic call quality but I also find that the Cisco IP Phone (running SIP) on my desk at home provides a great experience too and, at a recent event, Microsoft even compared their solution with Skype, citing this as a well-known example of a software solution that provides good call quality over variable consumer Internet connections (something which I was surprised to find when I was using Skype for a video call between the UK and Australia recently).

Microsoft’s general recommendation is to let the software select an appropriate codec and Office Communicator will constantly assess the available bandwidth and select an appropriate codec, even switching codecs and/or tuning parameters as required during a call.

The main concern is with voice traffic saturating network bandwidth at the expense of data – that’s where QoS can be used effectively – to manage the network.

In the final post in this series, I’ll wrap things up with some notes from my own OCS implementation last year.

After more than four years of avoiding Skype, I discovered it’s not bad at all…

In 2004, one of my colleagues tried to get me to use Skype. I wasn’t impressed, especially as I was working on a client site and the proxy server kept on blocking connections to strange educational sites all over the world.

I’ve since learnt that was because of the peer-to-peer networking nature of Skype with it’s system of supernodes but, even so, for the last few years, I’ve managed to avoid it, favouring traditional voice communications and more recently, SIP-based VoIP. Then, as I blogged previously, James Bannan and I decided that we would like to put a podcast together and, as he’s in Australia and I’m in the UK, Skype looks like the most sensible communications option. I listen to a lot of podcasts where the presenters are geographically dispersed and apart from the odd glitch when someone is clearly on a weak connection or running some CPU-intensive software, everything seems fine.

Skype main pageSkype main page
So, one night last month, we gave it a go (we’ll only need audio but we tried the full video capabilities) and I was actually quite impressed. I was at home, using Skype 2.7.0.330 for Mac OS X with the built-in iSight webcam in my MacBook and James was using a recent version of Skype on a Windows PC in his office.

Don’t be put off by the pixellated picture… that was just because it wasn’t exactly the best picture of James (stills from video calls rarely are) but, apart from the deliberately mosaiced face, you can see that the video quality is not bad at all.

Skype technical informationGiven that I have a consumer broadband connection and that James was on the other side of the world (although I don’t know what sort of network connection he had), things were pretty good.

If you check out the technical call information screenshot you can see that the round trip (of at least 21,000 miles, through 4 relays was taking an average of 374ms (just about the limit before delay becomes noticeable but not exactly causing a problem) and there was negligible jitter and barely any packet loss, although the SVOPC codec is designed to tolerate packet loss (I found a forum post on a German site which describes the various metrics used by Skype). Most notably for me, both CPU cores on my 2.2GHz Intel Core2Duo were being hammered as Skype encoded/decoded the video conversation but we were still managing a respectable 15 frames per second.

So, in all the whole experience was a good one. Of course, like any VoIP connection across the Internet, experiences will vary according to the traffic conditions at the time but I was suitably impressed.