A flagrant security flaw in the massively popular Skype video chat service may be putting Internet users worldwide at risk.
The serious security breach in the Internet video chat program, which boasts over 500 million users around the globe, means that any evil computer nerd could easily hunt down users' whereabouts, according to a study co-authored by an NYU-Poly professor.
Skype was quick to downplay the importance of the research. But Keith Ross -- part of an international team of researchers who uncovered the problem -- said blackmailers or other cybercrooks could, for example, use the flaw to track the travels of a cheating spouse.
And more alarmingly, terrorists or criminals could use the security gap to determine the locations of groups of government officials or employees of a large organization, he told the New York Post.
"Any sophisticated high school or college hacker could easily do this," Ross told the Post.
The flaw lets hackers determine the IP address from which a Skype user is logged in. That's a problem because IP addresses are usually specific to Internet users' physical locations. Hackers simply have to know how to grab their targets' IP addresses from simulated calls that Skype users would never notice -- and which leave no trace.
Adrian Asher, Skype's chief information security officer, said that IP addresses are easily uncovered in most web communications clients.
"Just as with typical Internet communications software, Skype users who are connected may be able to determine each other's IP addresses. Through research and development, we will continue to make advances in this area and improvements to our software," he told FoxNews.com.
Skype places a priority on security and safety, he added.
"We value the privacy of our users and are committed to making our products as secure as possible," Asher said.
Ross's study successfully tracked 10,000 randomly chosen Skype users over a two-week period, according to the New York Post. Researchers also used the flaw to successfully track one of their own as he traveled from New York to Chicago, back to New York and then to his home in France.
The flaw may also be a problem for other video chat services such as MSN Live, QQ and Google Talk, the researchers said.
Ross will present the results of the study -- titled "I Know Where You are and What You are Sharing" -- at a computer security conference in Germany next week.