Tor Project launches encrypted anonymous chat app to the public

30 Oct 2015 | Author: | No comments yet »

Tor Just Launched the Easiest App Yet for Anonymous, Encrypted IM.

The anonymity network Tor has long been the paranoid standard for privacy online, and the Tor Browser that runs on it remains the best way to use the web while revealing the least identifying data.

The Tor Project has just released the beta version of Tor Messenger, a chat client that allows for anonymous, “off-the-record” chats based on Tor’s secure browsing system. The Tor instant messaging service is a beta release and took Tor Project developers more than a year to make, promises to create a more private, seamless, accessible way for people to chat securely on the web.

The Tor Messenger is built on the instant messaging client Instantbird, works a lot like Adium, but all chat traffic will be through Tor anonymity network for added privacy. It’s also compatible with the same XMPP or “Jabber” chat protocol used by millions of Facebook and Google accounts, as well as desktop clients like Adium for Mac and Pidgin for Windows. The result is that anyone can download the software and in seconds start sending messages to their pre-existing contacts that are not only strongly encrypted, but tunneled through Tor’s maze of volunteer computers around the world to hide the sender’s IP address. “With Tor Messenger, your chat is encrypted and anonymous…so it is hidden from snoops, whether they are the government of a foreign country or a company trying to sell you boots,” Tor public policy director Kate Krauss wrote to WIRED in a Tor Messenger conversation.

She emphasized that despite those features, the program’s use of a pre-existing chat protocol means users won’t need to rebuild their network of contacts. “You can use your Jabber address and your old contacts–you aren’t reinventing the wheel–but wow, much safer.” Popular IM programs like Pidgin and Adium have long had the option to switch on OTR for encrypted messaging and even send their messages over Tor for anonymity. It even launches with logging disabled, so that users are encouraged to communicate with privacy-friendly, ephemeral messages—though logging can be enabled if users want a record of their chats. “For a conversation that is supposed to be ‘off the record’…you do not want to leave any trace,” says Sukhbir Singh, one of the Tor developers who built the program. “It’s as if the conversation didn’t even happen.” Tor Messenger’s IM anonymity isn’t perfect. It shares the user’s contact info and contact list with the server connecting him or her to anyone on the other side of a conversation—its developers describe this as a necessary compromise to make the program compatible with other XMPP clients.

The Tor Project, a non-profit whose diverse funding sources range from the US State Department to the National Science Foundation to Reddit, has a strong reputation for releasing secure software. The group’s developers point out that they’ve programmed the software in JavaScript wherever possible instead of the libpurple codebase written in C and used by Pidgin and Adium—a piece of code known for its bountiful security bugs. After some auditing and bugfixes, the program is set to become a powerful and popular tool for instant, idiot-proof, and surveillance-resistant communication.

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