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Tor Messenger Beta Has Been Released

On October 29, the Tor Project released the beta version of the Tor Messenger. The Tor Messenger is an anonymous cross-platform chat program that aims to be as secure as possible while being able to send and receive messages in real time. The Tor Messenger supports a wide variety of transport networks, such as Jabber (XMPP), IRC, Google Talk, Facebook Chat, Twitter, Yahoo, and many others. The program enables Off-the-Record (OTR) Messaging automatically and has an easy-to-use graphical user interface localized into multiple languages.

The Tor Messenger is based on Instantbird, this is an instant messaging client developed by the Mozilla community. In the announcement of the Tor Messenger Beta, the developers say that they have been thinking whether to choose Instantbird or Pidgin for messaging client. They have chosen Instantbird for many reasons. The official statement goes by:

”Instantbird was the pragmatic choice — its transport protocols are written in a memory-safe language (JavaScript); it has a graphical user interface and already supports many natural languages; and it’s an XUL application, which means we can leverage both the code (Tor Launcher) and in-house expertise that the Tor Project has developed working on Tor Browser with Firefox. It also has an active and vibrant software developer community that has been very responsive and understanding of our needs. The main feature it lacked was OTR support, which we have implemented and hope to upstream to the main Instantbird repository for the benefit of all Instantbird (and Thunderbird) users.”

The Tor team is stating that their messenger is mostly anonymous, however, there are weaknesses too. For example, the communication goes through the traditional client-server model, which means that the user’s metadata (specifically the relationships between contacts) could be logged by the server. However, this shouldn’t be a big problem since the route to the servers are hidden, because the user is using Tor. There are systems, such as Pond and Ricochet, that are trying to solve this issue and make the messenger completely anonymous.

Tor public policy director, Kate Krauss has been interviewed by the WIRED in a Tor Messenger chat.

”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,” said Krauss. She also stated that despite the privacy in instant messaging, the contacts will be saved, so users won’t necessarily need to rebuild their whole list of contacts.

“You can use your Jabber address and your old contacts–you aren’t reinventing the wheel–but wow, much safer,” she stated.

Sukhbir Singh, one of the main developers of the Tor Messenger states that users should be aware that the program is still running in a beta phase:

“Please note that this release is for users who would like to help us with testing the product but at the same time who also understand the risks involved in using beta software.”

Since the Tor Messenger is in a beta phase, it can’t be used now as a fully anonymous chat service, however, later on, it has a big potential for accomplishing this goal.

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