As privacy becomes a greater concern for tech users, the Tor Project is aiming to fill a need with an encrypted message client. The Tor Project said this week that it has released the beta version of Tor Messenger, which it calls an easy-to-use encrypted message client for people concerned about their privacy as well as the potential surveillance of their messages.
Anonymous and Simple
Tor Messenger supports several transport networks, including Jabber (XMPP), IRC, Google Talk, Facebook Chat, Twitter, and Yahoo, according to the Tor Project. It also offers what Tor calls an easy-to-use graphical user interface localized in several languages.
The Tor Project is a non-profit organization that runs the Tor network, a system of routers and servers designed to make it harder to track online users and easier to disguise Internet activity from anyone conducting network surveillance or traffic analysis. It also lets users gain access to hidden areas of the Web hosted on .onion Web sites.
Tor is expecting that the client’s easy-to-use chat interface will accomplish two goals: keeping all of its anti-surveillance protocols out of sight; and removing the complexity usually associated with setting up and using anonymizing services.
"Tor Messenger builds on the networks you are familiar with, so that you can continue communicating in a way your contacts are willing and able to do," the Tor team wrote on its blog.
That mode of communication has traditionally been in a client-server model, meaning that metadata -- especially the relationships between contacts -- can be logged by the server, the Tor team said. "However, your route to the server will be hidden because you are communicating over Tor."
Find the Bugs
We reached out to Tom Raftery, an analyst at RedMonk, who told us that the ideal users for Tor Messenger are non-governmental organizations and activists trying to avoid being spied on. Raftery, who took Tor Messenger for a test drive, said there are obvious flaws that need to be worked out of the client.
"It can’t handle two-factor authentication yet, for example," said Raftery. "But it is a great step in the right direction, and I’m sure the two-factor authentication issue will be resolved quickly enough."
Over the past several years, the Tor team has developed three alpha releases of the Tor Messenger, tested by project contributors to streamline and bug-proof the project. The Tor Project will be asking for feedback and bug reports by users of the beta release.
The Tor team is anticipating that future releases of the message client will fix software issues and release updates on the same cycle as Mozilla's Firefox Extended Support Releases. Future versions might also support encrypted Twitter direct messages, encrypted file transfer and automatic updates. Tor Messenger beta is available for Windows, Mac as well as 32-bit and 64-bit Linux.