Tor, whose name amusingly once stood for The Onion Network, has become the software of choice when keeping your identity on the Internet anonymous and protected. As such, it has also become the bane of those, like some government agencies, who would prefer to have everyone’s private comings and goings within their grasp. Adding to the project’s arsenal of tools, which already includes a web browser, is Tor Messenger, an instant messaging software that tries to offer both convenience and privacy over an established network protocol like XMPP.
XMPP is also known by the name Jabber and is a protocol used by many messaging service, including Google Talk, Facebook Messenger, and more. The project page for Tor Messenger also lists other communication networks and services like IRC, Yahoo, and Twitter. This simply means that Tor Messenger can be used to chat with the very same contact’s you have, without forcing them to use some new but more secure service.
The Tor Messenger adds encryption and anonymity on top of that, including the feature commonly known as Off-the-Record or OTR. The same principles Tor uses to keep you anonymous when browsing the Web is applied here, keeping the user’s real IP address and route hidden from prying eyes. Other popular instant messaging software, like Pidgin and Audium, do offer OTR as well, but they either come as separate plugins to be downloaded or are not enabled by default. In contrast, those critical security features are all turned on in Tor Messenger. You can start chatting securely within seconds after the program is installed. Or at least that’s the promise.
Tor Messenger isn’t perfect, and its developers admit as much. Despite actually rerouting the user’s actual connection to provide anonymity, it still has to send some metadata to the chat service’s central server for authentication and identification, something that hackers could still eavesdrop on. It is, however, a necessary compromise in order to allow users to still keep on using their favorite chat services.
Tor Messenger is still in beta and the open source code still has to undergo critical scrutiny before it is given a green light that it is completely safe to use.