Can We Chat Privately About This?

The makers of the eponymous anonymous Tor Browser (see what we did there), have released an early version of their new chat program – Tor Messenger – for those of us looking for a more private communications experience online. It’s not ready for official release, but for the adventurous interested in testing a tool and sharing feedback to improve security, you can give it a try.

How does it work?

Tor Messenger is a chat program, currently Windows and OS X, that functions with most of your already existing chat services, including Google Chat, Twitter, IRC, and Facebook Chat. Essentially, you connect to the Tor network through the app, and then you’re able to communicate through your pre-existing messaging services more securely.

Is it really secure?

Not yet – it’s still in beta. Generally speaking, Tor’s developers work aggressively to keep their users secure. They’ll likely be the first to tell you that developing completely secure methods of communication is a formidable challenge.

Take the smart phone. This is more than likely the device you chat on the most. Privacy with this technology is complicated, since essentially, it’s a computer in your pocket revealing your location 24-hours a day. Tor Messenger conceals your how you connect to the servers of services (like Facebook Messenger) – but there are other concerns it doesn’t address that can impact your privacy.

Our upcoming digital security guide created with eQualit.ie will be available to help you explore some of these issues. For now, below are a few suggestions that may improve how you think about securely communicating online.

Being Anonymous While Using Your Phone

There is no actual way to be anonymous while using your phone. Simply put, mobile phone tracking is a well-established technology that can only be prevented by removing your phone battery, and your SIM card is directly linked to your account or point of purchase. Browsing the internet anonymously is still a possibility, and can be done with the OrWeb browser on Android and the Onion browser on iPhone.

Communicating Securely

Security researchers and privacy advocates typically do not recommend using mobile phones or smartphones for secure communication given the issues mentioned above. With that said, some methods do exist for users looking to make their communication a little harder to crack.

Securing Phone Conversations

There are few choices for having an encrypted conversation while using your phone’s cellular network. CryptoPhone is perhaps the only available commercial solution, but both parties will need one for a secure call. Additional options exist for Android and iPhone users through a Voice over IP or VPN approach when encrypting your calls. This requires a steady internet connection however, and the same application for all conversing parties. SilentPhone is a commercial multiplatform solution, while LinPhone and Signal are freely available for Android and iPhone users respectively.

Send and Receive Secure Messages from Your Phone

Messaging apps are the most popular method of communicating through smartphones today. Facebook Messenger, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, and SnapChat are used day to day to contact your friends. In general, they are not considered private since the provider has access to your messages.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has put together a handy guide on which apps strive to keep you safe. WhisperSystem, Silent Circle, and Telegram are all potential solutions depending on your platform.

Options for sending a private SMS/MMS (text message) without a data plan or access to the internet from your smartphone are increasingly few. TextSecure was initially a popular option, which eventually halted SMS/MMS support in March 2015. Currently SMSSecure exists for Android users, which is a fork of the original TextSecure application. Unfortunately, there are no known iPhone applications for end-to-end SMS encryption.

Lastly, there is a third way to communicate “off the grid” for smartphone users. FireChat uses the phone’s WiFi or Bluetooth device to establish conversations with other users in the geographic vicinity. You do not need to connect to the cellular or data network. Messages between users in the messaging rooms are not encrypted however. Also note that your cell phone’s location can still be traced if you are within a cellular network.