June 18, 2012 5:32 AM   Subscribe

TorChat is an instant messaging protocol based upon Tor hidden services, making it perhaps the only instant messaging protocol with any substantive resistance to traffic analysis.

TorChat accounts are basically just the .onion address for a hidden service the client creates when first started.

There are several different clients that implement the TorChat protocol :
- prof7bit's reference client is now a libpurple based Pidgin plugin written in Free Pascal, but the older Python client still works.
- Julien-Pierre Avérous has native Mac OS X version which implements the protocol in C++ (source).
- jTorChat is a portable stand alone client written in Java.

All these clients run their own tor daemon separate from the one started by the Vidalia program in the Tor Browser Bundle, meaning users need not tweak tor configuration files. If however your ISP or country blocks Tor, then you'll need to configure Tor bridge relays manually. All clients provide log windows that tell you how the tor daemon's bootstrapping fares, btw. Also, I found the native Mac OS X client initially corrupted Vidalia's configuration, but everybody plays nicely after several reinstalls of the Tor Browser Bundle.

You may test TorChat by simply sending yourself a message since messages to yourself are routed through the Tor network. I'm kjjhioajgwck2cig though if you feel lonely. Also, check out The Whelk's octopus via projects.
posted by jeffburdges (19 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
MetaFilter: Also, check out The Whelk's octopus.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 5:37 AM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

So this is not a kind of nerdy SF/Fantasy web chat for me to connect with the likes of John Scalzi, Terry Brooks, & China Mieville?
posted by Fizz at 5:40 AM on June 18, 2012 [2 favorites]

I was hoping for a chat client that rendered everything in the voice of Tor Johnson. TIME FOR GO TO BED!
posted by Strange Interlude at 5:52 AM on June 18, 2012 [5 favorites]

As a web chat aside, it appears the developer Nadim Kobeissi (kaepora) was interrogated about Cryptocat by US Border agents.

I'd always ignored web chats like Cryptocat, but apparently it's maintained by the Guardian Project. They're involved with many nifty projects like Orbot, Gibberbot, ObscuraCam, Libsqlfs, and otrfileconverter (share OtR keys between devices), maybe involved with TextSecure too.

Also, Ethiopia has outlawed VoIP services.
posted by jeffburdges at 5:56 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

Hi, everyone, I'm pxcqeszoerodu37m and I have a problem with paranoia.

(I've managed to get my partner, close friends, and immediate family using GnuPG, at least to email me, but interestingly TorChat has been a harder sell. Maybe it's because message privacy is less weird to people than anonymity? To me, using things like Tor, being careful with personally identifiable information, etc. is just an extension of what I was told by the primary school teachers who first showed me the internet in like 1995 -- don't give out your personal information. The Zuckerbergian model of Total Privacy Abandonment therefore seems really bizarre to me, but I think finding it bizarre is becoming a minority view. Anyway, yes, loneliness is a real danger on TorChat, and, moreover, forums in the .onions attract some seriously fascinating-as-subjects-of-anthropological-study-not-as-friends folk. The solution, of course, is to make all of this stuff completely mainstream.)
posted by kengraham at 6:58 AM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

The solution, of course, is to make all of this stuff completely mainstream.

Which often lies in direct opposition to security. For example. Cryptocat is easy to use, without the need to setup servers. You do have to trust the people behind it. Although the source code is open source, you can't determine whether or not the source on git or cvs matches the actual running code. You also have to hope the government doesn't pull an intercept request under a secret warrant.

Now, this all changes if you host the stuff yourself. But that means a not trivial knowledge of servers, operating systems, securing operating systems, hosting services, web servers, and the like. Skimping on the above is asking to get your shit hacked, for the lulz, or for the fedz*.

I will have to admit, I recently downloaded the new version of torbrowser and was impressed at how little configuration was needed to make it work, and how good the defaults were, at least on the mac.

The whole kerfluffle about Dropbox was the same problem. People were complaining about features that made dropbox more compelling to the average user (easy web access, file recovery in case of lost password, etc)

*fedz: perhaps we could use this word for when the powers that be engage in black hatery. Stuxnet, Flame and AT&T Room 641a are for the fedz.
posted by zabuni at 9:00 AM on June 18, 2012 [3 favorites]

You might consider feduhz or 1337 fez as well.
posted by jeffburdges at 9:19 AM on June 18, 2012

Iv'e used WASTE, originally developed by Justin Frankel, on and off over the years. I'm going to have to check this out.
posted by Ad hominem at 9:54 AM on June 18, 2012

you can't determine whether or not the source on git or cvs matches the actual running code.

you can if you compile it.
posted by quonsar II: smock fishpants and the temple of foon at 10:06 AM on June 18, 2012

Anyone notice that anonymous access fails for WASTE again? Odd.

Anyone know much about anonymous semi-persistent message passing networks? In essence, your application simply deposits and retrieves short messages from numbered buckets where they'd survive from months, although eventually the network might cull the old messages. Applications should encrypt their messages because anybody could scrape the buckets or add garbage into any bucket. You could achieve that much with an anonymous ftp server on a Tor hidden service, but maybe snazzy libraries that wrap this behind erasure coding exist as well. I would've naively imagined that Tahoe-LAFS worked this way, but presumably not since they've so much trouble adding append-caps.
posted by jeffburdges at 10:23 AM on June 18, 2012

Is TOR safe for the average internet user (like me). I was tempted to try it after the last TOR post on Mefi, but am a bit cautious.
posted by marienbad at 11:24 AM on June 18, 2012

It is certainly no less safe than doing much of anything over unencrypted HTTP.
posted by LogicalDash at 11:39 AM on June 18, 2012

There is an awful lot of sniffing of Tor exit nodes, well that's how wikileaks launched themselves. It follows that unencrypted traffic through Tor exit nodes is more risky than regular traffic, but the Tor Browser Bundle prevents this by using HTTPS Everywhere though.

In principle, you could hide your physical movements by configuring IMAP, SMTP, etc. through Tor using tsocks or whatever, which requires that you use only their SSL/TSL variants, but doing this ain't trivial anyways

If you run an exit node yourself, then yes your IP might appear doing nefarious things, but Tor isn't configured as an exit node by default. Also, you could act as an internal relay or bridge without incurring any liability, change this under Vidalia's Sharing tab.

There aren't any risks form TorChat though because (a) TorChat never uses exit nodes itself and (b) its tor daemon won't be configured as an exit node.
posted by jeffburdges at 12:02 PM on June 18, 2012

Is there a solid user-friendly (skill level: comfortable with command line but otherwise clueless) linux distro that has all this built in and easy to configure?
posted by fuq at 1:38 PM on June 18, 2012

Which often lies in direct opposition to security.

Maybe. By "mainstream", I just mean "with more users". The threats you mention don't seem too scale-dependent, in the sense that I don't see why having more users increases the likelihood that something doesn't work as advertised ("the code you see is not the code that's running"), or that an increase in user base necessarily induces an increase in the frequency of snooping by the f3ds sufficient to ensure that the probability of any given message being intercepted increases.

For example, I think that if everyone encrypted their email (properly), the world would be an unambiguously better place, privacywise, even if some people were sometimes not careful about whether such-and-such a public key really belongs to the person they want to talk to, etc.

Similarly, if everyone who now uses Skype used some VOIP alternative using SRTP, then I don't think anyone's individual risk of loss of privacy would increase.

Anonymity, as opposed to message secrecy (a la TorChat) might be a different story, but I'm not sure why enlarging the set of users necessarily decreases anyone's resistance to any particular attempt to compromise their anonymity.

(Sample question I have no idea how to answer: would the proportion of malicious exit nodes increase, for some weird reason, if the Tor network became gigantic?)
posted by kengraham at 5:06 PM on June 18, 2012

Is there a solid user-friendly (skill level: comfortable with command line but otherwise clueless) linux distro that has all this built in and easy to configure?

Maybe have a look at TAILS.
posted by kengraham at 5:08 PM on June 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

Okay, I downloaded Torchat (the OSX client linked in the OP), and the first thing that strikes me do I make this persistently me?

If I install it on my Windows desktop, it's going to generate a different hash/Tor address, isn't it, and therefore a different version of me?

I guess there's probably a private key hidden somewhere that defines my account, or something like that, that I could copy over. Maybe that's what the portable client is for.
posted by Jimbob at 7:53 PM on June 19, 2012

It appears the OS X client creates a torchat.conf file and tordata directory in /Applications, assuming it's /Appliacation/ Ain't exactly the correct config process for a Mac OS X application.

Apple leaves /Applications admin writable by default, which imho makes Mac OS X stupidly insecure, but hey. I imagine you secured /Applications by either removing the admin write bit or running as a non-admin user.

I installed mine in ~/Applications instead. Alternatively, you could create these files using roughly :

sudo bash
cd /Applications
touch /torcaht.conf
mkdir /tordata
chown $SUDO_USER:wheel torcaht.conf tordata

posted by jeffburdges at 11:48 PM on June 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

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