How to add a layer of privacy to your conversations using Tor Messenger

How to add a layer of privacy to your conversations using Tor Messenger

Image: Jack Wallen

Tor Messenger is an anonymous cross-platform messaging app based on the open source Instantbird that allows you to chat via the anonymous Tor network on Jabber (XMPP), IRC, Google Talk, Twitter, Yahoo, and more. It seems Facebook Messenger has been removed from the list of supported account types. Tor Messenger is incredibly easy to use and offers up a level of security and anonymity the standard messaging clients cannot. This could come in handy when you're chatting about sensitive information. Out of the box, Tor Messenger enables Off-the-Record (OTR) Messaging automatically and offers a user-friendly GUI with multiple languages.

Let's "install" Tor Messenger and add an account.

"Installation"

I place installation in quotes because any installation will depend upon your platform. For example, if you download Tor Messenger for Linux (from the Tor Messenger download page), you simply extract the downloaded file, change into the newly created directory and, from a terminal window, issue the command ./start-tor-messenger.desktop. That command will simply run Tor Messenger—no installation necessary. If you download the Windows file, you actually do install the application by double-clicking the downloaded .exe file and walking through the standard installation wizard. If you download the file for macOS, you need to double click the downloaded .dmg file and then, in the resulting window, copy the Tor Messenger application from the disk image to your local disk before running it.

That's all there is to "installation."

I'll be demonstrating setting up an account for Tor Messenger on Elementary OS.

Usage

When you start up Tor Messenger, you'll be asked how to connect to the Tor network. You can either connect directly to the Tor network (by clicking Connect), or if you need to configure a bridge or local proxy, click Configure (Figure A). In many instances, you can simply click Connect and Tor Messenger will automatically connect to the Tor network.

Figure A

Connecting Tor Messenger to the Tor network.

Once it has connected, you are ready to add an account.

When you first open up Tor messenger, you need to add an account. To do this, click Tools | Accounts. In the resulting window (Figure B), select the type of account you want to add, and then when prompted walk through the process of connecting Tor Messenger to that account.

Figure B

Connecting your account to Tor Messenger.

There is one caveat to using Tor Messenger with Google Hangouts. If you make use of two-factor authentication (which you should) you must authenticate with an app password. To create an app password, head over to the App Password page and generate a new password for Tor Messenger.

Once authenticated, a tab will open in Tor Messenger, where you can find a contact and start a conversation. By default, conversations are not private. If you want to start a private conversation, click on the lock button in the upper right corner of the conversation (Figure C) and Tor will attempt to start an Off-The-Record (OTR) conversation with your contact.

Figure C

Attempting a private (encrypted) chat with Tor Messenger.

If you attempt to launch an OTR conversation with someone on Google Hangouts or Twitter, and they aren't using Tor Messenger, they will be prompted to download and install this Off-The-Record plugin. Without that plugin, they will not be able to join the private conversation. If, on the other hand, they are using Tor Messenger, the OTR conversation will go off without a hitch.

A handy tool for secure chatting

If you're looking for the means to chat securely on certain networks, Tor Messenger is an outstanding tool. The software is still in beta, but it does work well. If Tor can manage to roll in the likes of Facebook Messenger, it'll be a no-brainer for those looking to add anonymity and privacy to their social media chats.

Also see

  • How to install Tor for Chrome for even more private browsing (TechRepublic)
  • How to make Tor less vulnerable to RAPTOR attacks (TechRepublic)
  • Serious about online privacy? Try these 2 browsers (TechRepublic Video)
  • Concerned about browsing privacy? Here's how to install Firefox Focus (TechRepublic)
  • A serious Tor browser flaw leaks users' real IP addresses (ZDNet)