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BitTorrent Unveils Secure Chat To Counter 'NSA Dragnet Surveillance' 111

Posted by samzenpus
from the sheilds-up dept.
Hugh Pickens DOT Com writes "Jacob Kastrenakes reports on The Verge that as part a response to the NSA's wide-reaching surveillance programs, BitTorrent is unveiling a secure messaging service that will use public key encryption, forward secrecy, and a distributed hash table so that chats will be individually encrypted and won't be stored on some company's server. 'It's become increasingly clear that we need to devote hackathons, hours and resources to developing a messaging app that protects user privacy,' says Christian Averill, BitTorrent's director of communications. Because most current chat services rely on central servers to facilitate the exchange of messages, 'they're vulnerable: to hackers, to NSA dragnet surveillance sweeps.' BitTorrent chat aims to avoid those vulnerabilities through its encryption methods and decentralized infrastructure. Rather than checking in with one specific server, users of BitTorrent chat will collectively help each other figure out where to route messages to. In order to get started chatting, you'll just need to give someone else your public key — effectively your identifier. Exchanging public keys doesn't sound like the simplest way to begin a chat, but Averill says that BitTorrent hopes to make it easy enough for anyone interested. 'What we're going to do is to make sure there are options for how this is set up,' says Averill. 'This way it will appeal to the more privacy conscious consumer as well as the less technically inclined.' For now, it remains in a private testing phase that interested users can apply for access to. There's no word on when it'll be open to everyone, but with all of the recent surveillance revelations, it's easy to imagine that some people will be eager to get started."
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BitTorrent Unveils Secure Chat To Counter 'NSA Dragnet Surveillance'

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  • OTR (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    How is this different from OTR?

    • Re:OTR (Score:5, Informative)

      by heypete (60671) <pete@heypete.com> on Friday December 20, 2013 @06:58AM (#45744291) Homepage

      How is this different from OTR?

      OTR rides on top of underlying IM protocols (e.g. AIM, ICQ, XMPP, Yahoo Messenger, etc.) and encrypts the contents of communications. IM service providers can still shut down individual accounts, monitor who is accessing them, etc., even if they cannot read the contents of messages.

      With BitTorrent Chat, the service takes advantage of the DHT (similar to "trackerless torrents" that don't have any single point of failure) to provide a decentralized, fault-tolerant means of exchanging data. There's no dependence on a single service -- all users would participate in the DHT, making it an extremely robust system.

      If I read the description properly, it's similar to "OTR-over-DHT" but there's likely substantial differences in the details.

      • by Anonymous Coward

        DHT doesn't seem to be robust or fault-tolerant to me.

        I also don't see how it would provide any anonymity as seems to be claimed.

        OTR over TOR might make more sense.

        • Re:OTR (Score:5, Informative)

          by Stalks (802193) * on Friday December 20, 2013 @07:23AM (#45744365)

          DHT is very reliable. Once a node has been connected a while and established links with many other nodes, traffic is quick and you have the redundancy of many 100s of connections.

          Encrypting the data prior to transport and using DHT would be no worse off from TOR.

          • by MacDork (560499)

            Once a node has been connected a while

            Unfortunately, having a radio on for "a while" is going to put quite a lot of strain on a mobile battery. Still, it's good to see them working on this. Perhaps we could set up relays through a home server that has a power source.

        • by heypete (60671)

          DHT doesn't seem to be robust or fault-tolerant to me.

          How so? The mainline DHT used for torrents has been operating without outages for years, with tens of millions of nodes taking part (with a churn of about 10 million a day). The DHT is self-healing in that if there's a small cluster of nodes that are interconnected with each other but disconnected from the main DHT, a single connection to the main DHT will result in that cluster completely rejoining the main DHT.

          I also don't see how it would provide any anonymity as seems to be claimed.

          Indeed. The system appears to provide decentralized, encrypted communications. That's a very imp

          • You could allow something like this to be anonymous, by allowing addressing to be a relatively poor hash that a message to you would match many people and from there signature checks could determin that the message was in fact for you. The problem comes in that any such system is open to channel poisoning.. many fake messages to a block so that the decryption time becomes costly, and/or you get so many garbage messages that you can't filter out the "real" stuff. This just shows you can do encrypted + dece
      • by Burz (138833)

        An I2P messaging system 'I2PBote' was developed several years ago, and is based on DHT. It has the benefit of decentralization, plus the privacy/anonymity of onion routing.

        Everyone is offering an encryption mode for their apps these days. But they don't address two important factors in privacy: Revealing the who/when/where info (the metadata the NSA is so interested in, for instance), and inconsistency of use. Using a network like I2P for all/most of your communications (including email, chat, bittorrent, e

  • closed source (Score:2, Insightful)

    by Anonymous Coward

    You can't trust a closed source "security" app.

    • Re:closed source (Score:5, Insightful)

      by alphatel (1450715) * on Friday December 20, 2013 @06:39AM (#45744241)
      "It's become increasingly clear that we need to devote hackathons, hours and resources to developing a messaging app that protects user privacy"
      And should also become quite obvious that you need to start vetting coders who are infiltrating projects on behalf of the government. That good old warped 80's tinfoil hat paranoia is the only thing that will save you anymore because it seems it was never wrong.
      • by fak3r (917687)
        I think this could be the phrase of the year, "That good old warped 80's tinfoil hat paranoia is the only thing that will save you anymore because it seems it was never wrong."
      • So I am standing in this honey pot eager to chat. Message me! You know just how safe it is. There can be no greater way to catch criminals than issuing privacy products. Trust me. This is just oh so safe.
    • Re:closed source (Score:4, Interesting)

      by mwvdlee (775178) on Friday December 20, 2013 @06:44AM (#45744261) Homepage

      If the protocol is open, you could build your own app implementing it.

    • by Joce640k (829181)

      You can't trust a closed source "security" app.

      How many different BitTorrent clients are there? How did that happen...?

      • How many different BitTorrent clients are there? How did that happen...?

        It would appear that Bittorrent the company considers the healthy bittorrent/client ecosystem to be a mistake not to be repeated. Like this chat protocol, they have also announced a P2P Streaming protcol - their implimentation will be closed source encumbered with patents that they have threated to use against anyone wishing to start an alternative open client. So even when they openly publish the protocol, it is still of no use the open source community. Don't believe me, take this quote from the horses m [torrentfreak.com]

        • by sqrt(2) (786011)

          There's precedent for the FLOSS community not giving a fuck about software patents. They're not enforceable globally and the internet is still mostly borderless, at least in the "free" world. How many open source media players are out there that technically violate the patents on MP3, Windows and Apple codecs, et al? There's no trouble distributing those.

  • Cryptocat? (Score:2, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward

    Hey, guys, I got this wheel, and I don't like it. Somebody help make a new one with more corners please!

    • Re:Cryptocat? (Score:5, Informative)

      by DuckDodgers (541817) <keeper_of_the_wolf AT yahoo DOT com> on Friday December 20, 2013 @09:57AM (#45744999)
      http://www.wired.com/threatlevel/2012/08/wired_opinion_patrick_ball/all/ [wired.com]
      This means that in practice, CryptoCat is no more secure than Yahoo chat, ... Any host-based system that delivers the encryption engine to you each time you log in, and in which your keys reside on the server, you are never secure against the host (there’s new research on this called “host-proof hosting,” but it’s a long way from being ready to use in real applications). That means that if the host attacks you, or they fail to protect themselves, your encrypted data will be available to them. Remember that the host might attack you because someone evil has taken control of the host. If you are the hypothetical dissident in the Middle East, your government might contract a hacker to break into the CryptoCat server, Hushmail, or other host-based server, and thereby get access to all your data. Or they could bribe an employee at a host-based service. Again: in host-based security, all your security rests on your personal trust for the people at the host, and their ability to protect the server. There’s no real security in a technical sense.
    • by Jakeula (1427201)
      My first thought was RetroShare. This is obviously different than RetroShare, but RS works already and offers a secure method of communication.
  • by Raxxon (6291) on Friday December 20, 2013 @06:43AM (#45744253)

    Started a shit-storm at AOL..... It was called WASTE...

    • by Luckyo (1726890)

      Problem with WASTE is its hilarious overhead. We had a case where around min 2000s uni network's DC hub was shut down and users moved to WASTE. Suddenly all those intranet 100mbps-1gbps links that you never saw coming close to 10% usage were getting saturated as WASTE bounced every file transfer several times between nodes to obfuscate sender/receiver.

      • by Raxxon (6291)

        Never said it was efficient or effective, just that it was a "prior attempt" and indicated the shit storm that ensued. Had WASTE continued proper development they may have worked those issues out the same way ID Software did with the original release of DOOM (seriously, BROADCAST networking? ouch!)

      • Try Retroshare. Same idea, much better implementation.

      • by CastrTroy (595695)
        Yeah, but it would probably be fine is people stuck to chat and sending a few pictures back and forth. People were probably trying to shared all kinds of files including videos over a system that wasn't really designed for that kind of traffic.
  • by mentil (1748130) on Friday December 20, 2013 @06:55AM (#45744281)

    If the public/private key pair is created at account creation, then people accustomed to everything being in the cloud will frequently forget to backup their private key (which isn't stored on any central server). A common occurrence will be "Hey Alice, it's Bob. I lost my private key so this is my new account now." Potentially, Bob is in jail and a fed is masquerading as him.

    Also from my experience with DHT, it doesn't work unless you already know an IP running the protocol -- who you usually find through, yes, a centralized server. If that server were TOR-based it might work, but then that raises the question of what functionality is added by this protocol that a messaging program running thru TOR doesn't offer. Having Mixmaster-style message queueing in addition to onion routing would offer improved resistance to topology attacks as well. I'm referring to TOR's hidden services protocol, by the way, rather than the standard web proxy where an unencrypted message would be sent to a messaging server after several encrypted hops.

    • by MoonFog (586818) on Friday December 20, 2013 @07:06AM (#45744319)
      So what you're saying is that the police forces would have to use old-fashioned police work and target individuals they suspect rather than mass collect everything? Yes, clearly that proves this is a wasted effort.
      • by tlhIngan (30335)

        So what you're saying is that the police forces would have to use old-fashioned police work and target individuals they suspect rather than mass collect everything? Yes, clearly that proves this is a wasted effort.

        Yeah. They'll go for lower hanging fruit instead, and let the legislative bodies suffer from crimes that they "could have" solved had they enough "for a warrant" and all that stuff.

        Remember, there are three pillars - you have the executive, the legislative, and the judicial (law enforcement). If t

    • by Joce640k (829181) on Friday December 20, 2013 @07:36AM (#45744413) Homepage

      This is to stop mass spying/trawling.

      If your contacts are all in jail then you have bigger problems.

    • by Chozabu (974192)
      Sure - when it is new, people will make mistakes. give people a few scandals, a few years - perhaps even a few generations and people will remember to backup their private key. Or we will have private keys in secure distrib storage!
    • by Anonymous Coward

      If the public/private key pair is created at account creation, then people accustomed to everything being in the cloud will frequently forget to backup their private key (which isn't stored on any central server). A common occurrence will be "Hey Alice, it's Bob. I lost my private key so this is my new account now." Potentially, Bob is in jail and a fed is masquerading as him.

      If I'm emailing you on average at least once every day or every other day to recall the passphrase, losing a private key should not be any more "common" for people than their hard drive crashing, which isn't THAT common. As far as data loss, I've got no sympathy for those morons who never back up when autosync cloud storage software is being pimped for free all over the damn place.

      As far as masquerading, I've also have no sympathy for the idiot who loses their wallet and chooses not to inform their bank of

    • by Anonymous Coward

      What? No.

      Once DHT is started by 2 separate peers and grows, it can be maintained 100% without a parent server unless the entire internet dies for any length of time and the IP records scrambled. That is the only way to take down a full DHT implementation and not just a half-assed one.
      That is unlikely to happen any time soon. (having to put soon in there saddens me)
      And if you have enough peers that are active enough, or have static IPs, it becomes even more stable.

      The problem with Tor is that anyone can

  • Then maybe you shouldn't be using the Internet. Just because a child can reach the steering wheel of a car doesn't mean that they should drive.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      A $1000 plane ticket just to exchange some key pair is a bit expensive.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    WASTE was a decentralized peer2peer chat tool which sounds very similar to what bittorrent wants to build.
    You can still download and use WASTE and have this capability now.
    Way to go bittorrent - someone needs to do this en masse.

    WASTE was traditionally hard to establish large networks with - lets hope bittorrent succeeds in this regard.

  • I'm not exactly a crypto-guru.. but if exchanging a key with your friend to ESTABLISH secure chat.. wouldn't you first have to send that key through unencrypted channels? - assuming you are far enough away that face-to-face isn't an option (and in that case, why even use this?)
  • by Anonymous Coward

    How will this hinder collection of meta data? The participants still talks to each others directly (its p2p not peer-thru-peer)? And people have usernames (public key) instead of email addresses?

  • by Tom (822) on Friday December 20, 2013 @08:26AM (#45744581) Homepage Journal

    The primary issue will be the same as for PGP (anyone use that? wait, let me rephrase that: anyone know of any non-geek people who use it?): User acceptance.

    Unless it's as easy not only to use but also to add contacts as FB chat, AIM, ICQ, Skype, Google+, etc. etc. it won't get the critical mass it needs.

    What good is a secure chat if you don't have anyone you can chat to?

    • by Pichu0102 (916292)

      If it behaves anything like Retroshare, it would have the users exchange keys, and not let them connect until each has the other's keys and allows the connection. Nintendo online players have been doing something similar for a while with friend codes, so I don't see why this needs to be so difficult.

  • We already have this program.

    It's called Retroshare.

  • This of course does not stop the NSA / MI5 etc. breaking into your house and putting a few bugs in.

    • by KingOfBLASH (620432) on Friday December 20, 2013 @08:48AM (#45744667) Journal

      Breaking into houses takes time and resources. Much more so then if the NSA can simply watch all your chat, archive it in a huge data center in utah, and then do a search through your histories.

      So when spy agencies have to work the old fashioned way, even if they disrespect the need for warrants they still can't spy on everybody. If they can just do a search through your data, they are effectively watching everyone

      • Exactly. Individual, resource-intensive, and especially judicially approved (a warrant from a court that is not secret) surveillance and search is fine, that's a routine part of law enforcement.

        What we have now, and what we need to stop, is having the government or any other organization know almost everything about everyone on a routine basis. That's the path towards dictatorship.
    • by Sloppy (14984)

      I agree. Someone once told me I should not go out at night, walk naked (except for a hundred dollar bill pasted to each of my nipples) to the highest-crime district in my city, and start yelling "Some of my best friends are you people!" They said I would be safer if I behaved differently, stayed home instead, and STFU-ed up with my crazy rants.

      I explained that even if I behaved differently, that doesn't stop the Russians from launching a nuclear ICBM strike, killing us all, including me. Safe is safe, uns

  • Everyone should have their communications privacy by default, not having to hunt downs means to keep their privacy. Services like these end up being used mostly by paranoids and people with malicious intent. So in some respects the government officials have a point in wanting to shut down initiatives like these. On the other hand initiatives like these only exist because the government wants to control everything.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    anybody interested in this sort of thing shoulc check out retroshare. Can also use the DHT to find peers.

    Encrypts everything with pgp keys. And only connects with trusted peers.

    I would trust an open source project like retroshare more than aa commercial company like bittorrent for this sort of thing.

    • Yes yes yes! Finally someone else who sees how important Retroshare could be, if only more were aware of it.

  • How does this compare with https://bitmessage.org/ [bitmessage.org] ?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      I just thought the same thing. Encrypted communication, hides metadata/senders/recipients, PLUS it's open-source.

  • Unless you're meeting in person to exchange physical media, there's not really a secure way to do so.
    E-Mail? Hah!
    File lockers? Hah!
    BitTorrent? Hah!
    Encrypted file transfer through another IM client? Hah!

    Basically, setup becomes this tiny set of flaming hoops that you're somehow expected to jump through simultaneously.

  • by RanceJustice (2028040) on Friday December 20, 2013 @11:30AM (#45745731)

    Much like MEGA, the other projects of BitTorrent labs (most notably - Snyc), and a whole host of pseudo-security minded programs and services popping up recently, this is sadly proprietary bullshit. Much like BitTorrent Inc absorbing uTorrent as the main client etc... they've repeatedly demonstrated that they view their greatest success - the Bit Torrent protocol itself, as a mistake to be avoided. Why did BitTorrent itself grow to be so prevalent? Exactly the thing they seem to hate - its openness. BitTorrent protocol and most of its extensions (ie DHT, uTP, PEX and more) are all free and open source, to be implemented in a variety of clients. This is its greatest strength, from the slashdot-reading hacktivist running Deluge/Transmission/rTorrent, to World of Warcraft's client updater/patcher, BitTorrent is not just a great protocol for both tracker-based and trackerless sharing, but its implementations are as wide as can be and interoperable.

    I am not sure why BitTorrent Inc has decided to treat this as a weakness, and develop yet another proprietary software-as-a-service, centrally managed debacle. While there seems to be some casual lip service paid to FOSS and promises of openness, I haven't seen any examples that they're actually interested in such things. For instance, the javascript Torque API which is supposed to bring BitTorrent to the web browser, doesn't seem to be compatible with any clients aside from the official BitTorrent/uTorrent clients themselves! Other "labs" projects like Live, Surf, and Sync are similar in this regard, being designed only for approved first-party clients.

    So long as this ideal reigns, I won't be using these projects. Especially when it comes to privacy and security it is simply too important than to trust a proprietary, unverifiable item of this sort. There are already a variety of projects that offer better privacy and more secure messaging - RetroShare for instance. If you're interested in some of the best, check out www.prism-break.org for a directory of privacy and security respecting, mostly FOSS, programs for many uses. Until those like BitTorrent Inc wake up and realize that openness is one of their greatest strengths, I don't see any reason to consider what they provide.

    • by Burz (138833)

      I2P has a DHT based messaging system available. The whole stack is fully open, and the underlying protocol is actually like a marriage between bittorrent and Tor-- users are expected to relay traffic thus contributing greater bandwith and anonymity to the network.

      I2P also has anonymized bittorrent built-in, so I'm not sure what this new bt chat brings to the table. It seems like too little too late to me.

    • by virtigex (323685)
      Disclaimer, Chat team member here. Chat is based on the Distributed Hash Table DHT and Arvid Nordberg, the head engineer on this project, has just released our DHT bootstrap code as open source on github. At the start of this project, we frequently ask ourselves why anybody should trust us over any other group. The only answer that we could come up with is increased transparency. http://engineering.bittorrent.com/2013/12/19/dht-bootstrap-update/ [bittorrent.com]
  • Hopefully they weren't stupid enough to roll their own key format, and instead, they use standard OpenPGP keys. That way, people can have MitM-proof verified-identity conversations if they want that (and can tune the degree of MitM-proofing that is needed) but also have MitM-vulnerable pseudonymous conversations if they don't (for cases where you'd prefer to be anonymous).

    When you're talking to your wife, it's ok for her to know who you are, and you to know you're talking to her, so you'd use the keys that

  • Seriously, how do you know you can trust this thing?

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Signing up requires java script to be enabled. Are they tracking you? Email address is also required, but you could give them mixnym.net address to obscure that.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      And then there is this:

      We need to confirm your email address.

      To complete the subscription process, please click the link in the email we just sent you.

      Boy, are they interested in privacy NOT!

  • in it's level of respect for the user and their computer. i installed the BT client on my mac, and it went into the preferences of firefox, safari, and chrome and changed my default search engine to yahoo, then set it so the yahoo home page loads every time i start the browser.

    disgusting. i'll never install another product from these guys.

  • IETF has a working group called P2PSIP which is basically the same thing as mentioned here except over SIP. Basically it is an extension to SIP called REsource LOcation And Discovery (RELOAD), and it allows people to make and receive telephony/video calls over SIP/RTP over a completely decentralized infrastucture, ie. without the phone company. 911 and other stuff hasnt been worked out yet so I dont see it replacing the incumbent telcos at this time, but at the very least it seems like a nice anonymous and

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