2 Major Questions About BitTorrent’s New Chat Service Answered

An era has arrived in which people are more concerned about privacy than ever. For a long time, many have attempted to keep their lives private through many means, in every aspect. Even some encrypted services aren’t completely safe from prying eyes. For the most part, you can find lots of ways to browse the web and exchange emails with a high level of privacy. The same thing can’t be said about chat rooms, though. The makers of BitTorrent are developing a system that hopes to solve the anonymity issue for the world of chat by making its own interface for this. Obviously, you might have some questions about this new service, so I’ll provide some answers.

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Remember when I explained how DHT works? If you don’t, you might want to read up on it, because BitTorrent’s chat service uses the same principle. This means that all chat messages will be transmitted through peer-to-peer (P2P) communication. You’ll discover who’s available by downloading an address list from one of the first people you connect to. This is a very effective way to maintain anonymity, but I doubt that BitTorrent is stopping there. As I understand it, your client will send and receive messages using some form of encryption.

Exactly what type of encryption you’re going to get is beyond me, but I have reason to suspect that BitTorrent will use some type of symmetrical cipher like MSE. This is a safe assumption, considering the type of encryption BitTorrent uses for peer-to-peer file sharing.

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All things considered, bootstrapping into the DHT seems to be the only viable method of achieving as pure a P2P experience as possible. What makes P2P safe is the fact that your chat messages don’t have to be relayed into a central server. All transactions happen strictly between you and the person you’re talking to. It’s when you send public messages that you run into problems. A person who wants to snoop around a chat room only needs to connect to it to gain access to everything people are saying, since the messages will also be relayed to him.

Regarding the encryption, let me once again make it clear that I don’t know exactly what type of encryption this new chat service will be using. But if it’s anything similar to the encryption that BitTorrent uses in its file sharing clients, you really stand little chance of being sheltered from someone who really wants to read your messages. ISPs can, if they wish, block encrypted traffic very easily. A report by Sweden’s Internet Infrastructure Foundation demonstrates that an ISP can easily detect traffic from transmissions using protocol obfuscation very accurately by looking into the first 100 packets’ sizes and directions.

Also, Brian Cohen, BitTorrent’s original inventor, wasn’t exactly enthusiastic about the encryption (when implemented in the file sharing program), saying,

The so-called ‘encryption’ of BitTorrent traffic isn’t really encryption, it’s obfuscation. It provides no anonymity whatsoever, and only temporarily evades traffic shaping.

If BitTorrent’s chat service goes in the same direction, you’re very far from safe.

Of course, there’s a chance they may use public-key asymmetrical encryption (like SHA256). This will be much safer, and it won’t overpower your computer simply because you’re sending some text across the web. The main reason why they had to stick to MSE in their file sharing program is because of the fact that your computer’s CPU would be overworked by heavier forms of encryption while transmitting and receiving enormous loads of data. It also leaves tons of room for bugs, which are unacceptable while you’re leaving something to download. Chat is another beast entirely, but I may be a bit optimistic in speculating that they may use anything similar to SHA256.

BitTorrent has changed the face of the internet, for better or worse. Perhaps this chat service has much more potential than I give it credit for. I’d like to know your opinion on this. If you have any thoughts, leave them in a comment below!