The Living Thing / Notebooks :

Secure chat systems

Optimising backchannel interjections into your friends' boring meetings

Most communication systems spraypaint your friends’ houses with dick picks. Metaphorically. Usually metaphorically.
Most communication systems spraypaint your friends’ houses with dick picks. Metaphorically. Usually metaphorically.

For an visualisation of how the popularity of chat clients increases roughly in proportion to how much of your information is given to unaccountable third parties, see the EFF chat scorecard

tl;dr There are too many chat programs which aspire to security and not enough secure anything else, and we can’t persuade people to use even the secure chat clients, let alone the same chat protocols. Building them is hard and no one is doing it right. The ones that exist are often awful - gossip is that pidgin/adium/libpurple is broken and full of security bugs. Even without bugs it by-design leaks information about your contact list to the server, if not the message content.

Everyone use Signal, or just meet up face-to-face. In a Faraday cage. UPDATE: Thanks to Australia mobile chat clients are no longer secure.

Instant-ish messaging via text and telephony.

The ephemeral nature of chats turns out to be potentially much more practically secure than email, at least if you do it right.

Skype, however, does not do it right; rather, it is an NSA honeypot, and not even an especially usable one.

There are attempts to do it right below as regards confidentiality, but refer also of course to the problem of jurisdiction.

Trumping end to end encryption

Currently, the NSA can tap into a broad range of communications, but have no means to compel communications to be in a form they can monitor. This is likely to change; after all, they will need to be able to hunt down those involved in, or providing support to, terrorist groups like Black Lives Matter and Friends Of The Earth, not to mention the President’s extensive list of enemies. As such, it is quite likely that, at some point during Trump’s first year, end-to-end encrypted messaging systems will be required to provide real-time plaintext to the security services. (Things have already been moving slowly in this direction, and will only accelerate under a president who has expressed admiration for autocrats and a brutishly Hobbesian view of how power works.)

Similar laws are already in force in more established autocracies such as Russia and Turkey. The difference is that American companies, subject to American law, provide many of the communications systems used worldwide, such as Apple iMessage, WhatsApp and Signal. These are likely to be compelled to provide the US homeland-security authorities with the plaintext of all messages coming through them, in real time, and to make whatever changes are necessary to their architecture to achieve this.

With iMessage, this would be theoretically easy to do. iMessage messages are encrypted from end to end, so Apple have no means of reading them, but each message is encrypted several times with the public keys of each of the recipients’ devices (i.e., if you’re sending one to someone with an iPhone and an iPad, your iMessage client will encrypt it with the public keys of both of their devices). Once they are legally compelled to do so, Apple could just quietly add an extra key, whose private key is held by the NSA iMessage ingestion gateway. Given that the entire iMessage system is closed-source and completely under Apple’s control, Apple could push this to all users, without worrying about rogue clients that feed the NSA junk.

UPDATE: This playbook is being used by Australia to break encryption.

Services

Group chat

You want a social media site but for a single project? ## Unfiled Where does keybase fit in all this?