There are many applications from which to choose for peer-to-peer encrypted messaging. However, not all of these applications guarantee privacy and encryption. Briar, a new instant messaging service running on the Tor network, is currently in beta and is available for Android. The app passed a major security audit, indicating that things are looking positive for now.
Briar is a Messaging App Worth Keeping an Eye On
There is no shortage of instant messaging applications in the mobile ecosystem today. Most people use Skype, Telegram, iMessage, Allo, WhatsApp, Viber, and other applications to stay in touch with friends, family, and loved ones. While most of these tools provide end-to-end encryption, they have also faced additional scrutiny from governments and law enforcement agencies. Encrypted communication apps facilitate terrorist activities, or so they claim.
Keeping that information in mind, it is not surprising that we would see even more privacy-oriented instant messaging apps pop up now and then. Signal is an excellent example of communication meeting encryption in a convenient manner. It seems many people pay little attention to less-mainstream applications, however. Keeping communication confidential should be a top priority for consumers and citizens, but very few people actively care enough about it. There are a lot of decent end-to-end encrypted communication tools available today.
Briar is a new application seeking to make an impact in the instant messaging space. The program — which is only available as a beta Android app at present — uses the Tor network to provide privacy and anonymous communication tools. Building such a project out of the blue is not an easy feat. There is also the question as to whether or not solutions such as Briar can deliver on their promises. This is why the team agreed to undergo a security audit, performed by the Cure53 organization.
The results of this audit are positive overall, as Briar for Android handled security and privacy well. There do not seem to be any messy or unnecessary code in its cryptographic measures for securing instant messaging conversations, and no vulnerabilities have been discovered so far. That is rather unusual and impressive for an application which was still in the alpha stage of development. Now that the beta app has been made available to the public, more valuable data and feedback can be collected to ensure there are no security flaws.
What makes Briar so appealing is how it uses a peer-to-peer system without centralized servers. Users exchange messages with one another directly, which is a promising feature. Messages are end-to-end encrypted, use forward secrecy and are sent without any metadata. Without central servers, the app will remain free from censorship as well. Governments and law enforcement agencies will not be too pleased about this aspect of Briar.
Briar uses Tor to exchange messages, yet it can function without Tor access as well. The app can either connect to Wi-Fi networks or use a local mesh of Bluetooth connections to transmit messages to the recipient. Keeping in mind how this project is completely open source, there will be a lot of improvements in the future. There is no estimated launch date for a final version of this app since there is no commercial backing or incentive. A desktop app is something the developers are looking into as well, and we may see a release for iOS in the coming months.