Tox: Skype With Privacy
In an age where online security seems broken, and online privacy an illusion, we need new tools to empower communication without fear that someone is listening, recording, or transcribing every word we say. Tox is one such effort, an alternative to Skype, without all the corporate tentacles. Read on to learn how it works...
What is Tox?
As I explained in an earlier article, Edward Snowden has inspired a slew of data privacy initiatives. One of them, Tox, is a privacy-focused replacement for Skype. Interestingly, it’s being developed by a group of hackers who hang out in the Internet’s most notorious forums.
4Chan is noted for its juvenile and profane rambunctiousness. But there is a tech community there that takes coding, security, and privacy quite seriously. A group of these geeks got together and decided the world needed a more secure alternative to Skype that isn’t under Microsoft’s control and therefore subject to pressures from governments. They created a chat room in which to discuss the project and soon started uploading code. They’ve come up with a novel solution:
Tox requires no servers to relay communications between its users, not even servers hosted by the users themselves. Instead, it relies upon the same technology as Bittorrent, the peer-to-peer networking protocol that spreads bits of files across all the sharers of said files in a way that makes it impossible to say who owns a file, or controls the network. There is no person, human or corporate, for government agents to serve with subpoenas or “national security letters.” Better still, all connections between Tox users are encrypted, so outsiders cannot tell what they are sharing.
Like Bittorrent, Tox is not a concrete program that does only a few specific things; it’s a protocol, like HTTP, that can be implemented in programs wherever they need encrypted, peer-to-peer connections between users. Tox client programs for Windows, OS X, iOS, Android, and Linux can be downloaded at the Tox Wiki site. They have names like uTox and qTox to distinguish them from the protocol.
These clients are in the very early stages of development; they are guaranteed to crash frequently. But if you enjoy being in on the messy part of
childbirth software development, you can help develop Tox by playing with the client software and filing bug reports.
The uTox client is recommended by the Tox developers as the “bleeding edge” client that’s furthest along for the Windows environment. When you download and install it, uTox automatically creates public and private encryption keys for you, eliminating the geeky chore that keeps many users from encrypting their communications. From there, it works a lot like Skype.
Connecting With Other Tox Users
You can add friends to your contact list if they, too, have uTox installed. One thing that was not obvious to me was the difference between my Tox usernyname and my Tox ID. When you first start Tox, your username will be "Tox User". Open the settings panel by clicking the gear icon, and you can give yourself a more suitable name. Next, click the green Copy button to copy the string of numbers and letters which is your Tox ID. To connect with another Tox user, send them your Tox ID, so they can send you a friend request. (Alternatively, you can ask a friend to send you his/her Tox ID, and then send them the friend request.)
Once you're connected, just click on a contact to send an instant message, share a file, or place a VoIP call. If you want to move uTox to another computer, you just have to copy one file that contains your private encryption key and contacts, then install uTox on the new machine.
uTox does group text chat but does not yet support group voice chat (conference calls). Other Skype features are missing, too, and there’s no telling when or if they will be added. The Tox developers are all unpaid volunteers so development will be haphazard. But inexorably, the open-source community will close a lot of the holes that currently enable the NSA (and perhaps other government and non-government entities, both foreign and domestic) to poke their noses into our business.
Your thoughts on this topic are welcome. Post your comment or question below...
This article was posted by Bob Rankin on 26 Sep 2014
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Article information: AskBobRankin -- Tox: Skype With Privacy (Posted: 26 Sep 2014)
Copyright © 2005 - Bob Rankin - All Rights Reserved