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Does that sound too good to be true?  It isn't.  Does it sound too complicated (like most email encryption programs) to use?  It isn't.  Does it sound like vapor-ware, to be released "real soon now"?  Nope:  you can get it now.  It's free (FOSS).

OK; it's in Beta.  But it's usable as is.  And no, right now it's not going to replace your everyday email.  However there are those of us who need to be able to communicate without having our email read, and without having the metadata attached to it added to NSA's databases:  metadata like the person it's going to, or what the sender's address is, or the location of either party.  There are journalists here on Dkos; activists who are constantly getting hassled by the powers that be; citizens of countries that are even worse than the U.S. about surveillance (Edit:  hmmm... let's say countries that have worse ramifications for their surveillance), whose freedom is at risk just posting here.

It's an offshoot of the Bitcoin project (which I have been involved with for over two years now).  It's called Bitmessage.  And it's pretty cool...

So I will try to explain it as generically as possible - because I'm reasonably sure there are folks here who will find Bitmessage to be useful, at the least.  If you have an interest, hit the website (below) - it's very detailed.

Fair Disclosure:  While I was a large network designer and admin for about twenty years, I am not a security professional.  The developers are known and trusted in the Bitcoin community, and are pursuing a full-blown, third-party security audit.  Prudence and thoughtful vetting is therefore indicated, in proportion to your individual security needs.

Bitmessage is a P2P email client that you install on your computer.  Windows, Linux or iOS (although iOS is "lightly tested").  It works more-or-less the same as Bitcoin: there is a thing - a big, single file - called a blockchain (actually the file name is messages.dat) that everybody gets all of, and which updates all the time.  It is fully encrypted.  All of the messages sent by everyone who uses the system are in that file - but you can only decrypt those messages intended for you.  When you send a message to someone it is encrypted and placed into the blockchain with all of everybody else's messages - but the only person who can decrypt that one message is your intended recipient.

The blockchain of Bitcoin is huge now, of course.  It's up to around 9GB.  That really wouldn't do for Bitmessage, where you have to download and constantly update it to get all the latest messages.  So the developers truncate the file at two days worth of messages.  Stuff older than two days is automagically deleted.  * shrug *  Who doesn't pick up and respond to their email within two days when they're dealing with important stuff?

So... metadata.  With this scheme there is no metadata.  When you send a message, you don't leave your 'address' anywhere; you're just inserting some encrypted information into the blockchain.  When you receive a message there is no address for it to go to; what you're doing is scanning the entire blockchain for any part of it that your client can decrypt - if your client finds something that can be decrypted then it's a message for you.  If your client can't decrypt any part of the blockchain, then you have no new messages.  It's easy to see how this eliminates address and location metadata, no?

Spam has been made quite difficult.  Part of the scheme is what is called 'Proof of Work'.  You can't send a message unless you do some work to help support and propagate the Bitmessage network.  It's kind of like you can't have dessert until you eat those damn peas.  So when you send a message your computer screws around for three or four minutes in the background, doing some work - then your message is added to the blockchain and transmitted.  If you're familiar with Bitcoin, this is similar to the mining process, but much less computationally intensive.

Do you have a favorite email client?  It's Thunderbird, right?  No?  Ummm... bummer.  Thunderbird is pretty much it right now - but the rest of them are coming.  You can find integration instructions for Thunderbird in the Bitmessage Forum - but some other clients are said to work with some effort  C'mon - it's in Beta.  And you don't really need an email client - Bitmessage has its own graphical user interface (GUI), and it's fine using it that way.

Does it work with Tor?  Yes.  With your firewall?  Yes.  See the FAQ.  You may have to bypass your anti-virus scanner (i.e., click on "Install Anyway" and maybe add Bitmessage to your Whitelist if you get a pop-up warning).

Can it be used in Portable Mode (run off a thumbdrive so you can take it all with you and leave nothing on the computer you're running it with)?  Yes.

You get Delivery Receipts, and there is also a kind of 'group' type email called Broadcast.

The website is

The Windows client is a one-click startup for XP and above:  just a *.exe executable.  Linux and iOS users will have to do a little command line work - but it's straightforward.  The FAQ is pretty thorough, and there's a link to a practical installation and use guide by somebody else (the CryptoJunky link on the Home Page) that's good:  I recommend it.

There's an Echo Server you can send your first message to - round trip theoretically takes a few minutes, when the server is up (it's in Beta... remember?).  It can take quite awhile for your first messages to be returned, in practice.  Don't despair:  it works.

My Bitmessage address is:


(But in the client you can give those weird addresses a name...)

Drop me a line if you like.  I'm still learning it, and practice makes perfect.  I may also be faster than the Echo Server, on a day when I'm checking messages.

And if you think that's something, there's a group working on a Twitter replacement called BitChirp.

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Comment Preferences

  •  How do they distribute the private keys? (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jaime Frontero, kyril, 3rdOption

    The system needs the recipient to have a private key to decrypt the messages sent to him.  Do they create a private key each time you download the client?  The private key would have to match the public key that is implied by the Bitmessage address, but not be derivable (using a feasible amount of computing power) from the public key.  The white paper on the website does not discuss this aspect.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 08:49:24 PM PDT

  •  I like it, but wonder if the file will get too big (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Jaime Frontero, kyril

    if more and more people use it.

    And can't PRISM try to capture the changes to the files and figure out how it changed after it left someone's computer? Although, if PRISM has to keep capturing the whole file for later analysis every time it leaves someone's device, that 9GB may add up pretty fast.

    -We need Healthcare Reform... but i'm selfish, I Need Healthcare reform-

    by JPax on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 10:48:44 PM PDT

    •  File size issues are minor... (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      ...compared to Bitcoin.  Right now my messages.dat file is about 25MB.  It gets a little bigger as more messages are added, smaller as they're deleted.

      But you only have to download that file once - and it's about ten seconds to do that with a fast connection.  After that, you're just downloading the latest messages.

      25 MB is literally nothing, these days.  Also, there are standard database tools available to compress and/or purge the database.  Those tools run automatically once a month, in any case.

      And no - PRISM can't do any meaningful diffs on the messages.dat file.  Base encryption is actually better than Bitcoin.  For an absolutely fascinating article on what it would take to crack Bitcoin, see here [Thermodynamics limits on cryptanalysis]:

      We're talking the energy output of galaxies...

      Also, the messages.dat file changes constantly - whether or not you've sent or received a message.

      It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

      by Jaime Frontero on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 11:31:55 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  Addenda: (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        When I checked in the client, that 25 MB messages.dat file had about 6,300 messages in it.

        That's two days worth of email.

        So if the file grew to a whole Gigabyte, that would be 250,000 emails.  Or a transfer rate of about a million emails a week.

        And really, a Gig just isn't that much, in these days of Terrabyte-sized harddrives.

        It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

        by Jaime Frontero on Fri Jul 05, 2013 at 11:52:17 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

        •  1G not that much on a hard drive, but (0+ / 0-)

          too much if you have to download it more than once. And you will if it turns over completely every 2 days.  Does this file contain the emails from everyone in the system? I could see things getting unwieldy pretty quick if this became popular.  Also the 2 day limit wouldn't work when people go on vacation, say, backpacking, without their devices.

          •  For those of us familiar with Bitcoin... (0+ / 0-)

            ...the download issues don't really exist.  Yes - you only download it once, and updates are completely non-intrusive and small.  That part of the system draws entirely from Bitcoin, and it's very well-designed, with a rich history of development.

            But it seems like you haven't really looked over the website - you should, if you have any interest at all in these kinds of systems.

            And really - I think you're kind of missing the point...

            Also the 2 day limit wouldn't work when people go on vacation...
            This is not (as I mentioned in my intro) something to replace your regular email.  It is a high-security system, designed  - at the moment, anyway - for people who need this level of protection.  Anyone who is using it will not be going on vacation when they're waiting on an email...

            It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

            by Jaime Frontero on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 12:05:19 PM PDT

            [ Parent ]

  •  Be Careful (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    3rdOption, wilderness voice, CroneWit

    Anything encrypted or without a readable address is allowed to be collated and tracked by the NSA under the present rules.

    Suggest you read the secret memos published by The Guardian.

    And detected/suspected use of Tor will get you watch-listed.

    Frankly, anything not air spaced should now be considered fair game - hate to say that, but it seems to be true.

    400ppm : what about my daughter's future?

    by koNko on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 12:41:45 AM PDT

    •  Yes. Of course, the encryption battles... (2+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      3rdOption, aznavy

      ...were fought long ago, by Phil Zimmermann and others.  He (we) won.  Carefully implemented, using it is legal and still safely within the 4th.

      My suggestion would be for everyone to use as much encryption as possible - on everything they do.  Because freedom.

      I also believe everyone with a wireless router capable of doing so, should offer some small part of their bandwidth for free, to passers-by.  Segregating a channel is easy and secure - and it falls under the heading of neighborliness, for me.  It's also a reasonable component of personal deniability for those who might want that.

      Speaking strictly to Bitmessage, I'll point out again that there are no readable addresses.

      And Tor is, itself, a creation of our intelligence services (ONI, precisely).  It's slow and I don't use it, but one of the reasons it was put out there was for people living under repressive governments to be able to protect themselves in their quest for freedom.

      Ah, irony - thy name is Poindexter...

      But above all - no fear.

      It ain't called paranoia - when they're really out to get you. 6 points.

      by Jaime Frontero on Sat Jul 06, 2013 at 02:05:25 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

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