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BitTorrent unveils secure messaging service to counter 'NSA dragnet surveillance'

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BitTorrent wants to build a secure chat service that will only ever let a message's sender and receiver take a look at what's being sent — encrypted or otherwise. It announced the service several months ago, and today it's detailing how BitTorrent Chat will work. In a blog post, BitTorrent explains that the service will use public key encryption, forward secrecy, and a distributed hash table — a jumble of technologies that mean chats will be individually encrypted and won't be stored on some company's server.

Traditional chat services are vulnerable "to hackers, to NSA dragnet surveillance."

The service is in part a response to the NSA's wide-reaching surveillance programs, among other privacy concerns. "It’s become increasingly clear that we need to devote hackathons, hours and resources to developing a messaging app that protects user privacy," Christian Averill, BitTorrent's director of communications, writes in a blog post. Because most current chat services rely on central servers to facilitate the exchange of messages, Averill writes, "they're vulnerable: to hackers, to NSA dragnet surveillance sweeps."

BitTorrent chat aims to avoid those vulnerabilities through its encryption methods and decentralized infrastructure. Rather than checking in with one specific server, users of BitTorrent chat will collectively help each other figure out where to route messages to. In order to get started chatting, you'll just need to give someone else your public key — effectively your identifier.

Exchanging public keys doesn't sound like the simplest way to begin a chat, but Averill tells The Verge that BitTorrent hopes to make it easy enough for anyone interested. "What we're going to do is to make sure there are options for how this is set up," Averill writes in an email. "This way it will appeal to the more privacy conscious consumer as well as the less technically inclined."

BitTorrent isn't quite ready to detail how that'll work or what it'll be like to actually use the service though. For now, it remains in a private testing phase that interested users can apply for access to. There's no word on when it'll be open to everyone, but with all of the recent surveillance revelations, it's easy to imagine that some people will be eager to get started.

Evan Rodgers contributed to this report.