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Utilizing Briar for Offline Communications

Introduction

Offline communication is a valuable tool as it doesn’t depend on internet connectivity. This makes it more reliable and secure compared to online communication.

In scenarios where personal, face-to-face interaction is not possible, such as while snowboarding in a remote area or traveling on a flight without access to stable Wi-Fi, offline communication becomes a convenience or even necessity for some. For example, during a flight, if you are seated away from your friends or family, offline communication can be used to communicate with them.

What Is Briar?

Briar is a free, open-source, secure, and decentralized messaging app designed for use in environments where the internet is unavailable or unreliable. It uses a mesh network to route messages between users, meaning that messages can be sent even if no direct connection exists between the sender and the recipient. Briar is intended for use by journalists, activists, and other people who need secure and private communication, especially in areas where the internet is censored or monitored.

Technology Behind Briar

A full breakdown of Briar’s technology can be found here: https://briarproject.org/how-it-works/

Briar Data Sharing Diagram

Briar uses both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi to route messages between users in its mesh network. The Bluetooth feature is used for short-range communication, allowing for direct communication between two devices that are close to each other. Distance varies device to device view limitations of this post.

The Wi-Fi feature is used for longer-range communication, allowing messages to be sent between devices that are further apart. Briar uses Wi-Fi Direct, a Wi-Fi standard that allows devices to communicate directly without the need for a central router. When two Briar devices are within Wi-Fi range of each other, they can exchange messages directly, without relying on an internet connection.

By using both Bluetooth and Wi-Fi, Briar provides a robust and versatile communication network that can work in a variety of situations, from crowded public spaces to remote areas with limited infrastructure. This makes it a valuable tool for individuals and organizations that need secure and private communication in challenging environments.

Use Cases

While Briar is mainly designed for activists, journalists, and anyone else who needs a safe, easy and robust way to communicate. I’ve identified some practical use cases that are a result of Briar being designed this way.

  • Camping
  • Airplanes
  • Ski Resorts
  • Natural Disasters
  • Search and Rescue
  • Concrete Buildings
  • Underground Buildings
  • Saving Data or Using Fewer Amounts of Data

Limitations

Currently, as of writing this post, Briar is a great instant messaging app… if you are running an android device. It does many things right such as reliability, Briar will work no matter if you have an internet connection or not which is huge for communication reliability. Though it doesn’t come with its downsides listed below

  • Features:
    • Messaging Only
      • No Audio Calls
      • No Video Calls/FaceTime
  • Platform Support:
    • Android (Windows & Linux in beta)
  • App Requirements:
    • Must be running in the background on all devices.
  • Hardware Limitations:
    • Bluetooth & Wi-Fi Direct offer limited range.

Apple

Short Answer: As mentioned above, Briar doesn’t support Apple’s mobile platform iOS, this is mostly due to Apple and their restrictions they have on their apps. I’ve gone ahead and linked some open issues on Briar’s developer platform GitLab

“iOS and iPhone (#445)” – https://code.briarproject.org/briar/briar/-/issues/445

“iOS feasibility study (#2282)” – https://code.briarproject.org/briar/briar/-/issues/2282

Desktop

Briar is currently in beta phase on Windows and Linux with macOS support soon to come. If you plan on using the beta release which can be downloaded here, be sure to expect bugs.

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My Top 3 Cross-Platform Instant Messengers

Introduction

If you live in the US, you probably use an Apple product, as Apple dominates the US market. However, globally, Apple’s market share is not as dominant. In fact, the leading software worldwide is Android, due to its universal and open-source nature, which allows it to be installed on phones from various brands such as Samsung, Google, and Blackberry.

iOS vs Android Market Share (Global)

Competition makes cross-platform instant messaging challenging, mainly due to Apple’s reluctance to open its iOS software to new messaging protocols. Although these protocols are more secure, Apple prioritizes its US market dominance over security. As a result, many people opt for social media apps like Snapchat, Instagram, or Facebook (now called Meta) for ease of communication, but these apps lack encryption and are not as secure as end-to-end encrypted instant messaging apps. A list of insecure apps is provided below.

Insecure Social Medias:

Why?

The primary purpose of social media is to generate revenue through advertisements, so why would they prioritize keeping your personal messages secure when they could sell them for profit? Just search for any social media platform followed by “data breach” or “privacy court case” for evidence.

  • TikTok
  • Discord
  • Snapchat
  • Facebook
  • Instagram

Insecure Messengers:

Why?

Here’s a brief overview of these messengers: they lack end-to-end encryption as standard. iMessage is unique and considered secure when neither the sender nor the recipient backs up messages to iCloud. Apple recently added “Advanced Data Protection” which encrypts iMessages in iCloud backups, so for maximum security both users must have this enabled. However, it’s not a cross-platform messenger.

  • GroupMe
  • Telegram
  • WhatsApp
  • iMessage

Insecure In General:

Why?

SMS messages (green text bubble) are insecure because they can be intercepted by hackers, service providers can access them, and they lack end-to-end encryption. This means that the data transmitted through SMS can be vulnerable to eavesdropping, tampering, and other security threats.

  • SMS

Signal is an instant messaging app created by Signal Messenger LLC that offers secure voice and video calling. With end-to-end encryption, your Signal contacts and personal profile are protected by a PIN, and the server cannot access them. Only those you chat with will have access to your encrypted profile.

Fun Fact:

On October 28th, 2021, Signal received a grand jury subpoena for Signal user data from the Central District of California. The company’s official response to this request included only three pieces of information, the users: their mobile number, last connection date (in Unix millis), and account creation date (in Unix millis). The official response can be read at the following link: https://signal.org/bigbrother/cd-california-grand-jury/

Pros:

  • Fast, Secure, and Private
  • Large Group Chats
  • 4K Video and Photo Sharing
  • High Quality Video and Audio Calling
  • Disappearing Stories and messages (Similar to Snapchat)

Cons:

  • Requires Phone Number

SimpleX – The Signal Challenger

SimpleX Chat is a decentralized instant messenger that does not require phone numbers or usernames for identification. Group chats can be joined by scanning a QR code or clicking an invitation link.

Pros:

  • Secure and Private
  • Large group chats
  • Video/photo sharing
  • Video/audio calling

Cons:

  • Slow large group chats

Briar – The Offline Instant Messenger

Briar is a secure instant messaging app that utilizes the Tor Network to connect to other clients. It also has the option to connect through Wi-Fi or Bluetooth for nearby devices. Its local mesh mode is helpful in areas with limited internet access.

Pros:

  • Most secure & private messenger, but not practical
  • Encrypted messaging & forums
  • Offline messaging via Bluetooth & Wi-Fi
  • Messages stored on device, not in cloud

Cons:

  • No iOS support
  • Requires receiver’s app to be running to send messages