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how to secure instant messagingEverybody’s got secrets. Passwords, Social Security numbers, a safe combination, trade secrets…

Well, we can’t exactly condone corporate espionage (We’ve had enough of that BREAKING: New Gmail Security Flaw. More Domains Get Stolen! BREAKING: New Gmail Security Flaw. More Domains Get Stolen! Read More , thank you very much!). However if you are, as an example, a newly-elected U.S. President, named… I don’t know… Barack (I just pulled that out of nowhere, honest!), with secrets to keep just between you and a friend or sweetie (let’s call her…um…Michelle) over IM, you’re likely going to want some form of encryption between the two of you.

There are several ways to secure instant messaging, but here are the two absolute easiest ways. The first is web-based, because we just adore web-apps.

encrypted instant messaging

how to encrypt messages

You will likely have heard by now of Meebo, the instant-messaging app that only requires your browser. It’s handy for when you’re on, say, your brother’s computer (as I am right now), and you need to get at your contact list. While your IM passwords are always sent through encrypted, secure means, accessing the site via the secure HTTPS protocol like so encrypts your messages as well, allowing for tighter security.

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meebo

As an alternative to Meebo, I suggest Imo.IM, which supports MySpace IM and Skype, forces HTTPS, and is Firefox-sidebar-friendly.

For the easiest and tightest security possible for Barack and Michelle, we’ll need total encryption of all messages and file transfers, between the two chatters.

meebo2

Time for a favorite download of ours, the Pidgin client. You need not do anything fancy yet; Just download, install, and then run the program, adding your IM accounts with the wizard. Your friend must do the same, and then you both must install the Pidgin-Encryption Plugin. Then enable the plugin from Pidgin’s Tools menu (you may need to restart Pidgin for the plugin to be available and show up in the list).

encrypt pidgin

I’m sure that you’re in a hurry to get to your spy games, but relax, we’re almost done! Go ahead and hit Pidgin’s Buddies menu to start a new IM conversation with your friend. Here’s the most important part. You see this padlock icon at the top of your IM window? You both must click on this to enable the encryption.

Pidgin will handle the exchanging of encryption keys, making the secure connection, and other nerdy stuff. Messages sent via this method are fully encrypted from your end to the other, including when routed through your IM network. I call it “Really Simple Security.”

secure instant messaging on Pidgin

Presented above are just two ways to encrypt and secure your instant messaging chit-chat over just about any IM network. We’re always open to other options, so please feel free to post a comment and clue us in on your favorite encryption method.

  1. Johny
    February 12, 2015 at 12:18 pm

    i use vipole messenger, it's great for private instant messaging

  2. B Labs
    January 6, 2010 at 8:28 pm

    A high-level industry business IM software should have built-in encryption and security by default. Otherwise it is not for a business use.

  3. Steve
    November 6, 2009 at 3:30 pm

    I use Brosix.org It automatically encrypts all communication and I don't have to do anything to secure my chats, file transfers etc. Well, almost. I have not to tell my password ;-)

  4. Encryption Software
    October 27, 2009 at 3:44 pm

    I have been using meebo for a while now and I have no complaints. Still, as far as workplace IM'ing goes, I think that any IT person who would be poking around your internet history would probably know what meebo is, and be aware of the fact that there is only one reason to go there. For that reason alone, I would recommend just using your mobile devices for messaging and avoid trying to sneak them at the office. That, of course, depends on your place of work's policies on the matter....

  5. incognito
    May 31, 2009 at 3:15 am

    A program i found today togheter with simp-lite is called flexcrypt, it can do some other things aswell like encypting email, migth be of intrest.

  6. aCorruptRegistry
    April 28, 2009 at 1:04 am

    OTR FTW!!!

  7. Sarah
    February 20, 2009 at 7:16 pm

    Great article. Where's the encryption for Digsby?! I was a fan of Simp-lite for MSN before I switched. Have requested this feature as have many others. If Pidgin can do it...

  8. Nation
    February 10, 2009 at 9:02 pm

    If you are a company you can also use enterprise instant messaging software. I work for one company that makes an enterprise IM (Brosix) and others are out there. It is great because you can build your own IM network and have complete security and encryption... plus you can authenticate users and only add those that you wish to add.

  9. Aibek
    February 10, 2009 at 2:41 am

    Hey Tim, thanks for Pidgin plugins, i can definitely make use of it.

  10. use.it
    February 9, 2009 at 10:51 am

    Desktop IM Client miranda-im.org has Plugins. And it supports most IM networks.

  11. Mackenzie
    February 7, 2009 at 4:28 pm

    Is this the OTR plugin or something new?

    • Tim Watson
      February 8, 2009 at 12:02 pm

      The plugin shown is different than OTR.

  12. USBman
    February 7, 2009 at 3:38 pm

    I might also suggest that a potential Pidgin user check out Pidgin Portable.

    This is a portable version, allowing you to try the program out without having to "install" anything. Heck, you can even use it on a thumb drive, iPod, etc, taking it wherever you go - a convenience not forgotten when you want encryption on the go!

    • Tim Watson
      February 8, 2009 at 11:56 am

      I highly recommend this for portable-apps fans. This is the version I used; I took these screenshots without installing anything on my brother's PC.

  13. Neosix
    February 7, 2009 at 1:10 pm

    OK, nice tips but, I would never send confidential information via IM.

    • Tim Watson
      February 8, 2009 at 11:59 am

      This, of course, is best practice. I'm simply presenting the tools needed in case someone finds themselves in need of them.

  14. Bill Minton
    February 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm

    Check out Simp-Lite

    • Tim Watson
      February 8, 2009 at 11:53 am

      This looks pretty good. I assume that both chatters need to use the program?

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