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Everybody’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, 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.
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.
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.
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).
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.”
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.