If you still use email for personal and business communication, it’s time to switch. While email works for basic needs, it starts falling short when you increase your use. With business, as your company grows, you’ll need to use more files, folders, and labels, and email just doesn’t provide for these needs.

An excellent alternative to the classic email model is the Off-the-Record (OTR) messaging system.

Let us look at what this is and why you should know about it.

What is Off-the-Record Messaging?

OTR messaging is basically a cryptography-based protocol which is designed with privacy and security in mind. While there is a lot of detail we can go into, the basic idea revolves around encryption keys.

Anytime two individuals using OTR messaging communicate with each other, the system generates unique encryption keys. These keys are also destroyed when the communication is concluded.

As a result of this rigorous process, OTR messaging offers what is arguably the most secure communication method in the market. Not even the parties communicating can backtrack to the old messages because their decrypt keys have been destroyed.

OTR is also well-known for another benefit – plausible deniability. Once the chat is concluded, the keys to the conversation are made public. These keys are called Hashed Message Authentication Code (HMAC) and when they go public, one can claim that the messages were forged. The process of encrypted key generation, destruction, and HMAC open publishing is done seamlessly. All the two parties do is click on a button and then converse under encryption protection. You can even use OTR messaging with Facebook Chat!

Problems with Using OTR

Secure messaging in the most pragmatic sense is a rare thing on the internet. OTR messaging provides a great deal of security as well as privacy to users. Further, it has a synchronous model, which means that people who communicate on it must be on at the same time. While this is an advantage in many cases, it can be a drawback in others. There are many conditions where making a live chat is not possible and OTR cannot be used in such cases.

In contrast, emailing is an option which is asynchronous. But it is not the best for privacy and security as the data is stored on servers. This effectively means that your security is in the hands of the company you choose to trust. Further, even emailing services with PGP encryption allow access to metadata. This is a problem as it does give away some attributes of the message.

However, in recent years, a number of decentralized, secure, and asynchronous messaging options have come up. These services provide the perfect balance between utility, privacy, and security. Let’s look at the best names in this arena.

Bitmessage

Bitmessage offers P2P protocol based communications solutions for sending messages to one or more parties. The service is decentralized and secure. This means that you don’t need to put your faith in things like root certificate authorities.  A great thing about Bitmessage is that it uses a very good sender verification system. This prevents spoofing the message’s sender and eliminates non-content data.

In other words, whatever messages you send to any other person(s) will remain private. There is little to no technical understanding required for this. You can use Bitmessage to communicate without revealing your identity to outsiders and preventing any unauthorized access to your inbox. Bitmessage also automatically encrypts all data, which means even government agencies will have a hard time accessing it.

The Bitmessage Working Process

Bitmessage initiates communication by first creating a P2P network through its dedicated client. Next, the user creates a Bitmessage address using two keys. One of these keys is public and is used for encryption while the other is private and used for decryption. Both these keys have a mathematical link. This link allows the sender’s message to be encrypted via their public key and to be decrypted via the receiver’s private key.

In addition to the above protocol, there are some other background processes. These include data hashing, message signing, key mapping, and supplying proof-of-work. All these processes are necessary to validate the identity of the sender to the receiver and the system.

Features:

  • Free of cost
  • No advertising
  • Personal Bitmessage address
  • Webmail can be accessed from anywhere
  • There is no Google Analytics tracking

I2P-Bote

I2P-Bote offers a completely decentralized and distributed emailing service. This service provides different identities but will not reveal headers. According to the latest release, it is at the beta stage of development. This version can be accessed using the dedicated web application interface, SMTP, or IMAP. Each and every email sent using this service is transparent and carries automatic end-to-end encryption. Senders can also sign the message optionally.

The I2P-Bote Working Process

I2P-Bote is basically a plugin which enables secure emailing while also allowing users to remain private. The service eliminates the need for mail servers as their emails are kept in distributed hash tables. This allows for automatic encryption and digital signatures. Consequently, no one but the intended receiver will be able to read the email. This also prevents any third-parties from forging emails.

Features:

  • Create email identities in just one click
  • Users can send emails using their identities as well as anonymously
  • The encryption and signing process is transparent and does not need the user to know about PGP
  • Users can send messages via relays to increase anonymity
  • The interface offers theme options
  • Elementary support for short recipient names
  • IMP and SMTP is supported

Retroshare

Retroshare is another encrypted, decentralized messaging solution. It is free to use and open-source. It does not have any hidden costs and it can be used on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android.

Users can send and receive text and images. Chat rooms are also available with support for text and smileys. Distant chat allows users to communicate with friends-of-friends securely. They can send messages to other members on the network. The system will save the messages on friends’ nodes. This enables delivery even when the sender is offline.

Users can share files with their friends or the entire network. They can also look up files. The system makes use of swarming for retrieving files. This is similar to BitTorrent but with an added bonus of anonymity even when sharing large files.

The Retroshare working process

Retroshare creates encrypted connections between two users and helps them get various distributed services. It is a decentralized process and offers maximum anonymity and security to users. It is open source and free. You can use it on Windows, Mac, Linux, and Android.

Features

  • Ability to send texts and images in chat
  • Encrypted emails to contacts
  • File sharing with friends
  • Forums to help you find solutions to different problems
  • Channels to publish your files

Conclusion

OTR offers an additional encryption layer over traditional communication media. OTR isn’t perfect but it does offer extra security. And there are several applications that can help you by being the perfect email replacements.

While these applications are being accepted more widely, it’s best to combine them with emails to have the best of both the worlds. Using these apps is super easy and they offer a secure exchange of messages and images. However, several businesses still rely on the traditional email model.

If you want something extra that can offer additional functionality to the email system, you can use one of the applications mentioned above.