What is Off-The-Record (OTR) Messaging?

Posted on Nov 26, 2018 by Summer Hirst
OTR off the record

Whether you’re a journalist trying to send private information, a businessperson sharing some confidential corporate details, or having an affair behind your spouse’s back, OTR (Off the Record) messaging can be a useful thing for you.

What is OTR messaging?

OTR is available as a plugin for a number of messengers such as Pidgin, Adium, Tor Messenger, and ChatSecure.   OTR messaging is used for conversations that “didn’t happen”. These messages are not stored on the client or on the server so there’s no record of them ever existing.

While OTR helps you in hiding your conversations, it solves other purposes too. It offers an extra layer of encryption, which makes it safer than regular chat applications.  OTR also adds an authentication factor to the chat, which means that if someone else tried to use your friend’s screen name, it will generate an error message.

OTR is NOT Google Off The Record

Google provides an Off The Record feature that doesn’t allow chat logging. This is pretty much what it does. It doesn’t encrypt or authenticate like the OTR protocol. While the Hangouts messages are not stored in your own history, they might be stored on Google’s servers and can be used for any legal actions.

How to use OTR

  1. To install OTR, you’ll need to install the messenger on which you want to install it. For example, you can install Pidgin on your PC and register for an account.
  2. Add a buddy by entering your friend’s address.
  3. Now you can start a private conversation. To verify the other person, you can establish a shared secret between you two. Or you can also use fingerprint verification.
  4. Once the authentication part is complete, you can begin chatting with your buddy.

After you’ve ended the session, there’s no way to prove that it was you on the conversation. So if there’s an eavesdropper listening on to your conversations, they cannot tell who was chatting with whom.

The only person who knows it was you is the one you were chatting with. So when you start your conversation with someone on OTR, make sure you trust them and they won’t leak your details to others.

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