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Encrypted IM tool Cryptocat sticks to openness despite grief over audits

People in the security community often criticize the code behind Cryptocat, an open-source encrypted instant messaging project.

Ironically, Cryptocat’s policy of publicly releasing third-party code audits is what generates much of the criticism, which is a reason other projects often choose not to release their audits.

On Wednesday, Cryptocat’s founder, Nadim Kobeissi, announced the release of two more code audits, both of which found flaws with the chat program that have now been mostly resolved.

But the release of the audits fired up critics of Cryptocat, which is an easy-to-use instant messaging program that allows people without a background in computer security to exchange encrypted messages.

The critics tend to use the audits as fuel to throw doubt on the viability of the project despite the fact that the project takes the audits seriously and quickly works on fixes.

Kobeissi said in an interview over instant message that one of the audits, by iSec Partners covered pre-release software for Cryptocat’s iOS application. All of the bugs highlighted were fixed before its first release in the App Store on March 4, Kobeissi said.

Still, the iSec report, which Cryptocat agreed to make public, generated more invective. “I think people focus on the most negative conclusion to an unfair degree,” Kobeissi said.

Cryptocat has had four official code audits. All have been paid for by the Open Technology Fund (OTF), which aims to promote Internet freedom and counter online censorship. OTF is part of Radio Free Asia, a U.S. government broadcasting channel.

Of 30 projects for which OTF has provided funds, Cryptocat is one of only five that have chosen to make their audits public in full, OTF wrote on its blog on Wednesday.

“Cryptocat has continued to release the technology audits in full, and OTF recognizes both the difficulty and value in doing so,” OTF wrote.”In return, Cryptocat continues to weather significant public scrutiny.”

An audit from Least Authority was also released, which looked at the cryptography aspects of Cryptocat. Zooko Wilcox-O’Hearn, who was one of four principal investigators, wrote on Wednesday that Cryptocat addressed the issues they found and complimented them for “their commitment to providing end-to-end security for their users.”

Kobeissi said he plans to continue to release future audits in full, despite what abuse Cryptocat and he endures, some of which is personal.

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