Briar is a decentralized peer-to-peer mixnet messenger that’s similar to Session. As a reminder, we wrote an article on Session here. The big difference between them is that Briar is purely peer-to-peer and so it requires the other person to be online to receive the message. While Briar is peer-to-peer, these messages can be first routed through Tor or in-person bluetooth. On the other hand, Session temporarily stores messages on a decentralized network called Lokinet, which is powered by blockchain to enable you to receive the message anytime. So Session is a decentralized server, while Briar has no server. You do not have to trust any legal entity, person, computer, or anyone else other than the other person you are chatting with. This makes it ideal for political rebellion, but less practical for a business offering customer service because you both have to add each other.
Briar is open source, but you should still be aware that it’s development is funded in part by the US government under the direction of Hillary Clinton and originally the CIA for the purpose of enabling protesters in countries where they want regime change. This does not mean that there’s a secret backdoor, but Briar users should be aware of the development money’s origins. We will discuss this more later.
Stays in Tor
So everything sent on Briar stays within Tor and never exits through an exit node onto the “regular internet” clearweb. This is even better than talking to someone through a third party .onion website because, with Briar, it’s peer-to-peer. You don’t even have to trust an external .onion website, since the person you’re talking with has a Briar address that is a .onion website!
Having Briar usernames be its own .onion websites makes it extremely difficult for malicious Tor participants to compromise your communication, since neither party ever leaves Tor through an exit node. Even if the relays are all malicious and see the traffic path, all they’d know is that one random onion address is connected to another.
No internet required
Another huge advantage of Briar is that it offers communication without the internet peer-to-peer (if the person is within Bluetooth range). You can also add someone and exchange information without the internet, so if you don’t have a SIM card for privacy reasons, you can exchange usernames and swap information with someone offline even outside in a remote area.
Setup the app without internet
Even better, you can use peer-to-peer WIFI or Bluetooth without the internet to send a friend the Briar app if it’s their first time using it.
The ability to get the app and/or exchange information without a SIM card is extremely useful because it prevents a cellphone company from noticing that you and the other person’s SIM cards were physically near each other. This would compromise the anonymity of whatever you are doing, since it creates a relationship map.
Both Have to Add
On the other hand, there are a few huge negatives of Briar. One of them is that both participants have to add each other to show up — either with Briar .onion URLs or QR code scanning. This makes Briar unable to be the way you first initiate contact with someone; you can’t put your Briar on a website and then expect people to write you.
No Audio Calls
Another negative of Briar is you can’t make audio calls; it’s text only. The organization has promised potential upgrades to the app, but it hasn’t materialized yet. The new version in early 2023 has forums, which are group chats that can be shared peer-to-peer without a centralized server storing the messages.
Dark Web Stigma
And finally, it’s going to be difficult to convince “normies” to use Briar because of the stimga of it being a darkweb app and its lack of other features beyond being an ideal protest app against oppressive surveillance.
Funding by the CIA?
The CIA funded a program called “Radio Free Asia” in 1951 to enable information flow to potential protesters against Asian governments that suppressed free speech. Radio Free Asia turned into the “Open Technology Fund” in 2012, when Hillary Clinton saw how successful technology was in helping to overthrow the American puppet dictators she helped put in charge during “Arab Spring”. But instead of overthrowing the dictators that the US funded such as in Tunisia or Egypt, the Open Technology Fund’s goal is to fund technology to enable and encite rebellion against governments the CIA wants to overthrow.
This fund is one of the sponsors of Briar. From publicly available documentation, it is unclear how much money was given or how much influence they have. Of course if asked, the Briar developers would not say the CIA had a say. We do not know.
However, before you throw Briar out, remember that Tor is a US military project. Open Technology Fund also gave financial aid to Signal. And in fact the entire internet itself originates from military funding.
You will get a lot out of subscribing for free to our new content by email, by Session messenger, or RSS feed. In conclusion, Briar is a US government funded tool for third world regime change that likely will not get much adoption in the United States (and this intentional by design). The US wants to use tools such as Briar to overthrow foreign governments, but make the product appeal little to those who have uncensored internet access in the US. By requiring the other user to be online, the CIA knows this is a deal breaker for most US-based anti-government movements. In fact, most lazy American citizens are so complacent and dumb as to use Telegram groups which expose the KYC phone numbers of protest movements to a centralized server.
However Briar’s open source nature makes a secret backdoor incredibly difficult. If we believe Briar’s open source code audits at their face value, then it requires the least amount of trust of any communication method by not having any cloud servers, but requires the extreme sacrifices of the other person being online to receive it and both users have to add each other.