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IRC - The online hangout before, during, and after, facebook


Internet Relay Chat, or IRC as it is commonly known as, was the first and original open access public multi-user chat (excluding unix "talk"), yes kiddies, the Internet's old hands were publicly multi chatting long before ICQ, MSN, and well before privacy invading predatory sites like facebook were even dreamt of, in fact, back as early as 1988, and it's still a very active social outlet today, yet, rather unjustly, doesn't get the attention it deserves, perhaps this is a good thing, it's not like IRC is just for elitists these days, it hasn't been that way since the nineties, but it has its loyal fanbase, and contrary to popular belief, not everyone thinks facebook is the "in thing", nor will it ever be to many, if you want to make public comments, set up a blog, or share pictures for anyone to see that's archived for life, there's always your blog, or twitter.

Sure, there is a difference, facebook and the like record what you say, even if you do not save it, and shows it and your shared pictures to almost everyone at any time and kept indefinitely, refusing to actually delete anything, only hiding it, override your rights by claiming copyright ownership on everything you post, let people know when your away so criminals can break in and clean you out, let the world know all about you, so you can become a high risk target of identity theft - well there ya go, facebook does have its purposes afterall :-D. IRC on the other hand, is a real time multi user chat service, you need to be there, there and then to see what's being said, your private messages go nowhere but to the recipient, your public messages for all in the channel, but not logged by the servers, and one other thing I really love about it, is there is no in your face constant server sponsored or paid spamming of advertisements occupying three quarters of your bandwith.

IRC was originally created by Jarkko Oikarinen to replace a chat program called MultiUser Talk used on a BBS (Bulletin Board System) back in 1988, it also quickly replaced the old unix talk program, which became horribly messy with only a mere few users at the same time. Although IRC was assigned port 194 TCP by IANA, IRC servers have always run on TCP port 6667, it was common for some larger networks to also use 6668, 6669, and others as well. The reason they have always used 6667 instead of their officially allocated port, was to avoid having to start the IRCd software with root privileges, which was, and always will be, a very dangerous thing to do. Oh, and in case you are wondering, yes, many of the popular IRC servers like ircu are designed to be IPv6 capable.

IRC is an UN-MODERATED medium, meaning its more or less a free for all and anything goes, but most IRC Servers will have policies, you can view these by typing /motd, normally they are just common sense rules. IRC is also really easy to use, there are clients for any Operating System, Linux, Mac, Windows, and so on. There are also some networks or providors like mibbit that offer Web access to some networks, I do offer a word of caution on using Web based chats, including mibbit, well, they are Web based, therefore, they are not a server, they are a remote client as far as the IRC servers are concerned, and like with most local clients, they do offer a way to log all chats that you are involved in, so should probably be avoided at all times if you value your privacy, most real IRC clients do not take up much disk space at all anyway, so I highly encourage you to use one (see below).

Most IRC servers do not require users to register an account, but you'll need to choose a nickname to be known as when connecting. I'm not going to re-invent any wheels here, this is not a blog about every aspect on learning and using IRC, so for beginners, a suggested read is the Undernets Beginner class. When you're ready to try out IRC, you should pick a small Network at first for you to play around on until you get familiar with how it all works, then try chatting on smaller channels if you do not know anyone or can't get your friends to join you for some fun. Everyone needs to learn to crawl before they can walk, something most experienced IRC users (like almost anything in life) seem to forget, if a newbie enters a busy channel, they may be eaten alive ;-)

There are a myriad of servers and networks in operation in many countries around the world, most IRC clients have a server list that contains some of the more popular servers to connect to, in our example we'll use auschat.org, a small, quiet, and private IRC server originally set up for a few friends to chat on without mass interruptions but is open for anyone to use, so if you're a newbie (or old hand looking for a quiet place to chat), you can use that server to play around and get familiar.

So lets say you want to connect to auschat IRC server, your nickname (alias) used will be Nobby, and you want to join channel wasteland, type:

/server irc.auschat.org <-- Connect to this server
/nick Nobby <-- Change to use this nickname/alias (most IRC clients let you pre configure this on setup)
/j #wasteland <-- Join a channel called #wasteland (if it doesn't exist, it will be created)

Once you get comfortable, get your friends to join you, and there you go, multi-person public chatting with a good level of privacy. You can elect to stay there to have small in-group regular chats, or move on to other bigger networks like Undernet, where there can be anywhere up to a hundred thousand users on the network and up to a thousand or more on some individual channels.

IRC has the privacy advantages over other social media by the fact that servers do not normally record what you say for prying eyes to read later on. Typically, for any logging to occur, its by end users, you need to check the options in your local IRC client to log the conversations you have, or, you need to run a channel bot, like an eggdrop bot, which has capabilities of logging public messages on the channels you set it to log in to and sit on (it acts just like a normal end user unattended IRC client), the channel logs are usually only accessible to bot managers who have nothing to do with the IRC server itself, usually, they are people just like you, anyone can run one, and those bots, being user bots, can not record private messages, and only record stuff on the channels they are in, you can boot those bots off your channel at any time you become aware one exists, even though most bots are friendly these days. You can even restrict access to your channel by a key (password), you can do a lot to retain your privacy on IRC.

The IRC Servers themselves, at least trusted daemons like ircu (used on Undernet and other networks) at least, do not log conversations, public or private, if the server runs a Services bot, offering nickname and channel registration, it usually will only record minimal information such as commands directly to them, like for example when logging into a services bot to manage your nick or channel:

(NickServ:) [Noel!Noel@49.180.2.6:Noel]: auth

or

(X:#wasteland) [Noel:Noel]: topic The Wasteland - HAPPY NEW YEAR!

if you issue a command to channel bot, like setting a topic in our example

That's about all, so the only information any agency can possibly get is a nickname and an IP address really, nothing more, now compare that to what facebook stores on you to give out, as you can see from that article, the amount of data facebook keep on you and will give out when requested to do so, is rather extensive.

It might be even more important now to consider given the FBI wants back doors that will of course see non U.S. citizens also targeted with this stealth secret police state mentality the U.S. Govt agencies have.

In many cases, IRC servers are local, standalone, others are in a larger group of servers all linked together to distribute the load. The servers or Networks that run Nickname and Channel bots, allow you to register your nickname to stop others using it, so if someone is looking for you, they can be pretty much assured it is you, many Nickname services bots allow you to do a /msg nickserv whois Noel to verify an authenticated user. Once a nickname is registered, you can register a channel on most networks, so you have control over who uses your channel. Some Network services bots also provide features like noteop, so you can leave a private message to another registered user. Some Network NickServ bots also provide host masking, this means your host address is changed to protect your identity so no-one else can see your actual IP address or hostname, often this is activated for registered users by /umode +x , with only IRC Operators (IRCOP), those charged with running the servers and networks, and usually yourself (since it is your login) can see your actual login host information.

So, if a user Nobby did a /whois Noel, they would see

Noel is bofh@Noel.ircusers.auschat.org (noel)
on channels: #wasteland
on irc via server irc.auschat.org (The Wasteland)
Noel is logged in as Noel
Noel : End of /WHOIS list.


If an IRCOP or you did a whois on you, you would see:

[Noel] (bofh@Noel.ircusers.auschat.org): noel
[Noel] #wasteland
[Noel] irc.auschat.org :The Wasteland
[Noel] is logged in as Noel
[Noel] bofh@ (my hostname and ip hidden):Actual user@host, Actual IP
[Noel] idle 00:00:32, signon: Sun Apr 8 11:17:46
[Noel] End of WHOIS list

IRC also has its advantages with most of its clients being DCC capable, so file sharing between friends is also possible. Yes kiddies, it's what people used before (and still do) torrents. However, in using DCC, it is a direct connection between users, your data will not traverse the IRC servers, therefore, the recipient of the file, and the sender, will both then have access to each others real IP addresses, yes, kinda much like torrents.


Download a client for your favorite PC/Device now and give it a try!

XChat, free for Linux, Shareware for Windows
Mirc Windows shareware client
EPIC Linux console client
Ircle Mac based client
AndChat for Androids
Colloquy for Iphones and IPads

This list is far from exhaustive, and many multi-protcol programs that allow you to MSN/ICQ/Yahoo/facebook and so on all in one, also offer IRC, so you might already have an IRC capable program installed, but nothing beats the experience and privacy of a real complete IRC client like those mentioned above.
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Stretch on :

Aww and you aren't even there to say hello :-(

:-D

Noel on :

LOL, I'm there most nights, if I'm not in wasteland /whois me, I might be in a private channel, you wont see the channel, but will at least see me online so you can /msg or /invite

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Bev on :

Great article

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