Quick Tip: Enable iChat Encryption for Private Chats

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Most of the time what I say on iChat is unimportant and uninteresting and would bore any eavesdropper, but on occasion I need to type a password, a social security number, or an account number and I feel uncomfortable doing that over an unsecured connection, and too often forget I’ve got a great way of sharing such info securely thanks to MobileMe.

Although many of us may have Google Chat, AOL, or Jabber accounts, the only way to get an encrypted channel is for both parties to have MobileMe/.Mac accounts.  If you aren’t already using your MobileMe account in iChat, you’ll have to first add it.  Go to Preferences and then under Accounts click the + icon.  Put in the name and password for your MobileMe account and click “Done.”

Next you’ll be presented with a dialog box confirming you want to enable encryption.

By default it’s enabled so you’ll click continue.  If all goes well,  you’ll get a confirmation the encryption certificate was requested and within a few minutes you’ll be good to go.  I recommend quitting iChat and then opening it back up.  Check your account preferences and make sure that it says encryption is enabled.  If you use multiple accounts via iChat, make sure you begin your chat via your MobileMe account rather than one of the other services you use.  I log out of all other chat accounts just so I don’t accidentally respond to the wrong chat with private info.

If you already have your MobileMe account configured in iChat, simply be sure that you go to preferences and enable encryption.  If you haven’t used encryption in a while, it may take MobileMe’s servers a few minutes to enable it.

Once all set up, if you want to tell someone the secrets of the universe, just be sure to look for the lock during your conversation to make sure encryption is enabled.  If it’s not, Apple has some good troubleshooting tips, the obvious one being to make sure the person on the other end also has encryption enabled.

Some caveats with secure iChat is the fact that it only works with Leopard and above, and no encryption system is foolproof, but I’d certainly feel more comfortable giving confidential secure info via encrypted iChat than over any unsecured channel.

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