MSN Chat was the Microsoft Network version of IRCX (Internet Relay Chat extensions by Microsoft), which replaced Microsoft Chat, a set of Exchange-based IRCX servers first available in the Microsoft Comic Chat client, although Comic Chat was not required to connect.
- Client Compatibility
According to the MSN Chat website, the following were required to use the MSN Chat Service:
The Microsoft Network Chat Control was developed as an ActiveX Component Object Model (COM) Object. ActiveX, being a Microsoft technology provided limited compatibility for other products. The other major platforms beside Internet Explorer that MSN Chat was supported on, was Netscape Navigator and MSNTV (formerly known as WebTV). To ensure the MSN Chat network was only being connected to by authorized clients, Microsoft created and implemented a SASL based Security Service Provider authentication package known as GateKeeper. This used a randomized session key to authorize users not using the Microsoft Passport system. Microsoft used another SSP known as GateKeeperPassport, that worked from the same method but required certain attributes related to the user's account.
- Defeating the "Authentication Challenge"
In the beginning, shortly after the move from Microsoft Chat, the MSN Chat Network could be directly connected to through any IRC Client to irc.msn.com on port 6667. Perhaps because of abuse or other factors, such as the desire to authenticate users based on their Microsoft Passport, Microsoft implemented GateKeeper and GateKeeperPassport, and integrated both into their chat control. The weakness of GateKeeper and the fact the early MSN Chat Controls (1.0 - 3.0) had public functions for doing GateKeeper authentication seemed to indicate Microsoft wanted third parties to be able to access their network as before, but they wanted to be able to control automated abuse. In any event, these public functions allowed normal IRC clients to authorize themselves.
With the release of the MSN Chat Control 4.0, the public functions were removed. Users found a way to authorize by a "Proxy Method", forcing the Chat Control to bridge connections between mIRC and the Chat Network.
With the release of the MSN Chat Control 4.2 and later, they blocked this proxy method by having the chat control hash the IP address of the server to which it was instructed to connect into the response to the challenge in authentication. If the control was instructed to connect to any address other than the server, it would not match the server's hash and thus authentication would fail. A few later third party clients could authenticate without the control and were adjusted to compensate for this change.
The versions of MSN Chat were designed from IRC1 through to IRC8, Even with the newer versions, MSN Chat still had the possibility to replicate older MSN Chat versions by issuing the IRCVERS command.
- IRC1 -
- IRC2 -
- IRC3 -
- IRC4 -
- IRC5 -
- IRC6 -
- MSN Chat introduces profile icons, Profile icons indicated if the member had a profile, gender (if known), and if the user had a picture
- As MSN Chat had now become a Subscription Only (Premium) service, This introduced extra user and channel modes. The channel mode 'S' was added to indicated that only subscribers could talk. The user mode 'B' (to indicate the user was subscribed) and O (to indicate the user was not subscribed) were added. With the exception of Official MSN Staff. It was impossible for a user with the mode "O" to chat in a channel with the Channel Mode "S".
- Update to the GateKeeper Authentication method (known as the "4.5 Auth", due to the MSN Chat Control 4.5 being the first to implement it). It was a slight change, that added the value taken from the Server Parameter (before the ":" (if one is present)) to a MD5 Checksum.
Third party applications
The use of third party applications on the MSN Chat Network was not prohibited, although it was unsupported. Third party applications were required to use the same Authentication Methods as the MSN Chat Control.
The second change was the major part, allowing the Chat Control to bridge the connections between the Client and MSN Chat Service.
The most popular third party applications were mIRC, IRC Dominator and Viperbot.
- Webchat using MSN's Chat Control
- Chat nicknames
- Chatroom creation
- ChatRoom listings
- User created rooms
- MSN created rooms
- MSN WebTV chats
- Celebrity chats
- Adult chats, Moderate content chats, All aged chats
- Integration with MSN Groups
GateKeeper and GateKeeperPassport
GateKeeper is a SASL authentication type and is used by the MSN Chat control as a means of Authentication between the MSN Chat Control and the Server. As specified in the IRCX Draft, The client sends a string using the prefix "I" for initial and then the client and server will attempt to authenticate. The GateKeeper mechanism is not publicly documented.
GateKeeperPassport is the same system, But uses parameters supplied by the HTML webpage to log you into a personal account.
Little is known about the role of NTLM authentication on MSN Chat. It was widely believed that it was only used by MSN Chat staff to authenticate, and that they authenticated through Microsoft's Active Directory, either because they were connected directly to Microsoft's network, or because they were connecting via a virtual private network (VPN). However, in reality most staff simply used the PASS command to authenticate with MSN Chat, as this circumvented the need to pass the SASL authentication challenge (GateKeeperPassport on MSN Chat).
The MSN Chat Admin client, which was leaked by a MSN Chat administrator and quickly found its way all over the internet, was known to use the NTLM protocol, and bears many similarities to the Microsoft Comic Chat client. It was based on MS Chat 2.5.
MSN Chat had the following user levels:
There are many chat networks attempting to simulate the service that was provided by the Microsoft Network, which use the "MSN Chat Control". These simulation chat networks are often referred to as "MSN Chat Clones". These are generally small chat networks, which often rely on home-made IRC servers, or IRCX servers. Many of the "MSN Chat Clones" are non-compliant and do not follow the RFC 1459 (IRC) or the "eXtensions to Internet Relay Chat" (IRCX) standards and often contain many bugs/exploits that may cause a Denial Of Service with The MSN Chat Control.
Many of the MSN Chat Clones started up directly after MSN closed its services (2006), and additional networks have continued to spring up since then. There is speculation that these chat networks may have pulled potential subscribers away from MSN Chat, ultimately bringing on the demise of MSN Subscription Chat Services.
While the majority of MSN Clone Chat sites are free, most of them rely on adverts to provide a small income. In addition, some of the clones have begun to charge, or allow for donations.
The legality of sites offering the MSN Chat Control has been in question for some time due to many "Clone Sites" hosting the Chat Control. The Chat Control download is publicly available by Microsoft to download at .
Problems with MSN Chat
There were many documented problems from users about the MSN chat function. Most were directed to the “chat host.” This was a person who would enter the chat room under the name “host”, and act accordingly regulating the room. This service was useful for controlling the room, making sure that everyone was behaving accordingly, answering users’ questions about the rooms, and other assorted tasks. While the idea of a supervisor would put a lot of users at ease, there were reported disagreements between the two with what was considered appropriate.
A claim was that there were a multitude of rules which the host didn’t make clear to the users, so many people were booted out of the room for breaking a rule they weren’t aware of. Any content that was viewed as offensive or sexually explicit was immediately removed and the person who wrote it was expelled from the room. Asking other chatters to press certain keys, displaying any kind of URL, or displaying what location you were from were all offenses punishable by temporary banishment. The convenience of an automated system for MSN led to problems for its users, problems solvable by a person able to interpret positive and negative content.
A big reason for MSN chat shutting down was that it provided another opportunity for pedophiles to have access to underage prey through the chat rooms. As shown on the popular MSNBC programming, To Catch a Predator, a show about catching pedophiles as they meet up with who they thought were children from online interaction, a majority of the child molesters first made contact in a MSN or AOL chat room.
In 2003, Microsoft announced that it would close "unregulated" MSN Chat rooms in 28 countries, including "most of Asia" due to problems with spam and concerns about child pornography, with plans to convert to a subscription model for "better accountability." Messenger chat services remained open. MSN Chat became a subscription service for $20/year.
On August 31, 2006 Microsoft announced that MSN Chat would no longer be provided. On October 16, 2006 MSN Chat shut down their servers at about 11:30 a.m. EST. The service closed as allegedly MSN no longer deemed it profitable to run as a subscription service.
- Whittingham, Matt (24 September 2003). "MSN shuts down its chatrooms". MSN UK (BBC). Retrieved 29 April 2011.
- Gray, Patrick (September 24, 2003). "MSN to close chat rooms around world". ZDNet Australia.
- "MSN chatroom closures: Your views". BBC.co.uk. September 29, 2003.
- Hartley, Sarah (October 14, 2003). "Chatting after MSN" . Manchester Evenineg News.
- Pogue, David; Biersdorfer, J. D. (2006). The Internet: The Missing Manual. O'Reilly Media, Inc. p. 308.
- "IMPORTANT NOTICE". MSN Groups. Microsoft. Archived from the original on 2006-10-09.