PGP, or Pretty Good Privacy, is a technology used for encryption and decryption of digital communications and files as they travel on the internet.
When you send sensitive data on the internet (such as your bank account number, or even a lovey-dovey message to a special someone), there’s always a chance of it being leaked. What if your wife is reading the texts you’ve been sending to other women?
Thankfully, there’s something to protect your conversations when they travel online – PGP.
PGP was created in 1991 by Phil Zimmerman and was designed for email security. It uses public key cryptography method, which means there are two keys. The data is encrypted using a public key and is decrypted using a private key.
Zimmerman created this technique as he wanted a secure way for information to travel on the internet. He later got into trouble with the US authorities as PGP became popular all over the world, and this broke the US restrictions for export of crypto software.
While PGP is technically “owned” by Symantec today, the OpenPGP standard (which is developed using PGP) is used by several companies.
How PGP works
Imagine you’re sending a postcard to a friend from a vacation. But since you don’t want anyone else to read it, you put the postcard in a box and send it via mail.
If someone intercepts that mail, they can open the box and read the postcard. So instead of sending an open box, you lock it up. Now you need to give the key to your friend.
So maybe you two met before you went on the vacation and you gave the key to him. Now you can send the box to him and he can open it.
But now there are 2 copies of the same key. What if someone gets hold of your key, makes a copy of it and intercepts the box in the middle? Wouldn’t it be better if only your friend had the key so it was more secure?
But then how would you lock the box? The solution is to have one key for locking and another one for unlocking. This is how PGP works.
In PGP, there are two sets of keys – one is public and is used to encrypt the information. This key is held by anyone who wants to send a message.
The other one is kept private and is with the recipient only. Since only the recipient has the key, only they are able to see the message.
Uses of PGP
When PGP is set up, you can
- Verify automated messages and see that they have come from the right sender and haven’t been tampered during the transit.
- Receive encrypted emails. There are several providers of encrypted email services that use OpenPGP. To open those emails, you need an OpenPGP compliant software.
If you’ve ever used a secure email client, there are chances that you have used OpenPGP. If online security and anonymity are important to you, you should try encrypted email services such as CounterMail and ProtonMail.