OpenPGP: Encryption should be easier than this

Why I Digitally Sign My E-Mail

Most e-mails I send are digitally signed using a process called “Pretty Good Privacy”, commonly referred to as PGP or GnuPG. PGP has been around since 1991 yet still is not commonly supported by the majority of email clients, at least in the Microsoft echo system, or webmail applications like Gmail or Yahoo Mail. When a digitally signed email is displayed in applications that do not support PGP you may see one of two things; either there will be an attached PGP.sig file or the message may start with “BEGIN PGP SIGNATURE” and appended to the bottom of the text will be a block of gibberish text. These components are used by PGP aware applications to cryptographically verify the identity of the sender. If you also have or use PGP I could send you encrypted email so that only you can read it. Over the next few pages I will give some background on PGP and why I use it.

Email Attachments

Since implementing PGP in my in all my email clients I will no longer open attachments or click links in unsigned emails. Like all security mined people this rule will no doubt cause problems for some and will make the internet a less user-friendly place, but with the amount of spam and viruses delivered by email – often coming from addresses you know – there is no better protection available, likewise I will never send an attachment unsigned.

Background

In 1991 PGP was created by Phil Zimmermann as a way to digitally sign or encrypt messages and file. This is achieved using Public-key cryptography. When you create a PGP key you are creating two very large numbers that are mathematically related, but due to the size of these numbers it is not possible to derive one from the other. So you now have two keys, one considered private the other public and as the name suggests who must keep the Private-key secret from everyone but you can share the Public-key with the world.

I was planning to include a section on this page detailing how PGP works but as I started writing it quickly grew beyond the scope I had indented this introductory page to be. If you are interested in the propeller hat explanation of how PGP can encrypt and digitally verify messages you can find it on at the “How does it work” page.

My Keys

My public keys are published all over the net; on key servers, in my DNS records, on this site on my “OpenPGP Keys” page and on some mailing lists. That is the way you want your public keys after all.

About the Author

Stuart McCulloch Anderson
For over a decade and a half Stuart has been in love with all things science fiction or technology and for almost fourteen of those years his operating system of choice has been one breed of Linux or another and despite some brief trips back into the world of Windows Stuart has never found him self wanting anything else.