2006/11/27

PGP and Email Encryption

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy), an encryption tool for email, has been popping up fairly often as of late.

Two examples were in the news this past week. The first was in an article by Kevin Mitnick, a figure well known in the hacker world. Kevin penned an article about protecting yourself and your digital data in today's world. His first recommendation was spot on -- back up everything. His sixth recommendation was to use PGP encryption for sensitive emails, because sending an email through cyberspace is like sending a postcard through snailmail. Everyone that handles or cares to look at that postcard can read it.

The second instance of PGP was in articles mentioning that PGP celebrated its 15th birthday. One article featured some comments from Phil Zimmerman, the controversial creator of PGP. On a less than optimistic note, Phil said, "The internet has gone from [being] a gentleman's club for academics to something fiendishly hostile. It's changed from something like a university campus to downtown Bagdad."

Phil's comment echoes the feelings of Dan Ratner (electrical engineer, serial entrepreneur, and co-author of nanotechnology books) and Chunka Mui (futurist and author of "Unleashing the Killer App"). Dan and Chunka were on a panel at an MIT Enterprise Forum event in Chicago a few months ago and commented on security in the digital world. When asked about internet security and identity theft, both said they expect things to get worse before they get better.

Bob P and Luke W from NEW NET are also proponents of encryption for email. NEW NET may do a couple sessions on PGP and encryption, but any effort to increase the use of email encryption faces two roadblocks. The first is the lack of built-in PGP tools in most email programs. The second roadblock is the laissez-faire attitude of most people toward their email being easily read. The first roadblock could be overcome technically, but until a significant percentage of people decide email encryption is something they want/need, PGP will languish like the Opera browser, TOR, and OpenID.

If interested in encryption, consider reading Crypto, by Steven Levy and Cryptonomicon, by Neal Stephenson. If you want to discuss the topic, come to a NEW NET meeting (Northeast Wisconsin Network for Economy and Technology issues). NEW NET generally meets weekly on Tuesday evenings, with date/time/location of meetings posted weekly on this blog. This week's meeting is at 6:50 pm, Tuesday, 28 Nov, at Mister Churro, 207 N. Richmond Street, Appleton, Wisconsin, USA.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Opera, TOR, & OpenID may be languishing, but email encryption is now a multiple hundred-million dollar business. The market is being led by large multinationals that have decided they must encrypt nearly all data in motion and at rest to protect their intellectual property.

You're right about most individual's laissez-faire attitude, but most corporations have adopted a different point of view.

-Doug McLean
VP Online Operations
PGP Corporation

10:41 AM  
Blogger myDigitechnician said...

Thanks for the feedback, Doug!

Do you know if any of the major email client programs or online email services are working on incorporating PGP encryption to make it easier for consumers to encrypt their everyday email?

NEW NET (Northeast Wisconsin Network for Econcomy and Technology issues) would be very interested in working with PGP Corporation to promote use of email encryption for both personal and business use in this region. If you or someone else at PGP, or possibly Bruce Schneier from your board, is willing to discuss this, please contact me at bob [at] mydigitechnician (dott) com.

Bob Waldron
myDigitechnician

1:28 PM  

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