Thirty years ago, version 1.0 of Pretty Good Privacy appeared online. Email encryption technology has a turbulent history, and according to its creator, Phil Zimmermann, the crypto war is not over yet.
In fact, June 6th was thirty years ago that PGP 1.0 appeared on the Internet. Creator Phil Zimmermann sent the software to some friends, who distributed it further through bbs systems and Peacenet, a provider mainly used by political activists. The name Pretty Good Privacy was inspired by ‘Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery’, a store from stories from an American radio show.
Zimmermann worked with volunteers on improvements and in 1992 PGP 2.0 was released in multiple languages for different platforms, such as Msdos, Unix, Commodore Amiga and Atari. A year later, the US government targeted Zimmermann because the release of PGP would violate US arms export regulations. The technique would fall under the Arms Export Control Act because of the use of key lengths of more than 40 bits. According to Zimmermann, PGP continued to gain popularity and the US government dropped the charges in 1996, although encryption export restrictions were not finally lifted until 2000.
According to the inventor, a battle in the crypto wars was thus settled, but this war has not yet been won. According to him, there are several governments that are undermining the spread of encryption. “We are seeing it in Australia, in the UK, in the US and other democracies. Twenty years after we thought we had won the crypto wars.”
PGP uses hashing, compression, symmetric encryption, and public and private keys to secure email in particular. In 1996, Zimmermann started a PGP development company, which evolved into PGP Corporation, which was acquired by Symantec in 2010. To speed up the spread, in 1997 he proposed to further develop the technology as an open standard, under the name OpenPGP.