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Encryption Blog

What PGP Means to Me

Created: 24 Jun 2009 • Updated: 05 Nov 2012
Brian Tokuyoshi's picture
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Brian Tokuyoshi - Product Marketing Manager

I remember the first time that I heard about PGP software.  It was in the mid 90s, and I was working on email systems at the time, dealing with the vast number of proprietary email formats and building gateways to get the messages from one system to another. During this time, it became clear to me that the system for trust in email was fairly broken – it was trivial for anyone to impersonate another person, tampering and modifying the content was possible, and the administrators had full access to see everyone’s data. The whole system of trust for Internet email really depended on hoping that there weren’t bad guys looking to cause problems.

I started using PGP software more for personal than business reasons.  I was concerned about my privacy because I knew how much power system administrators had. So for the last 14 years or so, I’ve been using PGP to protect email and files, and the more I used it, the more I learned about the history of the software and how it important it was to me.

What I didn’t know at the time though was what PGP meant to the world. Over the years, my career shifted from email systems to cryptography and security, and I saw the profound impact that PGP had on businesses and individuals, and the pressing need to always keep data safe.

In a recent article in IT News, I was pleased to see that Phil Zimmermann’s original PGP software package  was ranked as one of top 10 applications that changed the computing industry, standing among other groundbreaking software packages of modern computing. That very same software that I used to encrypt my email went on to become an important cornerstone to establish what privacy meant in the digital age. It was the software that made it possible for businesses and individuals to enforce their privacy rather than hope that others provide it on their behalf.

Today, the threat model continues to evolve way past the realms of imagination of the mid 90s. The network, operating system and even the web browser is under attack, with the goal to steal data. Yet the answer remains the same – protect the data using encryption to prevent unauthorized access. It was prescient when the Internet ascended on its rise in popularity, and today encryption is fundamental for advancing it towards its future.