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OpenPGP

Contributor(s): Matthew Haughn

OpenPGP is an open and free version of the Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) standard that defines encryption formats to enable private messaging abilities for email and other message encryption.

The standard uses the PKI (public key infrastructure) to create keys that are bound to individual email addresses and uses symmetric encryption based on elliptical curve cryptography. Compliant applications generate a random key that is encrypted with the public receive key. That process creates an encrypted message that contains both the data and the encrypted key. The receiver decrypts the key and uses their private key to retrieve the original random key and decrypt the data.

OpenPGP-compliant software products include Symantec Command Line, McAfee E-Business Server, Diplomat OpenPGP Community Edition, many email clients. OpenPGP clients must use up-to-date or matched versions so that settings and files created by one application are compatible with another. Only then can the applications share and mutually decrypt messages. The OpenPGP Alliance promotes OpenPGP for other communications as well as email. Facebook, for example, has added the capacity for users to add an OpenPGP key to their profile so that notifications and messages are encrypted.

Security expert Bruce Schneier advises that open encryption standards are best for security and privacy when dealing with such pervasive forces as NSA mass surveillance. He states that open security and encryption standards are much harder for the NSA to back door -- especially without getting caught. The difficulty is increased when the standard is compatible with other services and used by other vendors, because any one of them may discover the back door. Schneier worked along with Edward Snowden and the Guardian newspaper in breaking the whistleblower’s revelations about NSA surveillance.

OpenPGP is specified in IETF (Internet Engineering Task Force) RFC 4880.

This was last updated in June 2015

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