Tech UPTechnologyPGP: allowing you to protect privacy on the internet

PGP: allowing you to protect privacy on the internet

PGP (Pretty Good Privacy, or in Spanish: “Pretty Good Privacy”) is a program developed by Phil Zimmermann in 1991. Its purpose was to protect information distributed over the internet through the use of public key cryptography, as well how to facilitate document authentication thanks to digital signatures.

PGP was like the golden dream of Charles Babbage, the first person in history to come up with the design of a modern computer in the mid-1800s. Babbage had devised a method to break Vigenère’s cipher , one of the first encryption codes that even the writer and mathematician Lewis Carroll called “unbreakable.”

That cipher actually quite simple, but it was even used during the American Civil War (not with much success); and it also ended up being a seminal encryption protocol that made the internet a safer place for communication and commerce thanks to tools like PGP.

Origins in Lake Wobegon

PGP uses the so-called public key technique, which uses a pair of keys to send messages, emails, documents, etc. The user has two keys: one is private and the other is public, which is the one that the recipient of the message will receive so that they can open the private key. In this way communication is bilateral.

Thanks to this, for example, not even the creators of a messaging program (such as WhatsApp) can read the messages between two users. Until it is unblocked, then, this encryption allows privacy from any prying eyes, including that of governments or spy agencies.

One of the developers of the private key, the computer theorist Ralph Merkle , was almost science fiction, because he appeared as a character in a novel of the genre ( The Diamond Age , by Neal Stephenson ) and also had his own ideas and projects of science fiction: He had published a study titled How to Cryopreserve Everyone , with the purpose of finding out how much space would be needed for corpses preserved in liquid nitrogen in hopes of restoring them to full health when new technologies had been developed in the future.

But if the origin of the private key is eccentric, it is even more so that of the name of the PGP.

In the US state of Minnesota, the announcer Garrison Keillor had a weekly radio program called A Prairie Home Companion . It spoke of a fictional city called Lake Wobegon , also in Minnesota.

According to Keillor, in Lake Wobegon “all women are strong, all men are handsome, and all children are above average.” This idea of superiority actually led psychologists to call the Lake Wobegon effect the bias or tendency that most people believe above average , which is statistically impossible.

One of the sponsors of the show, also fictitious, was located in Lake Wobegon and was called Ralph’s Pretty Good Grocery. Zimmermann, the creator of PGP, liked the name, and adapted it to create Pretty Good Privacy (PGP).

Today, there are more sophisticated systems to encrypt information, but PGP was one of the most decisive in contributing to the debate about privacy on the web.

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