PGP: Pretty Good Privacy
Publisher: O'Reilly Media
Final Release Date: December 1994
Pages: 432

Use of the Internet is expanding beyond anyone's expectations. As corporations, government offices, and ordinary citizens begin to rely on the information highway to conduct business, they are realizing how important it is to protect their communications -- both to keep them a secret from prying eyes and to ensure that they are not altered during transmission. Encryption, which until recently was an esoteric field of interest only to spies, the military, and a few academics, provides a mechanism for doing this.PGP, which stands for Pretty Good Privacy, is a free and widely available encryption program that lets you protect files and electronic mail. Written by Phil Zimmermann and released in 1991, PGP works on virtually every platform and has become very popular both in the U.S. and abroad. Because it uses state-of-the-art public key cryptography, PGP can be used to authenticate messages, as well as keep them secret. With PGP, you can digitally "sign" a message when you send it. By checking the digital signature at the other end, the recipient can be sure that the message was not changed during transmission and that the message actually came from you.PGP offers a popular alternative to U.S. government initiatives like the Clipper Chip because, unlike Clipper, it does not allow the government or any other outside agency access to your secret keys.PGP: Pretty Good Privacy by Simson Garfinkel is both a readable technical user's guide and a fascinating behind-the-scenes look at cryptography and privacy. Part I, "PGP Overview," introduces PGP and the cryptography that underlies it. Part II, "Cryptography History and Policy," describes the history of PGP -- its personalities, legal battles, and other intrigues; it also provides background on the battles over public key cryptography patents and the U.S. government export restrictions, and other aspects of the ongoing public debates about privacy and free speech. Part III, "Using PGP," describes how to use PGP: protecting files and email, creating and using keys, signing messages, certifying and distributing keys, and using key servers. Part IV, "Appendices," describes how to obtain PGP from Internet sites, how to install it on PCs, UNIX systems, and the Macintosh, and other background information. The book also contains a glossary, a bibliography, and a handy reference card that summarizes all of the PGP commands, environment variables, and configuration variables.

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Excellent explainer of public key cryptography with diagrams

By Luciano Ramalho, stand-up programmer

from São Paulo, Brazil

About Me Developer

Verified Reviewer


  • Accurate
  • Easy to understand
  • Well-written


    Best Uses

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    Comments about oreilly PGP: Pretty Good Privacy:

    I bought a copy of this book 15 years ago, read it from cover to cover and loaned to somebody who never returned it. So I just bought a second copy because the history of PGP as told in the book is fascinating, the explanations about cryptography in general and public key cryptography in particular are the best I've seen and the diagrams that go with them are awesome. Oh yes, you can also learn to use PGP, but for that you'll prefer the official docs because the version covered in the book is too old. But the concepts remain the same, and that's where this book really shines.

    (5 of 7 customers found this review helpful)


    Great history of PGP and of modern computer driven cryptography

    By jdruin

    from Undisclosed

    Comments about oreilly PGP: Pretty Good Privacy:

    This book is no longer practical as a guide for using PGP to encrypt modern messages but the history of PGP is facinating none the less. I recommend the book for folks interested in the history of computing, the politics behind PGP, or an excellent history of a particualr software engineering project.

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