What is PGP Encryption? (Pretty Good Privacy)

Many organizations, government departments and officials use various encryption methods to protect their data, whether it’s in the form of files or text information. Hackers and malicious actors also use the same type of encryption techniques to demand ransom from companies.

The Advanced Encryption Standard (AES) is a widely known and accepted encryption method which is also recognized and being used by the U.S. government. However, PGP is another equally strong encryption system that is used in message encryption and files encryption.

Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) – Explained

PGP Diagram Wikipedia
Image credit: Wikipedia

PGP is an encryption system that provides cryptographic privacy and encryption of emails, texts, files, directories, and whole disk partitions. This system is widely used on the dark web where two parties need to send their confidential information.

The encryption system functions similarly to a website SSL, where a certain certification is used to verify and establish the connection. However, public and private keys are used in case of PGP to make this military-grade encryption possible.

This encryption system was developed back in 1991, and it quickly became a standard system of encrypting email messages across the Internet. PGP also collaboratively works with other high-end encryption systems such as AES where it encrypts data at rest, while PGP is used for ongoing encryption while sending messages out of the company.

How does PGP Encryption Work?

A PGP encryption system consists of two types of key encryption methodologies including symmetric key encryption and public key encryption that are used together to form a stronger system that is almost impossible to decrypt.

On a base level, the parties involved in a PGP system use public and private keys to make encryption and decryption possible without exposing any information to third parties. We have to create an imaginary scenario to understand this system:

Scenario: Two Parties using PGP for Email Encryption

Let’s consider two imaginary characters named “Jack” and “Jill”.

Suppose Jack needs to send a private email to Jill, and he wants to use the PGP encryption system to keep information secure. In this case, Jack will ask Jill for the public key to encode the message with it.

Jill will create two keys, a “Public Key” for Jack and a “Private Key” for himself. He will send the public key to Jack, who will encrypt his message along with the provided public key. Once, Jack sends the email message. Jill will use his stored private key to access the content inside the mail.

Technical Working of PGP

PGP encryption is a highly technical process. However, we can understand the technicalities at a higher level.

  • PGP algorithms are used to generate randomized session keys. These keys are unique, and they cannot be used more than once.
  • The session key is then encrypted, and the public key sent by the other party is used to further encode the message.
  • The encrypted message is sent to the person with the private key, who decrypts it to see the content inside.

Uses of PGP

Although PGP encryption can be used for a wide range of purposes, it is still most popular in encrypting messages, emails and other such ongoing information. Here are three major uses of PGP:

  • To Send & Receive Encrypted Emails
  • To Verify Identity of Message or Email Sender
  • Encrypt Cloud or other Storage Files

Mail Encryption Via PGP

The majority of business owners, especially those who use email services like ProtonMail prefer to use PGP encryption as their email provider allows it by default. Hence, PGP serves the biggest purpose of email encryption and decryption on the surface as well as the dark web.

Digital PGP Encrypted Signatures

Another popular use of PGP is in digital signatures. Many journalists and media persons used digital signatures alongside PGP encryption to verify the identity of the receiver.

The key that the sender uses to sign data is combined with the data being sent through an algorithm. By using this algorithm, your message can be converted into a block of data of a fixed size. After that, a private key is used to encrypt the message.

File Encryption

File encryption is a less common yet powerful use of PGP encryption. It relies on a strong algorithm called Rivest-Shamir-Adleman (RSA). This algorithm allows you to strongly encrypt your files that become almost useless without a decryption key.

Advantages & Disadvantages

On the surface, PGP encryption system possesses a range of benefits, but it also has some downsides:

●        PGP encryption is nearly as strong as AES and there is no verified case where a hacker decrypts a PGP system. Also, the NSA is also unable to break this encryption.

●        PGP encryption can be used for multiple purposes whether you are sending emails, messages or securing your files.

●        This encryption system can also be very useful when it comes to Cloud environments and their security.

●        The encryption method is slow and a bit longer than other methods.

●        Employees need proper training before they become used to the PGP system.

●        PGP encryption alone is not going to make anyone anonymous.

Is PGP Decryptable by Hackers?

The PGP encryption is as strong as that of AES. Hence, it is very unlikely for a hacker to intercept and decrypt the encrypted messages. However, if someone gets the corresponding private key for that particular message, then they can easily decode the message.

There might be some security flaws in the implementation of PGP that may lead to vulnerabilities like eFail. However, if everything is configured accurately, then it is unlikely for someone to simply decrypt the message.

Bottom Line

Undoubtedly, PGP is one of the strongest encryption systems available today. Its power stems from its dual use of keys, including symmetric and private keys together. The method is also popular among dark web users, but many email companies have also adopted this technique.

The only actual downside with PGP is that it requires some technical capabilities for a normal person to operate this whole encryption system, and it is also time-consuming. Hence, companies can consider better alternatives unless their data is highly confidential.