1-2-3 PGP

In this short column I will explain how to encrypt a message using PGP. There are many ways to accomplish this; I will illustrate the most basic and straightforward one. By the end of this, you should be able to encrypt a message yourself.

The idea is to get you quick-started: this is not meant to be a thorough guide, nor a hand-in-hand tutorial for a particular tool. If you are interested and want additional informations, check out the last section.

How to

If you need to encrypt a message directed to person A, you will need his/her public PGP key. Public keys are files with a bunch of seemingly random characters in them; as the name suggests, you can share them without compromising the secrecy of your message.

Once you obtained a public key from one of your friends (here is a link to my public PGP key, if you need a test one), the steps to encrypt a message are:

gnupg site, binaries section

gnu privacy guard, import button

Add the keys you have downloaded.

gnu privacy guard, clipboard button

gnu privacy guard, clipboard with clear text message

gnu privacy guard, clipboard with encrypted message

Conclusion and further reading

Many of the emails/messages we send in real life do not need encryption, but I can assure there are times when you need to protect the secrecy of your correspondence. For this reason I advise you to take half an hour of your time to familiarise yourself with the tool: send a couple of test messages to your friends now! This little training session could save you from potentially distressing times in the future.

There is more to PGP than sending encrypted messages (namely: receiving them, signing them, establishing online identities and finding public keys); for a more comprehensive description, check How PGP works.