The most chilling phrase in the online world is "I know your secrets." We all possess sensitive information, whether it's financial records, personal or professional email, or secret business plans. PGP 8.0 Personal takes a direct approach to safeguarding them: encrypting email messages and files so that nobody but you and your chosen recipients can read them.
PGP uses a technique called public-key cryptography to control access to an encrypted file or disk. Traditional security tools - including options in software such as Adobe Acrobat - can password-protect files, but that creates a paradox: how do you get the password to your recipient over an insecure channel? The answer is public-key cryptography, which lets users encode items with their recipient's publicly-available key, making those items unreadable to everyone except the recipient, who is in possession of a second, descrambling private key.
With a comprehensive set of features and a straightforward interface, PGP 8.0 handles the task of encoding and decoding items with grace, hiding the computational and management complexity in a straightforward interface. It also helps create and manage keys, and lets you create secure "virtual disks" on which to store vital files. Users who routinely exchange critical data, or who work at insecure locations, will find PGP 8.0 vital.
PGP 8.0 is the first version of the long-standing Pretty Good Privacy software to run natively in Mac OS X. This release works only with OS X 10.2, although the keys, files, and disks it creates interact seamlessly with Windows PGP 8.0. PGP 8.0 also includes PGP 7.2 for OS 8.6 to 9.x.
Managing public and private keys are the centre of PGP 8.0. In the software's PGPkeys window, you click the New Key button to create a pair of keys, link them to your name and email address, and enter a long pass phrase to secure the private part of the key. A public key can be easily submitted to several public key servers on the Internet, making it available to anyone who wants to send you encrypted information.
Likewise, it's easy to find the public key of anyone you want to contact - just choose Search under the Server menu and you'll see a simple interface to search the key servers for the person you seek. Recipients don't need version 8.0, but they do need a PGP-based program to decrypt your documents or messages.
Managing your keys and importing other people's public keys is simple, but it's best to spend time with the manual to figure out which details in the displays are useful, and which are easily ignored.
The last version of PGP consisted of several programs, each handling a different encryption task. That's been simplified somewhat, with the tools for key, disk, and email message encryption combined into a single program. There's a free version for those who don't need all the tools; see "Pieces of 8.0". Still, some of the clunkiness remains. We found it hard at first to determine the appropriate tool for various tasks. For instance, to encrypt files with someone's public key, you use PGPmail, whether or not you plan to email the file.
You can access the document options not just from PGP itself, but also from PGP's Dock icon and from the Services submenu on the Application menu, for programs that support Services—Qualcomm's Eudora, for example. Apple's Mail program supports PGP directly, and PGP 8.0 also includes plug-ins that enable PGP support from within Microsoft Entourage X. A forthcoming update to Bare Bones Software's Mailsmith also supports PGP 8 from directly within that application's interface. The more direct PGP support software developers offer, the more pervasive PGP-encrypted mail can become, but it's entirely dependent on the interest and resources of those developers.
PGP 8.0's PGPdisk tool creates encrypted disk images for groups of files or entire volumes, and you can mount these images just like those created by Apple's Disk Copy - but PGPdisk surpasses Disk Copy in speed, versatility, and level of protection. PGPdisk can allow multiple users access to a disk image, and the program automatically unmounts disk images if there is no activity, so that walking away from a computer doesn't render its data vulnerable.
There is one significant risk that comes with PGPdisk: any data corruption in the disk-image file could render the entire disk unreadable - so back-up.
PGP 8.0 Personal is an excellent and inexpensive solution for those who must regularly protect the contents of files or disks, or who frequently need to send and receive secure documents. The rewards for mastering its learning curve are peace of mind and industrial-grade protection.