Security

Encrypting data using PGP

PGP or Pretty Good Encryption is widely used to encrypt a variety of communications and is commonly used to encrypt sensitive information that is transmitted via the Internet.  In working with a variety of software out there that supports encrypting and decrypting PGP files, there is a free utility available called Privacy Assistant and is available for various platforms including Windows, which is the version we will be documenting in this post.  The site is: https://www.gpg4win.org/  and the installer is very painless wizard that will have the software installed in a couple of minutes at most.

Setup

The first step in getting setup to use PGP with the Privacy Assistant is to setup a key pair that you will use to encrypt and decrypt files.  This involves setting up a private key with the name that will be used to sign and other information that will be included inside the key. When you first open the software, you will be prompted to generate your key at that point.  You can however choose to do this later also.

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If you choose to do this later or if you decide to create additional keys, this functionality is found under the Keys menu where you can select simply to create a “New key…”

 

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Setting the name used to identify the key:

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Email:

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At the end of the process you will be asked to create a backup copy of your key:

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After all information is entered, the software will begin generating the key which may take a few moments.

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After the generation of the key is complete, you will be asked to Enter a passphrase which will be used to encrypt and decrypt files.

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If the passphrase you enter is not viewed as secure, you will receive the warning below about either creating a new passphrase that meets secure standards or simply proceeding forward.

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You will be prompted to re-enter the passphrase

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Configuration:

There are a couple of things we like to do with this software to view important information pertaining to our keys.  One of the first things to note is that you can switch from Brief to Detailed views which gives more information concerning the keys.

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Also found under the “Edit” menu is the “Preferences” menu option.  Click here.

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After you choose the Preferences menu option, you will see several options to select.  Select the “Use advanced mode” to display tabs in the keyring viewer which actually allows you to see the signature and subkeys also.

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A view of the “Subkeys” tab which shows your private and public keys, status, algorithms, sizes, expiration dates, and what they can each do.  If you hover over the different symbols, you will get a bubble tip on the functionality of each key.

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Exporting and Backup

An important difference we want to make note of here is the difference between the “Export Keys” and the “Backup…” functions.

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If you are sending your key to a sister organization/company who need to be able to encrypt a file and send it back to you to open, you will need to Export your key which contains the public portion only.  This allows for encrypting but not decrypting.

If you want to have multiple workstations with the software loaded to be able to decrypt the encrypted files with the same key, you will need to choose to Backup the key and then import the key on the other workstations.  This exports both the public and the private keys to a file.

Final thoughts

In the digital world we live in today, security is becoming increasingly important.  Making sure that information is secure as it comes across the ever public Internet is becoming a necessity and not just a best practice.  Encryption is perhaps one of the best ways to ensure data is secure.  PGP encryption is a good place to at least start making sure data is encrypted and secure and the GNU Privacy Assistant software provides an intuitive and easy to use interface that will allow for both encryption and decryption of data.

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