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## PGP Encryption: A Layman’s Guide to How It Works

The objective and purpose of encryption is to allow authorized people to view the data while making the data unreadable to anyone. PGP is one of many encryption methods used most often by businesses and organizations. The acronym PGP stands for Pretty Good Privacy and was created in 1991 by Phil Zimmermann. It has undergone many changes over the years, but PGP remains a very viable and popular encryption method.

What are some of the basics of encryption? We call data that is in its normal, readable state is called plaintext and data that has been encrypted is called ciphertext. Algorithms are used to transform plaintext data into ciphertext and depending on the encryption method, the number and type of algorithms used will differ.

The process of transforming plaintext data into ciphertext is done with so-called “keys”. In some forms of encryption (like PGP which is excellent for mainframe encryption), keys are used to encrypt and decrypt data as well as during the encryption process itself. I’m sure that last statement about keys is more confusing than anything, so I’ll do my best to describe the use of keys in the encryption method known as PGP.

When describing the PGP encryption process, it is best to first explain public key cryptography (AKA asymmetric cryptography). To participate in the encryption and decryption of data using any encryption method using public key cryptography, each participant must have a pair of public and private keys. There is a cryptographic algorithm that links a user’s public and private key pair, but it is “computationally impossible” to derive the private key from the public key, making it secure to use these key pairs.

First of all, it is important to note that throughout the process that I will describe, many encryption algorithms and methods are used to completely secure the encrypted data. By using many algorithms, PGP encryption is much more secure than most other encryption methods. An added benefit of PGP is that during the encryption process, data is compressed by up to 50%, putting unnecessary strain on the network when sending data.

So how does the PGP encryption/decryption process work? The data encryption process begins with the generation of a random key. This key may look like this: SwizTCuPb4x. The data is then encrypted using this random key. This key will be what is needed to actually decrypt the ciphertext in what is called symmetric key cryptography. Instead of just leaving this key as is (as is the case with encryption methods that rely solely on symmetric key cryptography), the key itself is then encrypted using the recipient’s public key. The result of this process is the encrypted data (ciphertext) and the encrypted random key. The encrypted data and the encrypted key must be sent to the recipient so that they can decrypt the data.

The process is then done essentially in reverse by the recipient using their private key instead of their public key. The recipient uses their own private key to decrypt the encrypted key. At this point, the key reverts to its original state when it was randomly generated to start the encryption process. All that remains is to decrypt the ciphertext using the same key that was used to encrypt the data originally and the data will be as it was before the process began!

It really is a very simple process that uses some of the most complex math and algorithms in the world! Encryption software is absolutely necessary for any organization that stores, sends, or receives sensitive data such as credit card information or personal customer information. The sender and receiver must use the same encryption method and the same features in the chosen method to allow the receiver to decrypt the ciphertext. PGP is an interesting encryption method that can also be used as a data storage security solution because it encrypts data at rest instead of on the fly.

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