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Beautiful Security by Andy Oram, John Viega

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Chapter 7. The Evolution of PGP’s Web of Trust

Phil Zimmermann

Jon Callas

When Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) first arrived in 1991, it was the first time ordinary people could use strong encryption that was previously available only to major governments.

PGP led to new opportunities for human rights organizations and other users concerned with privacy around the world, along with some oft-misunderstood legal issues that we’ll touch on later.

One of the most influential aspects of PGP is its solution to the problem of connecting people who have never met and therefore never had a chance to exchange secure keys. This solution quickly earned the moniker “Web of Trust,” which describes the way the system operates about as accurately as any phrase.

The trust mechanism in PGP has evolved a lot since the early releases. It’s worth examining the reasons for the trust model and the way PGP has evolved to provide more robustness.

The Web of Trust also offers an interesting historical angle because it was an early peer-to-peer design, and arguably one of the first social networks.

Much has been written about PGP and practical public key cryptography, but to our dismay, we’ve found that much of what is written contains substantial inaccuracies. It is our goal in this chapter to describe the PGP trust model, as well as its implementation, standardization, and use. We also will put it in its historic and political context.

PGP and OpenPGP

PGP is software; OpenPGP is a standard and a protocol. PGP is also ...

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