GnuPG author set to bolster operation after donation drive

​The author of the popular free email encryption software used by whistleblower Edward Snowden has finally received a six-figure pay day after more than 17 years of maintaining the code on diminishing donations.

Werner Koch, who authored the popular Gnu Privacy Guard (GnuPG) email encryption software and has been maintaining the code since its initial development in 1997, is set to expand his operation after receiving more than €120,000 from a number of benefactors in less than two weeks.

Koch, who has been keeping his company g10code GmbH barely afloat on sporadic donations for well over a decade, revealed in a tweet on February 5 that he had been granted $60,000 by the Linux Foundation, while the company's donations portal had racked up €123,253 at the time of writing -- well over its €120,000 goal.

Also on February 5, e-payments player Stripe tweeted that it, along with Facebook, had agreed to sponsor the GnuPG development, with $50,000 from each per year to the company.

According to a tweet on Thursday by German security researcher Stefan Esser, GnuPG donations for 2015 have reached $160,000, plus £70,000 from the United Kingdom.

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(Image: Screenshot by Leon Spencer/ZDNet)

"For a critical project of this size, two experienced developers are required for proper operation. This requires gross revenues of 120,000 euro per year," the company said on its website. "Unfortunately, there is currently only one underpaid full-time developer, who is barely able to keep up with the work."

Of course, the developer referenced is Koch himself, who has been funding the GnuPG project off the back of seemingly diminishing donations, with the company estimating that as of November 2014, it had received just €8,548 for the year.

Koch initially developed the software as an alternative to the "Pretty Good Privacy" (PGP) suite of cryptographic software authored by Phil Zimmerman and published for free on the internet in 1991.

The flood of cash the company received this week and last came as Koch's struggles to keep the project afloat were highlighted in a ProPublica report by Julia Angwin on February 5.

The report revealed that in 2013, Koch was ready to quit the project altogether after having to let go of a programmer the previous year, who he had hired to help maintain the software while also building a version of GnuPG for the Windows operating system, GPG4Win.

This had been funded by a grant given to the company by the German government, which gave him an additional grant in 2005 to back the development of another email encryption method. This funding had run out by 2010.

While Koch was on the brink of giving up on the project, the Snowden news broke, and Koch moved to launch a fundraising campaign.

Like many people around the world who want to keep their emails private, the former United States National Security Agency (NSA) contractor and whistleblower was a user of the GnuPG software.

However, Koch earned just $21,000 from the fundraising campaign. By contrast, this latest fundraising effort looks to have set Koch up to expand his GnuPG operation with an additional developer, and ensure the company has some financial sustainability going forward.

"Thank you all," he tweeted early on Friday morning.