- ✓Extremely secure
- ✓integrates well with the most common email programs.
- ✕Complicated and difficult to use.
Ever since its introduction in 1991, PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) has reigned as the preferred method for encrypting email and files. Many versions and improvements later, PGP Personal for Windows 8.0 is now a full-featured encryption suite that integrates with Windows XP and most popular email programs. This version includes features such as PGP Mail, which encrypts and digitally signs email messages, as well as the new PGP Disk feature, which allows you to set aside an encrypted area of disk space for storing your sensitive data. Although PGP can be daunting for those unfamiliar with Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) programs, it remains the de facto standard in encryption technology. Whether you choose the free version or the 50-euro (~£33) Personal edition, PGP 8.0 is a must-have for anyone who is truly serious about keeping data and email communications private.
Setup & interface
Our installation of PGP 8.0 was smooth and painless. The installer recognised the email program, and then asked permission to integrate PGP with it. Once installed, PGP adds a padlock icon to your desktop system tray for quick access to the program. Your email application, which is where you'll probably use PGP the most, also provides immediate access to PGP. The biggest drawback to PGP is its fairly steep learning curve -- a problem due more to the inherent complexity of Public Key Infrastructure (PKI) technology than to PGP's interface. PKI technology encrypts files and messages with a user's key and works in conjunction with scrambling algorithms to produce data that can be decrypted by only its intended recipients. A public key is openly shared with recipients, while a private key never leaves your own computer. The security comes from knowing that recipients can open only messages encrypted with your private key. PGP 8.0 supports the open standard OpenPGP, which means that you can share encrypted files with anyone using a program that handles exchange OpenPGP keys and messages. All this may sound straightforward, but if you're new to asymmetric encryption, the initial setup of PGP could take a while.
Although PGP Personal for Windows 8.0's primary function is to integrate with popular email programs to encrypt and add digital signatures to email messages, the paid version of this software offers some extra, equally useful, utilities. If you just want to encrypt and decrypt email, PGP Personal lets you do that from the new menu choices that have been inserted into your current email program. However, the freeware version of PGP 8.0 doesn't integrate with your chosen email client -- instead, you'll have to launch the PGP Mail program separately. The PGP Mail application itself sports a floating toolbar interface that includes buttons for launching the PGP Keys program, encrypting and signing files, decrypting and verifying files and wiping files clean. With the free version, you can use the PGP Mail program only to encrypt files or text on your system clipboard. The PGP Keys button summons the PGP Key Generation Wizard, where you enter a phrase that secures your public and private keys. The PGP Disk program, which is available in the Personal edition (accessible directly from your Windows System Tray), lets you create, edit, write and read encrypted files on your hard drive -- perfect for laptop users. You won't find this convenient tool in the freeware version of PGP. Unlike some encryption-equipped compression programs, including CuteZIP, PKZip and ArticSoft FileAssurity, PGP 8.0 does not include archiving capabilities. It will, however, compress your files as though you had zipped them. Also, for encryption, CuteZip uses either a PKZip-compatible format (165-bit DES) or the more secure 128-bit Twofish; FileAssurity uses a 256-bit PKI, while PGP includes stronger protection with 256-bit AES encryption, as well as CAST, TripleDES, IDEA and Twofish.
PGP 8.0 performed flawlessly in our tests. It speedily executed every encryption and decryption task on a 900MHz Pentium III system with 256MB of RAM running Windows XP. PGP 8.0 establishes a connection to a public key server at pgp.com, a repository for looking up and verifying keys. This process was swift and error-free in our tests. The PGP Disk utility creates an encrypted portion of your hard drive. Putting large files in this volume and retrieving and unencrypting files from it took approximately the same amount of time as saving and opening files from non-encrypted drives on the same system. The PGP Mail program also encrypted, signed and unencrypted messages with no appreciable delays.
Service & support
PGP 8.0 includes an extensive integrated help system that does a good job of introducing PGP's complex key-based encryption mechanisms. If you haven't used PKI programs before, the sections on "Getting started with PGP" and Using PGP Keys are well worth reading. The Personal edition of PGP 8.0 comes with one year of support. This includes a detailed support Web site, with technical notes and searchable FAQs that deal with many common problems and questions, as well as email-based technical support with a guaranteed response time of two business days. Telephone support is also available.