Securing Email Messages and Files Using PGP

PGP Personal Desktop includes a variety of capabilities, but we’ll focus on email and file security here. When installing PGP, choose your email client from the list as outlined in the stepped procedure below. This will add the ability to encrypt or sign messages right from your email client. The installation process will also prompt you to ask whether or not you already have an existing key pair. If this is the first time you have used PGP, choose No. The PGP Key Generation Wizard will ultimately be used to create your own personal key pair, consisting of both a public and private key. If you already have a key pair, you can specify their location and continue to use these keys with PGP Personal Desktop.

You’ll also be prompted to supply a passphrase that will be used to both decrypt and digitally sign messages – if you forget this passphrase, you won’t be able to use your keys. Ensure that your passphrase is sufficiently complex, but also easy for you to remember. By default, PGP will remember this passphrase for up to 2 minutes (meaning you will not be prompted to enter it multiple times within this period), although longer or shorter caching periods can be configured according to your security preferences.

PGP will load automatically when the computer boots (or after you log in), and will be accessible via the lock icon in the system tray, as shown opposite. This will give you access to the three main PGP Personal Desktop utilities – PGPmail, PGPkeys, and PGPdisk.

For someone to send you an encrypted message, they’ll need a copy of your public key (and to be running PGP themselves). There are a number of options as to how this can be done, but the easiest is just to mail it to them. To do this, open the PGPkeys utility, and right-click your key, usually the first in the list as shown below. Select the Send To option, and then select Mail Recipient. This will attach your public key to a new message.

Author: Dan DiNicolo

Dan DiNicolo is a freelance author, consultant, trainer, and the managing editor of He is the author of the CCNA Study Guide found on this site, as well as many books including the PC Magazine titles Windows XP Security Solutions and Windows Vista Security Solutions. Click here to contact Dan.