GNU launches free encryption tool

Open-source software group GNU has announced the release of its message-encryption tool GNU Privacy Guard (GnuPG) version 1.0.0.

The privacy-protection program, which is available now free from http://www.gnupg.org, is billed as a replacement for PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) protection. Because GnuPG does not use patented algorithms such as IDEA (International Data Encryption Algorithm), as well as the fact that it was developed outside of the US, it is not subject to export restrictions as PGP is, the group said.

"This was all developed outside the US, and that was done deliberately so GnuPG could be distributed both inside and outside the US," according to Brian Youmans, distribution manager at the Free Software Foundation (FSF), which was originally created to support the GNU Project.

According to the GnuPG Web site, the software is not controlled by the Wassenar agreement either, because it is in the public domain. The Wassenar agreement was signed in December 1998 by 33 countries to put export controls on some types of encryption software.

"The (encryption) project is not a formal project of the Foundation itself, and we didn't actually pay anyone to work on it, but we are certainly very glad it happened," Youmans stated. He added that if the FSF had paid anyone, it could possibly have broken the "created outside the US" rule which is needed to avoid export restrictions.

The release of GnuPG is the first "fully functional production release", according to Youmans, but the application has been beta tested in different pre-production versions for over a year. Like PGP, GnuPG uses 128-bit encryption. It was created by Werner Koch, a software developer based in Germany. A beta version of the product was released in January.

GnuPG also features a number of security enhancements, including support for a key expiration date, support in eight languages and an online help system.

Privacy Guard works on GNU/Linux, FreeBSD and OpenBSD systems, and although it was not written with Microsoft's Windows and Windows NT systems in mind, it has been ported to those systems with positive results, according to Youmans.

The GNU Project, based in Boston, Massachusetts, was launched in 1984 to develop a free Unix-like operating system, called GNU/Linux.

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