In 1991, Phil Zimmermann invented an encryption software program called Pretty Good Privacy (or PGP). PGP earned the title of the world’s first widely available public key cryptographic application. It was used mostly for email security, but had other uses as well. At the time, he wasn’t sure if PGP would stand the test of time. Today, PGP is the most widely used email encryption software in the world.
Zimmermann’s invention was so effective at encrypting data, that he was later investigated by the US Customs Service for allegedly violating the Arms Export Control Act. They claimed PGP could be used conceal data related to arms trafficking and started a 3-year investigation. The investigation was eventually closed, and no charges were filed. Soon after, Zimmermann started PGP Inc, and eventually sold the company to Network Associates (NAI) in 1997. NAI was later acquired by McAfee. PGP Inc. was recently acquired by Symantec at a cost of $300 million.
Zimmermann has assured himself a place in history as one of the most famous cryptographers ever. His name is so iconic, that it was even mentioned in Dan Brown’s novel The Da Vinci Code. We proudly add Phil Zimmerman to our list of weekly geeks.