A New Future for GnuPG

It has been quite some time since my last status report on GnuPG. I have been quite busy working on the project but unfortunately rarely active on the usual channels. So, here is a new report telling what we did over the last two or three years. Please read at least the last section.

Some background

In the beginning GnuPG was a fun project I did in my spare time. After a few years this turned out to be a full time job and it was possible to acquire paid projects to maintain and further develop GnuPG.

When the BSI (Germany's Federal Office for Information Security) migrated back from Linux to Windows, a need to migrate their end-to-end encryption solution, based on GnuPG and KMail, was needed. A call for bids for an Open Source solution was issued and our company, g10 Code, along with our friends at Intevation and KDAB received the contract. The outcome was Gpg4win, the meanwhile standard distribution of GnuPG for Windows.

It turned out that the software used in Germany to protect restricted data at the VS-NfD level, called Chiasmus, showed its age. For example, the block length of 64 bits (like IDEA or 3DES) is not anymore secure for data of more than 150 MiB. Also the secret encryption algorithm has not anymore the confidence people used to have in it and due to lacking hardware support it is quite slow. A new call to bid for a replacement of that software was issued and we also with Intevation were granted the contract. Our solution was to update GnuPG and its frontends Kleopatra and GpgOL. After some thorough evaluation of our software (working title Gpg4VS-NfD) and the usual bureaucratic we received a first approval in January 2019.

Meet GnuPG.com

I have been working with Andre Heinecke of Intevation GmbH since about 2010 on Gpg4win and some other projects. With the foreseeable approval of Gpg4VS-NfD Andre then left Intevation and took over 40% of the g10 Code shares from my brother (I am holding the other 60%).

We started to make a real product out of Gpg4VS-NfD. Thus we rented a new office to work desk by desk on this and hired staff for sales and marketing. We introduced the brand GnuPG.com to have a better recognition of our product than by our legal name g10 Code GmbH. The software itself was re-branded as GnuPG VS-Desktop® and distributed as an MSI packet for Windows and as an AppImage for Linux. Except for customer specific configuration files GnuPG VS-Desktop is and will always be Open Source software under the GNU General Public License.

We also keep maintaining Gpg4win as the community version. This is based on the the same source code as GnuPG VS-Desktop but comes with more features due to the use of the latest development branch.

The benefits for the customer to pay for GnuPG VS-Desktop are: a commercial support contract, the guarantee of a long term maintained and approved version, customization options, community tested new features, and the per-approval required vendor for security updates.

Also technically published for longer, it became only last year widely known, that the legacy Chiasmus software may not anymore be used for restricted communication from this year on. For the administration and also for the industry two option exist to migrate away from Chiasmus: the proprietary GreenShield software from cryptovision GmbH and our Open Source software GnuPG VS-Desktop.

The rush towards GnuPG VS-Desktop

Since summer 2021 the phones of our sales team didn't stop ringing and we could bring in the fruits of our work. We were not aware how many different governmental agencies exist and how many of them have a need to protect data at the VS-NfD (restricted) level. And with those agencies also comes a huge private and corporate sector who also have to handle such communication.

Although we support S/MIME, the majority of our customers decided in favor of the OpenPGP protocol, due to its higher flexibility and independence of a centralized public key infrastructure. A minor drawback is that for a quick start and easy migration from Chiasmus, many sites will use symmetric-only encryption (i.e. based on "gpg -c"). However, the now deployed software provides the foundation to move on to a comfortable public-key solution.

In particular, our now smooth integration into Active Directory makes working with OpenPGP under Windows really nice. We were also able to partner with Rohde & Schwarz Cybersecurity GmbH for a smooth integration of GnuPG VS-Desktop with their smartcard administration system.

We estimate that a quarter million workplaces will be equipped with GnuPG VS-Desktop and provide the users state of the art file and mail encryption. Our longer term plan is to equip all public agency workplaces with end-to-end encryption software - not only those with an immediate need for an approved VS-NfD solution. This should also fit well into the announced goal of the new German government to foster the development of Open Source software.

Kudos to all supporters

For many years our work was mainly financed by donations and smaller projects. Now we have reached a point where we can benefit from a continuous revenue stream to maintain and extend the software without asking for donations or grants. This is quite a new experience to us and I am actually a bit proud to lead one of the few self-sustaining free software projects who had not to sacrifice the goals of the movement.

Those of you with SEPA donations, please cancel them and redirect your funds to other projects which are more in need of financial support. The Paypal and Stripe based recurring donations have already been canceled by us.

All you supporters greatly helped us to keep GnuPG alive and to finally setup a sustainable development model.

Thank you!