McAfee – PGP Personal Security 7 review

keep out the prying eyes
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We’re big fans of encryption here at IT Reviews, thanks mainly to the UK government’s increasingly misguided attempts at privacy invasion (see here for example). So convenient data encryption software such as this is right up our street. We reviewed an earlier version of this PGP software here, but this new package has some useful additions.

PGP (‘pretty good privacy’) works on the public/private key principle. Basically, you have a software key, created from your name, e-mail address and a phrase of your choice, which you keep in a very safe place. This is the private key. You also have a public key, which you distribute to anyone you know. This allows people to encrypt messages that only you, with your private key, can read. Public keys can be stored on Internet servers, so that anyone with the relevant encryption tools can send you encrypted e-mails and files, keeping them safe from prying eyes.

PGP Personal Security 7 includes encryption plug-ins for Microsoft Outlook and Outlook Express, plus ICQ and Eudora, which makes sense because e-mails and chat are easy to intercept and read. Obviously, the recipient of your e-mail will need encryption software too in order to read your e-mails, but you can send encrypted files to other users even if they don’t have PGP themselves. Such files are ‘self-decrypting’ – the recipient just has to click on them and enter the pass-phrase in order to extract the contents.

The PGP package also includes a firewall that can be used with most types of Internet access, blocking unwanted access to your PC from potentially malicious users. But it’s the encryption of files that’s at the heart of this software utility. You can, if you wish, encrypt individual files or create an encrypted virtual disk, which can be assigned its own drive letter. Here you can drag and drop files, manipulate folders and generally treat the disk as though it were a hard drive.

There’s one difference, though, and that is that your data is encrypted, either with your private key or a pass-phrase. You have to enter the pass-phrase whenever you ‘mount’ the disk (mounting can be done automatically when you boot your PC – although you still have to enter the pass-phrase, obviously). You can unmount the disk at any time, and set it to automatically unmount itself after a period of inactivity. In this way your data is always secure, even if someone steals your PC or removes the hard drive.

There’s a selection of encryption protocols built into PGP 7, including CAST, Twofish and DES, plus utilities such as file wipe, which totally over-writes deleted files so that they can’t be retrieved.

Company: McAfee

Contact: 01753 217 500

Although there's no such thing as perfect encryption (yet), this is about as close as you're likely to get. It would take a very determined hacker to extract the data from files encrypted with PGP. And since the process is so straight-forward, protecting your data from nosy people - whether in government or elsewhere - isn't going to cause you any headaches.