Reply to post: A little story about how PGP was first distributed

Cryptography whizz Phil Zimmermann looks back at 30 years of Pretty Good Privacy


A little story about how PGP was first distributed


I was working at McAfee Associates office at 1900 Wyatt industrial park (long since converted to more expensive real estate) on June 5th, 1991 when "K" showed up at our office, asking to make use of our internet connection. "K" was, well, not so much a friend of Mr. McAfee, per se, but an acquaintance who was heavily involved in mainframe and workstation security (Amdahl, Sun, etc.) and would later go on to be active on the original cypherpunks mailing list. A military vet, "K" took his security seriously, to the point of rigging his van with a groovy green metallic paint job to electrocute anyone who touched it with a 50,000 volt system.

Anyways, "K" drove up in the late morning (might have been around lunch time, even) and ran into the office with a floppy diskette in his hands, saying he urgently needed to speak with Mr. McAfee, who wasn't there at the time. He ended up going back to speak with "M," the developer who wrote all of McAfee Associates' algorithmic detections, disinfectors and other low-level things that had to be coded in assembly. "M's" office, a repurposed janitorial closet, was right outside my office, a repurposed hallway, so I got to listen to their discussion of public and private keys, elliptical curves, and that it was completely urgent that "K" make use of our connection to Netcom, a local ISP, in order to upload this revolutionary (in the more traditional sense of the world) software before it was outlawed by the government.

After a couple of uploads to open ftp servers run by universities outside of the United States, "K" drove away to go to the next company on his list and repeat the process of uploading that first version of PGP to a couple of servers outside the U.S., and repeat.

I had let Mr. McAfee know about our visitor, who came into the office later that afternoon brandishing a South African "street sweeper" style riot shotgun with a huge drum clip slung below it--I'm not sure of the model, it looked like an oversized M-16 to me. Anyways, Mr. McAfee then proceeded to sweep the entire office, ducking around corners before entering rooms and hallways, etc. Lest anyone be concerned, I would note that Mr. McAfee did keep his finger off the trigger, and kept the barrel vertical--he always had good trigger discipline. Finally, he came back to the front of the building (towards where his office was), let the ten (or so) of us employees know that he had swept the building and "K" was no longer present in it, and then proceeded to go into his office, place the shotgun in a corner, and begin his work day. All in all, it was a very Mr. McAfee thing of him to do.


Aryeh Goretsky

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