Using GnuPG encryption tools with Gpg4win

Last month, I wrote about using GnuPG on Unix and Linux systems. You can get OpenPGP functionality on your Microsoft Windows system with GnuPG as well, and I aim to explain how.

Last month, I wrote about using GnuPG on Unix and Linux systems. You can get OpenPGP functionality on your Microsoft Windows system with GnuPG as well, and I aim to explain how.

There are several ways to get GnuPG for MS Windows. Among them are GnuPG, a graphical installer for a command-line GnuPG binary compiled for MS Windows, and Gpg4win, a modular multi-function GnuPG software suite. This article addresses getting the functionality of GnuPG on an MS Windows system by way of Gpg4win.

What's In Gpg4win

Gpg4win is not just a basic GnuPG package. It is a suite of tools that can make your life somewhat easier while using GnuPG in a Microsoft Windows environment. Among the tools included in Gpg4win are:

  • GnuPG: This is the GnuPG encryption tool itself, an implementation of the OpenPGP standard that provides the same functionality as the commercial PGP application. It also supports S/MIME encryption, if you choose to install version 2 of GnuPG.
  • WinPT: This is a key management application for use with GnuPG and other encryption systems.
  • GPA: This is another key manager, specifically for GnuPG.
  • GPGol: This is a Microsoft Outlook 2003 email encryption plugin for GnuPG.
  • GPGee: This is a Microsoft Explorer file encryption plugin for GnuPG.
  • Claws Mail: This is an email client application designed specifically for integration with GnuPG for encryption.
  • Documentation: This is documentation for the Gpg4win suite, in both English and German.

Installing Gpg4win

To install Gpg4win on Microsoft Windows, you should have administrative rights for the system. You can download the installer by going to the download page and clicking on the gpg4win-n.n.n.exe file (where each n stands for a number) that matches the latest stable version of Gpg4win, indicated at the top of the Gpg4win main webpage.

When you run the installer, after accepting the license agreement (the GNU General Public License, one of the most-used open source software licenses), you will be presented with an opportunity to customize your installation by selecting or deselecting components. The defaults should be sufficient, perhaps deselecting the Outlook plugin and -- if you cannot read German -- the German language manuals. Select or deselect others as required, if you have specific preferences or needs. Only about 25 MB or less of hard disk space should be required for the install.

Using the Gpg4win Suite

After installation, you will need to make use of the tools Gpg4win provides. Basic setup is explained in exhaustive detail in the Gpg4win for Novices manual, a lengthy PDF file. In addition to the documentation, Gpg4win also helps you prepare your GnuPG encryption tools with special practice software that allows you to simulate use of the tools to be sure you have the hang of things before using them for "real-world" purposes. Once you have GnuPG working on your MS Windows system, don't forget to check out my list of 10 tips for effective use of OpenPGP with GnuPG.

The tools included in the Gpg4win suite can be used to encrypt files on your system's hard drive or on other storage media, to encrypt emails sent to others and decrypt emails sent to you, and to sign your emails so that recipients will know they have not been forged by someone else.

Securing your data and your communications with others, as well as maintaining the integrity of your identity -- the purposes for which the OpenPGP standard was developed -- is extremely important. In a perfect world, doing so would be second nature. Because this is not a perfect world, it is not generally second nature, but Gpg4win exists to make it easier than it might otherwise be.