World
The World's Email Encryption Software Relies on One Guy, Who is Going Broke
Werner Koch's code powers the email encryption programs around the world. If only somebody would pay him for the work
 
Update, Feb. 5, 2015, 8:10 p.m.: After this article appeared, Werner Koch informed us that last week he was awarded a one-time grant of $60,000 from Linux Foundation's Core Infrastructure Initiative. Werner told us he only received permission to disclose it after our article published. Meanwhile, since our story was posted, donations flooded Werner's website donation page and he reached his funding goal of $137,000. In addition, Facebook and the online payment processor Stripe each pledged to donate $50,000 a year to Koch’s project.
 
The man who built the free email encryption software used by whistleblower Edward Snowden, as well as hundreds of thousands of journalists, dissidents and security-minded people around the world, is running out of money to keep his project alive.
 
Werner Koch wrote the software, known as Gnu Privacy Guard, in 1997, and since then has been almost single-handedly keeping it alive with patches and updates from his home in Erkrath, Germany. Now 53, he is running out of money and patience with being underfunded.
 
"I'm too idealistic," he told me in an interview at a hacker convention in Germany in December. "In early 2013, I was really about to give it all up and take a straight job." But then the Snowden news broke, and "I realized this was not the time to cancel."
 
Like many people who build security software, Koch believes that offering the underlying software code for free is the best way to demonstrate that there are no hidden backdoors in it giving access to spy agencies or others. However, this means that many important computer security tools are built and maintained by volunteers.
 
Now, more than a year after Snowden's revelations, Koch is still struggling to raise enough money to pay himself and to fulfill his dream of hiring a full-time programmer. He says he's made about $25,000 per year since 2001 — a fraction of what he could earn in private industry. In December, he launched a fundraising campaign that has garnered about $43,000 to date — far short of his goal of $137,000 — which would allow him to pay himself a decent salary and hire a full-time developer.
 
The fact that so much of the Internet's security software is underfunded is becoming increasingly problematic. Last year, in the wake of the Heartbleed bug, I wrote that while the U.S. spends more than $50 billion per year on spying and intelligence, pennies go to Internet security. The bug revealed that an encryption program used by everybody from Amazon to Twitter was maintained by just four programmers, only one of whom called it his full-time job. A group of tech companies stepped in to fund it.
 
Koch's code powers most of the popular email encryption programs GPGTools, Enigmail, and GPG4Win. "If there is one nightmare that we fear, then it's the fact that Werner Koch is no longer available," said Enigmail developer Nicolai Josuttis. "It's a shame that he is alone and that he has such a bad financial situation."
 
The programs are also underfunded. Enigmail is maintained by two developers in their spare time. Both have other full-time jobs. Enigmail's lead developer, Patrick Brunschwig, told me that Enigmail receives about $1,000 a year in donations — just enough to keep the website online.
 
GPGTools, which allows users to encrypt email from Apple Mail, announced in October that it would start charging users a small fee. The other popular program, GPG4Win, is run by Koch himself.
 
Email encryption first became available to the public in 1991, when Phil Zimmermann released a free program called Pretty Good Privacy, or PGP, on the Internet. Prior to that, powerful computer-enabled encryption was only available to the government and large companies that could pay licensing fees. The U.S. government subsequently investigated Zimmermann for violating arms trafficking laws because high-powered encryption was subject to export restrictions.
 
In 1997, Koch attended a talk by free software evangelist Richard Stallman, who was visiting Germany. Stallman urged the crowd to write their own version of PGP. "We can't export it, but if you write it, we can import it," he said.
 
Inspired, Koch decided to try. "I figured I can do it," he recalled. He had some time between consulting projects. Within a few months, he released an initial version of the software he called Gnu Privacy Guard, a play on PGP and an homage to Stallman's free Gnu operating system.
 
Koch's software was a hit even though it only ran on the Unix operating system. It was free, the underlying software code was open for developers to inspect and improve, and it wasn't subject to U.S. export restrictions.
 
Koch continued to work on GPG in between consulting projects until 1999, when the German government gave him a grant to make GPG compatible with the Microsoft Windows operating system. The money allowed him to hire a programmer to maintain the software while also building the Windows version, which became GPG4Win. This remains the primary free encryption program for Windows machines.
 
In 2005, Koch won another contract from the German government to support the development of another email encryption method. But in 2010, the funding ran out.
 
For almost two years, Koch continued to pay his programmer in the hope that he could find more funding. "But nothing came," Koch recalled. So, in August 2012, he had to let the programmer go. By summer 2013, Koch was himself ready to quit.
 
But after the Snowden news broke, Koch decided to launch a fundraising campaign. He set up an appeal at a crowdsourcing website, made t-shirts and stickers to give to donors, and advertised it on his website. In the end, he earned just $21,000.
 
The campaign gave Koch, who has an 8-year-old daughter and a wife who isn't working, some breathing room. But when I asked him what he will do when the current batch of money runs out, he shrugged and said he prefers not to think about it. "I'm very glad that there is money for the next three months," Koch said. "Really I am better at programming than this business stuff."
 
Related stories: For more coverage, read our previous reporting on the Heartbleed bug, how to encrypt what you can and a ranking of the best encryption tools.
 
Courtesy: ProPublica.org

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Book Review of 'The Power of Habit'

Don’t aim to give up a habit. Try to change it

 

Every single one of us tussles with habits that we want to change. Habits of diet, exercise, addiction and so on. We rarely succeed. It is natural for human beings to lack the willpower to change their habits. Almost all New Year resolutions are broken within a month. So, how did Lisa Allen pull it off? This book begins with her fascinating story.
 
Lisa was 34 years old, had started smoking and drinking when she was 16, and had struggled with obesity. By her mid-20s, she had run up so much debt that collection agencies were hounding her. She wouldn’t last in any job for more than a year.
 
A few years later, Lisa was sitting in front of a bunch of neurologists, psychologists, geneticists and a sociologist. She was lean, vibrant, with the toned legs of a runner. She looked a decade younger than her earlier photos. She had no debts, didn’t drink and was in her 39th month at a graphic design firm. She had not smoked for four years, had lost 60 pounds and run a marathon since then. She was also studying for a master’s degree and had bought a home. 
 
How did Lisa do what millions of people cannot is the subject of this interesting book. Can habits be changed? Yes, says the author, once you understand the ‘Habit Loop’ which is nothing other than the brain getting a cue (seeing a pack of cigarettes or seeing someone smoke), following the routine of lighting up, driven by a craving (for nicotine), for the reward (smoking). 
 
This ‘cue-routine-craving-reward’ is the Habit Loop. According to Charles Duhigg, the reason we cannot change our habits easily is that we move effortlessly and unconsciously from cue to reward each time. The secret of our ability to change our habits is to change the craving and the routine part. 
 
What did Lisa do? She stumbled upon this secret accidentally on a trip to Cairo. A few months before the trip, her husband had walked out on her for another woman. After a few horrible months, she gathered herself and took off for Cairo. As she rode past the Sphinx and the pyramids, she thought she needed a goal. She decided she would come back and trek through the desert. To pull off that audacious act, she had to give up smoking. This touched off a series of changes that would radiate to other parts of her life. 
 
Stories like these are all over the book. For instance, how ad man Claude Hopkins converted tooth-brushing from an obscure practice (just 7% of the US population) into a national obsession and, in the process, created the blockbuster success of Pepsodent. Or how Procter & Gamble’s supposedly sure-shot winner, Febreze, which could remove any smell, flopped disastrously, to begin with and then went on to become a billion-dollar business after P&G changed the craving (inserting scent when the original promise was removing odour!). Duhigg narrates how Alcoholics Anonymous reforms lives by attacking habits at the core of addiction, and how coach Tony Dungy reversed the fortunes of the worst team in the National Football League by programming his players to react automatically to on-field cues.
 

The book is divided into three parts. The first focuses on how habits form in individual lives. The second examines the habits of successful companies and organisations. Dhuigg narrates how Paul O’Neill remade Alcoa, a struggling aluminium company into becoming the top performer by focusing on one key habit—safety. It describes why even the most talented surgeons can make catastrophic mistakes when a hospital’s organisational habits go awry.
 
The third part looks at the habits of societies such as how Martin Lurther King, Jr, and the civil rights movement succeeded, in part, by changing the ingrained social habits of Montgomery, Alabama. Habits can be changed, if we understand how they work. According to Duhigg, it is all about changing one key part on the whole chain of Habit Loop first. A fascinating book. 

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