Phil Dunkelberger from PGP

PGP the product has had a long and interesting past. It began as a piece of shareware written by Phil Zimmerman in the early 1990s called Pretty Good Privacy, a DOS-based command-line encryption utility that was used by uber-hackers to keep their emails from prying eyes and keyboards. Back then the Internet was young, the Web was still to come, and to make matters worse, the US Government quickly banned the nascent software utility, claiming that email encryption was a national security threat.

Well, eventually the government came to its senses and PGP became the gold standard for keeping emails private. A software company grew around the utility and became successful enough that the conglomerate called Network Associates bought PGP in 1997. After several releases, including support for Windows and Unix, a group of investors were formed in 2002 and purchased the assets and intellectual property back from Network Associates (which is now called McAfee) to have a successful life as PGP Corp.

The company is run by Phil Dunkelberger, who was at the helm in the days before Network Associates era in the mid 1990s. The president and CEO is a soft-spoken but very intense man that is very focused on the task at hand, making PGP into the best encryption software provider bar none. Dunkelberger has a long heritage with his technology chops, going back to Xerox’s Palo Alto Research Labs in the late 1970s when they introduced the Star workstation, the precursor of the modern PC. He runs both Mac and Windows PCs today. We caught up with him recently in San Francisco, where he spoke to us about how the company was formed, where it is going, and how its channel and products have evolved.

Q. How easy was it to take PGP’s assets out of Network Associates (NAI)?

A: It was actually fairly easy for us. NAI had told the world that they were going to discontinue innovating PGP and that they weren’t going to support the products. So the end of life notice was already given when we picked up the assets from NAI.

I have seen more and more resurrected companies since we did our deal. There are a number of small and big opportunities and the traditional venture mode is changing. You can get a head start by acquiring these assets. My advice to entrepreneurs is instead of build it yourself to begin with look for proven, standards-based technology or a vertical market, and then pursue this because in our case it certainly gave us a running start.

Building a real business these days requires a lot deeper and broader set of skills than what was required five or seven years ago: your management team has to be deeper, your VCs have to be more patient. People aren’t as quick to bet on innovative companies these days. If you are entrepreneur, I would recommend that you buy an existing customer base.

Q: Do you ever use a public kiosk or public wifi network to get your own email?

A: I am pretty good about using our own security products. I don’t ever roam freely around those networks without any protection, and there are certain things that I won’t do on a public network. And if you are in a hotel in Europe if you aren’t protected you will likely get some form of malware on your machine from their networks.

Most of the time when I travel I use TMobile’s service, although I have used many others. On a recent trip to Europe I was on Vodaphone’s network at the Munich airport and Swisscom in Switzerland. I also use our own products extensively, including our own disk encryption and firewalls. Although right now I am testing Symantec’s Norton desktop firewall and several VPN clients as part of our internal quality assurance tests. All of us, and especially the executives at PGP, run a lot of different things to test our software against. It was a lucky thing that I had more than one VPN client installed, as one worked on the Lufthansa flight back from Europe and one didn’t. That was very fortuitous.

Q: How important to you personally is hard disk encryption?

A: I have had my laptop taken away from me briefly at airports for security screenings, and have the screeners pick it off the belt where I can’t see it, and that motivates me to make sure that everything on it is encrypted. Our product really is a godsend, and all my files on my laptop are encrypted. These days securing your data and not just encapsulation of the pipe is becoming more and more important, and an absolute business requirement.

Q: How does a corporation get started on setting up email security policy options?

A: We have seen this happen in variety of different ways: channel, reach, compliance and remediation, and industry-specific situations. First, it helps by having a robust channel with some focus on vertical markets where a company is under some kind of compliance and has some kind of external force pushing them to encrypt and protect their email traffic. Second, we have also seen many small businesses that are in business servicing someone big, and that big company mandates their suppliers and customers send email using PGP.  We have a large auto manufacturer in Germany that has 5,000 suppliers and that mandated all of those small businesses to send email with PGP. Both are easier entries than just going in there cold and trying to get people to realize that file attachments are an issue.

As we look at the overall trends in business, there is more awareness about security in general and encryption. For example, in California there are small real estate companies and banks that are very aware of what they have to do to secure their data.

Q: You got your start with selling command-line encryption tools. How is that market doing?

A: We re-introduced the command line encryption products the middle of last year, and the business has grown 100% a quarter for the past three quarters. It has been a very pleasant surprise. We have had days where people order $50,000 off our Web site with their own credit cards. We have everything from a large aircraft manufacturer that takes all of the manuals to banks on Wall Street using the command line product. Some of our customers are encrypting their backup files and then storing them on tapes.

Q: Who of the surviving email security vendors is your competition these days?

A: We usually have two kinds of competitors now. First are the PKI infrastructure vendors, including Microsoft, Entrust, Cisco, Juniper, Aventail and those kinds of solutions. We usually win based on usability and reliability. Then we also have traditional email vendors that are selling into particular vertical markets such as Tumbleweed and Sigaba, and we win when the solution involves more than just selling email as part of the entire solution. We tend to be a suite vendor rather than selling a single product.

Q: Your PGP Universal product is supposedly very easy to deploy. Can you give me an example?

A: Universal is ready to run on a number of platforms, you just add hardware, and it works. Our biggest solution to date was with one of the top pharmaceutical firms and we had it running in less than 30 days for over 70,000 users. One of the very valuable features of the product is something we call “learn mode” which means the product just observes the traffic but doesn’t interfere with the mail stream and is very useful to help our installers as they tune the system to a particular customer’s needs.

Q: What do you think of the Microsoft/Groove announcement?

A: I think this validates the whole idea of peer-to-peer security that we have been talking about for many years and we welcome what they are doing.

Q: Tell me more about how you have developed your channel program and how it evolved.

A: We have three tiers of resellers. The top tier has the same training that our own system engineers have, and have to be able to install all the products and understand their interaction with our various partner products as well. The next tier has specific service contracts typically for larger corporate customers and they only need to know a couple of our products. The last tier are not very solutions oriented, just sell in quantity one to five units, typically only deal with our desktop products and specialize with one or two products and not sell enterprise-level products.

Our channel has evolved over the past several years. We now have 300 resellers in 91 countries and have added 30,000 new customers in the less than three years since we began our company and taken it out of NAI. In fact, our sales now are better than any of the years when we were part of NAI.

When I was in charge of sales at Symantec, we found that you couldn’t rely on the channels to create demand for new products like PGP Universal. The channel makes money on support, service, hardware management, off-site monitoring and so forth. But we had to go out and find the market segment, recruit the resellers, and do things like build hands-on labs to train our VARs and find other partnerships that would work for us.

For example we just put on a four-day training session in Singapore, for our local partners. We get everyone involved in installing the software and understanding how the products work in a very hands-on session.

But we also established a series of technology partnerships with vendors that have major email solutions such as IronPort, SendMail and MailFrontier. These vendors all offer things like anti-spam and content filtering solutions. First they wanted to cross-train their sales teams to resell our products and as their gained experience with PGP they became OEMs and wanted to bundle their software with ours on a single box. Now they are an active channel for us and we have consolidated reporting. They sell a single solution and everyone gets a better margin and the customer gets one vendor to buy all of it from and fewer vendors to deal with for front line support.

Q: So any final thoughts?

A: We have become successful because of several things. First, encryption is just becoming a standard feature for more and more people. It operates down at the transport layer and is just like a network dial tone, what I call “encryption tone” these days. Second, we got a great start by being established and not having to recreate everything from scratch when we came out of NAI. Third, it helps that we are an open standards vendor and we publish our source code. We wish more companies would publish their code as well. Finally, we have a very good product road map and we spend a lot of time listening to our customers, asking them what they want in the next two versions of the products and so forth.

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I want to take a moment to help you become a more powerful user. It won’t take much time and effort, and it will save you a ton of time if the unexpected strikes you down the road. And it is really simple to do and doesn’t require much in the way of technical knowledge.

Last week I lost the power supply to my laptop somewhere between the airport and home. It isn’t a big thing, and compared to losing my laptop ranks low down there on the charts. But it could have been much easier, if all I had to do was take note of something very simple: the power specs of my AC adapter.

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There are few people in the computer industry that have shaped the evolution of the microprocessor (and related technologies) as much as Pat Gelsinger. More than 25 years ago, he began his career “one step above janitor” as a Technician 2 at Intel, stuffing boards. He eventually rose to the position of the company’s first chief technology officer (CTO), before taking his current posting as executive vice president of the Digital Enterprise Group.

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Most wireless networks these days operate without any encryption whatsoever. And while security professionals (and the FBI) try to make the point that this is a foolish practice, very few of us take the time to do otherwise.

I can’t tell you the wireless networks that are running in the clear at people’s homes who should know better: IT executives, corporate titans of industry, and computing professionals who are familiar with PKI and hacking tools. Why do so many people forgo encryption? There isn’t any one good reason. Setting up encryption over your wireless network often requires a Computer Science degree, plenty of patience, reading at least two manuals, or just dumb luck.

It could be that since setting up a wireless router has become so easy, and the routers themselves now retail at less than $100, that we have all become complacent. Maybe when you get unencrypted communications working you stop and are so thankful that you router is working at all.

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It is ironic. I spend a lot of time telling you which computing platforms are the right choices for your applications, and how to extract that last bit of performance out of your systems.

But my thoughts today are that eventually, these choices aren’t so important. And in some areas, the platform choices are so indistinguishable that it is hard to tell.

Take your car as an example.

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RSS has become popular in the age of blogs, but it has more universal and interesting applications. It is certainly here to stay.

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The Ultimate Smart Home

I wanted to describe the ultimate smart home that I’ve seen and draw some lessons for you, the enthusiast and early adopter.

The scene is a suburban house that was built from scratch by John Patrick, who retired from running IBM’s Internet business several years ago. And the first lesson is that you have to design your home systems – not just computing but distribution of water, power, and other services – like IBM designed its mainframe computers, with centralized management but distributed control. We truly have come full circle with desktop computing.

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Two years ago the City of Long Beach was one of the first to jump on this trend, and enabled free WiFi in a four-block area along Pine Street, one of the more pedestrian-friendly and restaurant-laden spots in the area. Then they turned on free WiFi at their airport, which has become a busy cross-country hub since Jet Blue started flying there and American had to match its service levels.

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Using 911 with VOIP telephony services

I asked computer consultant Martin Focazio to share some of his thoughts and research on how VOIP services make use of the 911 emergency telephone network

Basic telephone service is, by far, the most advanced technology that people use every day. While it seems that everyone has a cell phone and voice over IP these days, the reality is that cell phones and VoIP still have quite a way to go before they can do some of the neat tricks that ordinary switched phone service can do. 

The best way to see how much more cell phones and VoIP have to learn from the “old-fashioned” telephone networks is to look at how 911 calls are handled. When you dial 911 from your home phone all sorts of cool things happen. 

First of all, your call is routed to a special phone switch, one that only carries emergency service. This switch is connected to a database of the physical location of the phone wires that were used to originate the call, and the dispatcher gets the address of the caller on the screen. Sometimes there’s even a map of the location, and in really fancy systems, a map and routing data is transmitted to a computer in the emergency vehicle. In many systems, the 911 operator can “seize” the line – preventing other calls from coming in, and keeping the line connected even if the caller hangs up. The 911 calls go to a Public Safety Access Point (PSAP) – the place where 911 operators and dispatchers work to assign and direct emergency service workers. 

However, these Public Safety Access Points also have to deal with calls from cell phones and, more recently, VoIP calls. To say that the public safety agencies are dissatisfied with VoIP is putting it mildly.

In both cases, these neat technologies seem to be everything “ordinary” phone service is and more. But they are not quite the same in important ways. 

There are two key differences that really matter.  The first is that cell phones and VoIP calls are routed via ordinary telephone lines, through non-emergency phone switches. When you call 911 via a cell phone, your call is often run to an office telephone system that happens to be at the PSAP. While there’s considerable effort and progress on handling 911 calls from cell phones effectively, they are still the bane of the dispatchers day. They often have to re-key your phone number and try to guess or figure out your location, leading to exchanges like this: 

Cell phone caller: “I saw an accident on the road.” 
911 Operator: “What road?” 
Cell phone caller: “I don’t know” 
911 Operator: “Where are you now?” 
Cell phone caller: “In my car” 

Some primitive, slightly effective cell phone location systems are being rolled out, but GPS does not work indoors, and triangulation is – at best – an iffy proposition in urban areas. 

For VoIP the situation is more complex. For most VoIP carriers, 911 calling is a for-pay option. (See for example the service offered by Vonage here, which is included at no additional charge.)

This brings the very real possibility that a VoIP customer would not be able to dial 911 at all in the event of an emergency. However, buying 911 service on a VoIP account is not actually giving customers real 911 service. 

Remember the neat little tricks that a 911 operator can do with real 911 service – like get instant address data, hold a line open and so forth? 911 calls placed on most VoIP providers is routed over ordinary phone lines to an ordinary phone system at the PSAP. In some cases, the call is not even routed to a PSAP, it goes to what amounts to a call center, where an operator will try to figure out which PSAP is supposed to handle your call. For a long series of horror stories of VoIP 911 call problems see 

VoIP is, in many ways a great example of fancy features over-riding core functionality and stability. While it’s great to have 3-way calling, caller ID, call forwarding and all these neat add-ons with a VoIP service, this can’t obscure the fact that neat features on top of an incomplete base of functionality can be a – literally – fatal flaw.  I’m reminded of MS-Word, which is smart enough to intercept my keystrokes and offer “help” when it detects that I’m writing a letter – but it still crashes more than I want when saving a document. Clearly, flash has outstripped function. 

The point of all of this is not to say that VoIP and cell phones are a bad idea – they are not. But they are far from ready for mass deployment, despite the increasing numbers of people planning to use only cell phones and VoIP for their primary service. If a new technology comes along proposing to improve on an old one, don’t forget to look at the really hard parts of implementing the old system and realize that these parts – the deep, complex and critical aspects of the technology are some of the most important features – and ones that can’t be left out.

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