the query column

PGP: It isn't just for the paranoid anymore

- by Thomas Caldwell -

If you haven't figured it out yet, i am talking about seals - a formal and time-honored method of authenticating a document. They have probably been with us as long as there have been written languages and something to physically write them on. After all, what good is text if you can't be reasonably certain of where it came from and who wrote it?

With the evolution of human communication having now led to electronic mail, the need to be certain as to who sent a note and when it was sent has become somewhat urgent. The need for an electronic locus signai is becoming more urgent. After all, it is fairly easy for a knowledgeable individual to fake the return address on an e-mail message, leading to all sort of potential nastiness.

Well, such a system does exist, and it is far more reliable than any scroll with a fancy wax seal carried to its destination by a courier on horseback. It's called PGP - Pretty Good Privacy - and any skillful user of PGP will be familiar with the program's signature function and several of the time stamping services currently available. The details as to how it works are too much to go into here, but you can find out more at the International PGP Home Page, at

A growing number of corporations who decided they didn't need to encrypt most of their communications for transmission over the Internet are starting to use PGP for signaturing and verification. Still, relatively few are taking e-mail signaturing seriously. Just like the crossing light that only gets installed at a busy intersection after a child is crushed under the wheels of a car, people only take action only when something bad happens.

Such an event is only a matter of time. See page 41 for those of you who don't take things seriously... yet. Tools for the off-road warrior Planning on bringing your laptop to Nepal? How about the South Pole? Perhaps someplace closer to home, like a remote forest or valley deep in the Japan Alps? Can't find a place to plug in near the boulders or waterfall?

Well, there is one company that could be of help to those who like to leave civilization for a while but like to bring their electronic gadgets with them. T&F is a Tokyo-based company that custom builds portable solar panels and electronic devices for use on expeditions to the far corners of the planet. If you need to take your laptop off the road, you might want to drop them a line first (Tel: 0423-22-8449, Fax: 0423-22-8299). The president of the company, Mr. Teruyuki Sakamaki, can also be found on some days working at the ICI mountain climbing store near JR Shin-Okubo Station in Tokyo. (Note: No English spoken.) Can you go home again?

Ever wonder what happened to your high school classmates? What about a company or some other organization you used to work for many years ago that no longer exists? Keeping track of people from "back home" can be a real difficult thing for the expatriate who probably doesn't so easily get on the mailing list for the school reunions. But, like most things involving information, the Internet has made finding lost friends all the easier. Now, dozens of these find-a-friend sites are available on the Internet. I did some research and discovered the one I thought worked best at a site called PlanetAll (

As of this writing, there is no cost involved. Groups and alumni organizations of all kinds are represented. The site is an integrated information exchange system that ingeniously protects the privacy of all involved. If the jerk you wanted nothing to do with when you were a teenager shows up, he can be denied access to your contact data and otherwise kept at a safe distance. There is also a very elaborate scheduling system so that friends can arrange to bump into each other while on the road.

Walks down memory lane aside, the companies that are putting these systems together are doing so as the foundation for future for-profit scheduling systems to be used at the corporate level worldwide. Such Web-based systems have been around for a while in the States, but soon could be making their appearance here in Japan - perhaps as early as later this year as the local economy continues to recover. Isn't PGP just for paranoid computer geeks?

Thomas Caldwell is a freelance journalist working and living in Tokyo. He can be reached at

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