The Crypto Wars. Meet Philip Zimmermann, the next Hidden Hero

Photo of Rafał Sałak

Rafał Sałak

Updated Sep 6, 2022 • 4 min read
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Netguru is proud to present the fifth story in the Hidden Heroes series, a publishing initiative promoting the under-represented pioneers of the software industry, authored by Steven Johnson.

Over the last few months, cybersecurity has become one of the most spoken about subjects in the tech world. But it did not begin only yesterday. Since the 1990s, someone has been fighting to make the Internet a better and safer place. Meet Netguru's next Hidden Hero, as written by Steven Johnson.

Warsaw/August 30, 2022. How many emails do we send daily? Twenty, fifty, even more? We send important company information and personal notes, but rarely think about the security of our data. However, 30 years ago, one man began a political battle in the early days of the Internet and nearly went to jail to ensure that our data would not be stolen. What was Philip Zimmermann's motivation back then?

“We take it for granted now that digital security and privacy are important issues worthy of attention and resources,"

said Steven Johnson, television host, TED Speaker, and author of the Hidden Heroes series. "But a few decades ago, at the dawn of the network age, most people were oblivious to these concerns. Phil Zimmermann saw their significance at an early point, and was willing to risk going to jail to fight for them.”

Philip Zimmermann’s story is the fifth installment in the planned eight-part series for this year. He is best known for developing Pretty Good Privacy (PGP), the world's most widely used email encryption software.

He wrote it in 1991 and distributed it via public FTP, piquing the interest of RSA security. As a result, Phil Zimmermann was interrogated for more than five years, and an investigation for violations of the Arms Export Control Act was launched, only to be dropped in 1996. He is also well-known for his contributions to VoIP encryption protocols, particularly ZRTP and Zfone.

Click here to read Phil’s story.

“Cybersecurity is one of the crucial parts of every digital environment: private, company or public.”

Maciej Markiewicz, Cybersecurity Lead at Netguru, the publisher of Hidden Heroes. “However, one of the most critical tasks nowadays is to protect users’ privacy. We are focused on what is happening now, but if we look back further, it is clear that Phil Zimmerman's project was critical for privacy protection.”

For the first time, advanced cryptography found its way under the roofs of ordinary people, providing them with a free tool for protecting their Internet privacy.”

The Hidden Heroes project was launched to speak about and give recognition to individuals who might have been somewhat forgotten. Zimmermann's actions sparked one of the most heated political battles in early Internet culture, resulting in historic legal decisions that continue to shape how we communicate more than 30 years later.

“I don't have to explain to Eastern Europeans why it is important for the government not to get too powerful,” Zimmerman said.

More than two decades after Phil Zimmermann uploaded his initial message to Peacenet, the most powerful spy agency in the world still couldn’t crack his code.

Steven Johnson and Netguru believe that Hidden Heroes will help people understand our society better and connect the past with the future to inspire future generations of innovators, developers, and software engineers.

Photo of Rafał Sałak

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Rafał Sałak

Comms Team Lead
A tribute to people who shaped technology  Authored by Steven Johnson     MEET HIDDEN HEROES

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