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MIT issues software codes to promote internet privacy

MIT today issued-for non-commercial use-a free public software package that will allow people to send private coded messages on electronic networks in the United States.

The release provides non-commercial US users of the Internet with the ability to obtain secure communication and data protection. Commercial versions have been licensed to more than four million users.

The software, known as PGP Version 2.6 (for "pretty good privacy") uses the RSAREFT Cryptographic Toolkit, supplied by RSA Data Security, Inc. of Redwood City, CA. It is being released by MIT with the agreement of the company.

Unlike prior versions, PGP 2.6 is fully licensed, for US non-commercial users, to use public-key technology that has been licensed by MIT and Stanford University to RSA Data Security and Public Key Partners.

Public-key technology gives users of electronic mail the ability to sign messages in an unforgeable way, as well as the ability to send confidential messages that can be read only by the intended recipients, without any prior need to exchange secret keys.

"This agreement solves the problem of software which infringes the intellectual property of MIT and the licensee, RSA, of being distributed on the Internet," said Professor James D. Bruce, vice president for information systems.

Although prior versions of PGP have been available on the Internet as "underground" programs, the infringement of MIT and Stanford University patents has prevented it from coming into widespread adoption.

A version of this article appeared in the May 25, 1994 issue of MIT Tech Talk (Volume 38, Number 34).

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