FAQ Update Request, Treatise on GPG

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07 Oct, 2012 10:38 AM

You can call this my treatise on GPG for normal users.
My argument:
Until more people get involved using crypto for email it will be brushed aside as "crazy", "complicated", and someone only used for "bad" or for people with a lot of things to "hide"
Although we know that ALL of those arguments are hollow or FAKE, it's our job as a group to make this cray easy for users. Once that happens, Apple and other vendors won't be able to ignore us any more and more importantly people will realize the benefit of crypto and see how EASY it has become.

To accomplish this, We should consider changing some of our terminology as it makes no sense to about 90% or more of users. Even as a technologist I struggled with understanding crypto till I sat down with some guys from OpenBSD and chatted with Seth Hardy at the CCC Camp. Even then I needed to ask lots of questions. However, I'm a geek. A normal person will give up if they ask a couple of questions and don't get a clear one-sentance answer. I believe Arthur C. Clarke's third "law" is true. That "law" states that "Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic." Ok, GPG Tools are advanced. So, let's take the last steps to really make this magic for ourselves and for mass users. :-)

To start I will refer specifically to this FAQ because it is just one example of a started question that is answered in a TOTALLY wrong way (No offense is meant to the author beause the answers are TECHNICALLY correct, however it FAILS to correctly address BAD user behaviour - "I forgot my crypto password". ):


Ok, so you read the FAQ, right? The FAQ COMPLETELY overlooks setting "expiration" of keys. This is a technical issue which us GEEKS mostly understand but normal users do NOT. I would kindly suggest that by default the GPGTools installer automatically set a 1-year expiration period for new keys generated via the wizard?
Here's why:
1. Newbies, normal people, etc. don't fully understand they are putting their key into a public "repository"
2. From my experience they also don't understand the concepts of "web of trust" or "Public Key Infrastructure". Saying the later makes their head spin and means nothing to them.
3. It's REALLY difficult to easily explain public/private keys. REALLY difficult. I don't expect this one to change soon, but I like to refer to "public keys" rather as "padlocks". I usually explain to a client that I have a treasure chest I want to send to them. So I lock it with THEIR padlock(public key) to which only THEY have a key (private key). The problem with doing this is if you're in Germany and I'm in China. So, how do I get THEIR padlock? Good question, user. In the physical world, THEY would send me THEIR padlock and keep the key for themselves. In a GPG sense we find the "padlock" online in an online list. Once I get your "padlock" online from a public server I can close the "treasure" my message with your "padlock". GPGMail actually most of the time can do this for us automagically when we enter the email address.

The above example makes GOOD SENSE for most people. It's worked on ALL the clients I had that wanted to use crypto.

  1. Newbies don't understand that setting an "expiration" is something that can be changed and can be renewed. The word "expire" sounds very permanent and most people rationalise that they would never want their secret key to stop working or "expire", so they choose NOT to do this. Actually lots of geeks that start using crypto are guilty of doing this as well (myself included). This is BAD for the PKI server as they get filled with garbage keys, and the "web of trust" issue becomes more difficult as it becomes yet ANOTHER thing to check - multiple keys - which one is valid? The newest one? Maybe, but using this logic can also be DANGEROUS as I could also generate a key with someone else's name and upload it. Then what? I've broken crypto to that person as they wouldn't be able to open email intended for them. Neither would I as I would not get the email most likely, but still it's NOT great solution.
  2. THe word "REVOKE" is even worse than "expire". If I "revoke" it is like destroying something. If I revoke a license I take away the ability for someone to ever drive again. Again, it's a very permanent word and with negative connotations. So the logic that I can/should "revoke" my key in case of something bad doesn't make sense for a LOT of people. It is very permanent and sounds like something you'd never want to do. Due to this word, I would bet 95% or more of GPG users don't ever revoke their keys.

Therefore, I propose we do the following to make this easier to use:
1. "Expire" becomes "renewal date"
2. GPG Tools automatically suggests a 1-year "renewal date" for new keys generated (but you ALWAYS have the option to change the date or NOT expire).
3. It needs to be made clear a "renewal date" is important in case you accidentally forget
4. "REVOKE" becomes perhaps "control certificate". With this "control" we can force the "renewal date"
5. As additional steps on the mac, it would be cool to also automatically put a reminder in iCal with the date to renew the key.
6. Also cool would be to come up with a smart way of also generating the "control" key (revoke cert) and putting it with the other keys
7. Really, really cool would be auto-creating a crypted sparsebundle as a place for all the user's keys in that.

In conclusion, I don't believe all the above is perfect. They are, however, based on my experiences working with real people that WANT and/or NEED to use email crypto. I warmly welcome other suggestions and feedback, but is is 100% clear that this terminology has to change to get adoption. Otherwise we're trying to fit a square peg into a round hole for a LOT of people. I'm asking kindly that these points are considered and that action is taken by the community to make using crypto a TRULY easy experience. With GPG Tools I feel like we're about 85% there, but we just need to make it possible to educate people. Changing the terminology addresses this issue. YES, it is a user education issue. We have to remember that humans automatically "reject" things that don't make sense to them. If we can change these terms for the users, this rejection will end.

Thanks for reading! I look forward to feedback and correction as I myself am NOT a crypto guru by any means.

Keep donating to the project so they can keep doing a GREAT job!

  1. Support Staff 1 Posted by Luke Le on 09 Oct, 2012 10:45 PM

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    Hi MacPomoc,

    all of you're above suggestions are indeed very great!
    Documentation is a the moment still the greatest shortcoming of this project and you're absolutely right that current crypto terminology is completely incomprehensible for non savvy users.
    In order to make this really easy for users I think a lot of details should be completely hidden away from a user.
    If not absolutely necessary they should not bother with a lot of details irt GPG.
    We have a lot of plans for the future of key management within GPGTools and think those could really make a difference, some of them match in fact those you are proposing.
    I'll post a longer comment in near future but to conclude this for now, you're dead on!

  2. Support Staff 2 Posted by Steve on 16 Oct, 2012 11:28 AM

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    (MacHelp that is in english I assume?) thanks so much for taking the time and thinking about all those points.

    The main point in making crypto available to the average user has been driving us since the start of this project. We have a lot in mind that could be improved. Receiving input is extremely welcome since it helps solving some of the issues you mention. We need time to deal with all those problems but are very excited because theres so much room for improvement. Let's keep this open and give more people the chance to add their thoughts.

  3. 3 Posted by MacPomoc.pl on 18 Oct, 2012 09:52 PM

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    Hi. No, POMOC means HELP in Polish.
    I also am open to the discussion and ready to hear any opposing views. Only some good arguing can bring about some good changes. I hope that is able to happen.

  4. Support Staff 4 Posted by Steve on 20 Oct, 2012 07:06 PM

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    That's why I wrote "MacHelp" :)

  5. 5 Posted by MacPomoc.pl on 20 Oct, 2012 08:03 PM

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    Yes. Probably I was tired when I replied. Is there any progress yet on this? I'm curious what your team mates there think. Also, how would you guys feel about having a gathering here in Poland? It could be a combined info event and key signing party. :-) Let me know if you're ever interested. This could also be a good way to raise some monetary support as well. Feel free to contact me directly if you ever need anything.

  6. Support Staff 6 Posted by Luke Le on 29 Oct, 2012 08:21 PM

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    Sorry we haven't yet responded in a more elaborate form.
    It will still take us some weeks, since a lot is going on at the moment.

  7. 7 Posted by MacPomoc.pl on 30 Oct, 2012 12:36 AM

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    Thanks for the feedback. I understand. I actually didn't expect much feedback because it is too long for most to read. I just wanted to write it all down before those thoughts left my brain. Just get back to it when time allows. :-) Regards.

  8. Support Staff 8 Posted by Steve on 07 Dec, 2012 07:14 PM

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    We'll leave this discussion open, if others want to chime in, feel free to do so.

  9. Steve closed this discussion on 20 Jan, 2013 07:56 PM.

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