Lock a file with GPG

Lock a file with GPG

GPG (stands for GNU Privacy Guard)  is a tool to encrypt a file or a message with a public key into unreadable format and can be read once decrypted back to its original form using a private key. That private key has to be held by only one person (that is us) while the public keys can be shared to others. It's called asymmatric keys.


As an asymmatric key exchange, we don't have to worry to share keys because it's not a single key. We just share our public keys to partners for encrypting their data and decrypt them in our place using our own private key. Note that it's only private key that must not share to others. It is simple and consume pretty less time to establish the encryption mechanism.

How it works?

First of all, see the diagram below.

Yes, there are two person, receiver and sender. The receiver is decrypter who decrypt the message and the sender, of course, is encrypter.

A receiver need to create their own private key and public key. A private key is for decrypt an object that is already encrypted with the matched public key from a sender.

Passpharses are optional to enable more secure encryption. And Checksum is also optional to ensure if the sender is expected for the receiver.


This requires only a GPG program. GPG could be already installed in most of UNIX-based, I guess. However, you can install it manually, visit https://gnupg.org/download/

Start programming

[Receiver] Preparation

I prepare 2 environments as below.

cent acts as receiver and cent2 is sender.

[Receiver] Generate keys

After accessing into cent, the receiver, run this to start a prompt for generating GPG keys.

gpg --full-generate-key

Type your information and choices by each question like below. I wanna spot two things in this dialogs

  1. A generated key can be no expired if we put 0 for the question "Key is valid for?"
  2. An email at "Email address" is the identity for further uses. Please recheck it before submitting.

Now Adam is here.

[Receiver] Error: No pinentry

It's possibly failed at the first run due to gpg: problem with the agent: No pinentry. So we need to install the pinentry.

yum install pinentry

yum may not available on your system. Please check your package manager.

[Receiver] List keys

Let's say we now have keys. List the key with this.

# list public keys
gpg --list-keys

# list private keys
gpg --list-secret-keys

[Receiver] Export keys

Now the time to export our public key to partners and let them encrypt something back for test.

The diagram at the first shows key server as exchanger but I prefer sharing the key as a file attached in a mail to make sure our partners can import the key completely.

gpg --export -o <destination_path> -a

-o means output path and -a is create armor ascii output.

The output should be looked like this.

[Sender] Import key

Turn back to sender. First is to import the public key.

gpg --import <public_key_path>

confirm the import with key listing so we can see Adam.

[Sender] Trust the key

Recent imported key always untrust so trust them before use.

gpg --edit-key <email_of_public_key>

A dialog appears and type trust, 5 for ultimately trust this, y to confirm, and quit to quit the dialog.

Now the key is ready to use.

[Sender] Create sample file

Let's create a greeting message for Adam and wrap it into the file.

[Sender] Encrypt the file

A single line of command to encrypt the file.

gpg --output <output_encrypted_file> --batch --yes -e -r <public_key_email> <original_file>

--batch --yes means run this command in batch so it can run in background.

-e means encryption operation

-r means it follows by the target recipient's email

Now the encrypted files are ready to send back to the receiver.

[Receiver] Decrypt the file

Say the receiver, Adam, got the file from Brian already. Let's decrypt it.

gpg --output <destination_path> --batch --yes --decrypt <original_encrypted_file>

GPG will search the correct private key in the machine and output decrypted file will be ready if the private key is there.

Check out the message.

[Sender] Add password to the encrypted file

We may need another level to protect the file. Adding passwords is a good one.

gpg --output <output_encrypted_file> --batch --yes -e -r <public_key_email> --passphrase <password> <original_file>

Don't forget to tell the receiver what the password is.

[Receiver] Decrypt the file with password

Got a new file but it's protected with password. Add the password to decrypt.

gpg --output <destination_path> --batch --yes --passphrase <password> --decrypt <original_encrypted_file>

Okay, password is correct.

[Sender] Generate checksum

Checksum is a data integrity calculation using SHA functions on bit counts of a message or a file. The result is a long text containing heximal numbers. It helps verify the data transmission to be completed and correct.

GPG offers ability to sign the checksum file, too. Before that, we need the GPG key of sender as well and receiver will be able to know who sent this message.

[Sender] Generate key for sender

Run gpg --full-generate-key and, hey! Brian is here.

[Sender] Generate and sign Checksum

Checksum file can be made with this command.

sha256sum <message_file> | awk '{print $1}' > <checksum_file>

sha256sum is checksum function on CentOS and might be failed on other system.

Once the checksum file is ready, run this to sign.

gpg --output <signed_checksum_file> --batch --yes --quiet --sign <checksum_file>

[Receiver] Verify and decrypt Checksum

Adam got the checksum file and want to see who sent this.

gpg --verify <signed_checksum_file>

Now we're sure it's from Brian. Next is to verify if decrypted file is completed and valid. We have to decrypt the checksum and compare its content with the checksum of our decrypted file.

# calculate checksum on decrypted file
sha256sum <decrypted_file> | awk '{print $1}'

# decrypt the checksum from sender
gpg --output <checksum_file> --decrypt <sign_checksum_file>

In case of matched value, it indicates the file we decrypted is valid in content and from the sender we trust.


GPG commands http://irtfweb.ifa.hawaii.edu/~lockhart/gpg/

Pinentry https://chaosfreakblog.wordpress.com/2013/06/21/gpg-problem-with-the-agent-no-pinentry-solved/

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