Werner Koch is looking at a big payday after pulling in over $150,000 to fund the continuing development of his crucial open-source GNU Privacy Guard encryption tools.
Koch, 53, is a leading light in the free software movement: in 1999, he released GPG, which uses the OpenPGP standard to safeguard the communications of millions of people around the world from eavesdroppers and other miscreants. It also provides protection for much of the multibillion-dollar technology industry.
The code works on plenty of operating systems from Linux and FreeBSD to Windows and OS X.
GPG is free, and many use it without paying a penny for the software. Koch puts food on the table for him, his wife and eight-year-old daughter by living off whatever donations or grants he can get. He pretty much works alone on the project, although he has had help over the years.
This lead effort has earned him, on average, about $25,000 a year over the past 14 years – sometimes less – and for the past three years funding has been drying up. Although GPG is secure as-is, its user interface can be baffling, so there is work to be done.
Koch, who lives in Germany, was close to giving up on the project in 2013 – but then the Snowden revelations hit the headlines, and he realized it wasn't the right time to quit. Ex-NSA techie Snowden himself made a video to selected journalists on how to use GPG to secure email communications, disguising his voice electronically as he was still an anonymous whistleblower at that time:
Last year, Koch launched a funding drive to raise $137,000, enough to pay his salary and that of a co-developer working on GPG, but as of November had raised less than $8,000 towards this. But when he told ProPublica that he may have to give up on the project, the news went viral and funds have been pouring in.
[After the ProPublica story went live, Koch said he had been given a one-time grant of $60,000 last week by the Linux Foundation's Core Infrastructure Initiative, but wasn't able to disclose the donation until now – ed.]
At time of going to press, Koch is just a few thousand dollars short of his €120,000 goal. Full disclosure: El Reg staff have personally donated cash as we use GnuPG.
In addition to this, Facebook and online payments biz Stripe have promised to each pay Koch $50,000 a year to carry on developing the code, and other technology companies may be ready to kick in more funds.
Stripe and Facebook are going to sponsor @gnupg development with $50k/year each.— Stripe (@stripe) February 5, 2015
It's a measure of the man that he has labored so hard for over a decade to give away something many people and technology companies rely on. With his skills, Koch could have made a much more comfortable living doing corporate coding, away from improving the privacy of countless netizens. ®
Photo credit: Hans Schou, of Werner Koch at OpenNetworks1999