Broke coder who makes your favorite encryption tools just got a big payday

Werner Koch was almost broke. Now, he's fully funded.


Kevin Collier


Published Feb 6, 2015   Updated May 29, 2021, 2:43 pm CDT

The man who created and maintains the world’s most-used email encryption tools is no longer going broke.

A day after ProPublica published the heartbreaking story of Werner Koch, the donations are pouring in. It’s a fitting outcome for 53-year-old Koch, whose Gnu Privacy Guard (GPG) software has long been the industry standard for encryption. 

First developed in 1997, the GPG code is the basis for industry encryption services GPGTools, the Enigmail email extension, and many other email encryption products. Moreover, it’s received the highest profile endorsement any encryption software could get: It’s the preferred method for National Security Agency whistleblower Edward Snowden. ProPublica’s report that Koch was hurting for money apparently tickled an urge for privacy supporters to give back.

In the time since the story published on Thursday, at least two institutions, Facebook and Web payment processor Stripe, have each pledged $50,000 a year, every year, for the project. 

One donation came before the story even ran: the Linux Foundation’s Core Infrastructure Initiative gave Koch a $60,000 grant just before ProPublica hit publish, but the organization gave no permission to disclose that fact.

GnuPG’s website has a fundraiser that was seeking up to €120,000 ($136,470).  Then ProPublica’s story went viral, and it has since skyrocketed to €171,581 ($194,838) as of this writing. In addition, a Bitcoin wallet set up for donations has received 54.3 bitcoins ($11,828 at current exchange rates).

So in short, a man who struggled mightily for almost two decades, who says he averages about $25,000 a year since 2001, has in recent days raised at least $364,200, with an additional $100,000 a year coming in at minimum.

So if you don’t already, now might good time to learn how to encrypt your email.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

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*First Published: Feb 6, 2015, 11:51 am CST