Pretty Good Privacy (PGP) will continue to be available despite a move by Network Associates to shelve the encryption product after it couldn't find a buyer, PGP inventor Phil Zimmermann said yesterday.

Although Zimmermann sold PGP to Network Associates in 1997, the protocols for the encryption code are open to all on the Internet.

"PGP is an institution," Zimmermann said in a telephone interview from his home in Silicon Valley. "It is larger than any single code-base from any single company. There are a lot of very concerned people from the PGP user community who want to try to find a solution to fill this niche."

Network Associates embarked on a plan to trim its product line in October and has been looking for a buyer for its PGP products. But now the company has confirmed that it dropped its plans to sell PGP because it couldn't find a buyer willing to pay what the company wanted.

"Obviously, we didn't get the offer we thought represented the value [of PGP]," said Jennifer Kevney, head of PR at Network Associates.

The products will be placed into "maintenance mode", she said, meaning that although they won't be developed any further, bug fixes will be released as necessary for one year and service contracts will be honoured until the end of their terms.

Despite this, Zimmermann said PGP will continue and will probably re-emerge in time.

"A lot of people are worried about PGP and, with enough political will, something will be done," Zimmermann said. "That does not necessarily mean buying the business from Network Associates."

Since the terrorist attacks on the US last year, Zimmermann said, there is an even greater need for a secure encryption protocol that the public can use. Companies need to be able to protect themselves from attack, and individuals need to be able to protect their own civil liberties from the government, he added.

Zimmermann got in trouble with the government in the early 1990s because federal authorities felt that the dissemination of PGP worldwide violated US antiterrorism laws. The government dropped its case in 1996.

"We're going through hard times, and we've got to hang onto this thing," Zimmermann said. "Our civil liberties are likely to be eroded by this whole experience, that increases the need to keep our hands on strong crypto and keep a hold of it."