PGP word list

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The PGP Word List ('Pretty Good Privacy word list', also called a biometric word list for reasons explained below) is a list of words for conveying data bytes in a clear unambiguous way via a voice channel. They are analogous in purpose to the NATO phonetic alphabet used by pilots, except a longer list of words is used, each word corresponding to one of the 256 unique numeric byte values.

History and structure

The PGP Word List list was designed in 1995 by Patrick Juola, a computational linguist, and Philip Zimmermann, creator of PGP. The words were carefully chosen for their phonetic distinctiveness, using genetic algorithms to select lists of words that had optimum separations in phoneme space. The candidate word lists were randomly drawn from Grady Ward's Moby Pronunciator list as raw material for the search, successively refined by the genetic algorithms. The automated search converged to an optimized solution in about 40 hours on a DEC Alpha, a particularly fast machine in that era.

The Zimmermann/Juola list was originally designed to be used in PGPfone, a secure VoIP application, to allow the two parties to verbally compare a short authentication string to detect a man-in-the-middle attack (MiTM). It was called a biometric word list because the authentication depended on the two human users recognizing each other's distinct voices as they read and compared the...
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