Strong Encryption and Death

I try to use strong encryption wherever I can. While I doubt it will keep my thoughts from prying eyes forever, at least it should make peeking a little harder.

But it dawned on me: what happens when I die? I want to let my business partners see what is on my encrypted desktop and I know my wife will need access to the files on my systems at home. I could share them with her now, but my passphrases are complex and she isn’t very familiar with the operating systems I use.

Now I’m not planning on dying any time soon, in fact I want to live until I am at least 95 and a half. Why that age? Because that is when Halley’s Comet will return. I saw the comet when I was living in California in 1986 and I could care less about seeing it again, but I do want to be the old guy they interview:

“Back in ’86, now that’s 1986 for you young folks, I was livin’ in Los Angeles. The comet was too dim to see in the city, so we drove out to Joshua Tree …”

Halley's Comet 1986

So, how do I safely pass on my important passphrases? This is the solution I chose.

I created a file called “deathnote.txt” which I then encrypted using GPG:

gpg --encrypt --recipient \
    --recipient \
    --recipient deathnote.txt

This will encrypt the file so that both Bob and Alice can read it (and I can too). I then sent it to several friends unrelated to them with instructions that, upon my death (but not before), please send this file to Bob and Alice. I also remembered to include a copy of my GPG private key:

gpg --export-secret-keys -a

Just in case they can’t find it on my systems.

This does require a certain level of trust in my friends, but I am blessed with having several I can count on. As long as I remember to keep it updated this should provide a secure way to pass on this important information, although I hope no one has to use it any time soon.

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