updated 7/28/2005 9:36:08 AM ET 2005-07-28T13:36:08

The creator of a well-known tool for keeping e-mail safe from prying eyes is now working on a program that he says will help stop eavesdroppers from listening in on Internet-based phone calls.

Phil Zimmermann, who created the Pretty Good Privacy program for encrypting e-mail traffic, planned to demonstrate a prototype of his Voice over Internet Protocol security program Thursday during the Black Hat Briefings security conference in Las Vegas.

Most Internet-based phone calls are sent unscrambled, meaning it's possible for anyone to intercept the traffic and eavesdrop.  Zimmermann's application scrambles the data until it reaches its destination. The recipient must be running a program using the same protocols.

"If you want to have an encrypted call, then you have to call someone running the same software at the other end," Zimmermann said Wednesday.  "Eventually, I'm hoping companies that make VoIP phones will incorporate this protocol into their phones."

Zimmermann said he's been talking to a "couple of companies" about his technology but declined to provide specifics.

The program should be ready for broad deployment within a year.  Zimmermann said he will make the underlying code available for peer review, though he has not yet decided on whether he will make it available as a formal open-source project.

Zimmermann's e-mail software was released for free on the Internet in 1991.  Federal prosecutors launched a three-year probe into whether he had violated export restrictions on cryptographic software, but the investigation was dropped without any charges being filed.

Copyright 2005 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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