The Quest for the Holy Grail Secret Key

After years of searching, I finally rediscovered my old PGP keys.

by Oliver Cox

Posted on September 14, 2018 at 12:08

About a year ago, I managed to lose my PGP secret key during a computer reset. Every couple of years, I will factory reset my PC, only keeping a few important files. This helps stop it from slowing down too much, as junk never gets a chance to build up a lot.

However, in the reset that I performed about a year ago, I forgot to copy my secret key, and it was deleted, along with the rest of my hard drive's files. I have searched multiple times through all of my backups to find a copy, but have never found it. My main backup from the reset had gone missing a while ago, and I had no idea where it was. However, yesterday, that changed.

Yesterday, I noticed that my web hosting was getting rather full. I have an unlimited hosting plan with 1&1 (You can find them here), which has unlimited storage but a limited number of individual files (262,144). So, I started to go through and clean it out, removing old projects that were no longer in use.

One of these projects was an old OwnCloud instance I used to use, but had stopped using after it was broken by an update. Although the web interface for it was completely non-functional, all of the files I had stored on it were still on the server. I searched through it to check if there was anything worth keeping, and stumbled upon it - a folder named 'PC RESET BACKUP'.

Inside of the folder were a lot of other files and folders, but the one that immediately caught my eye was the folder named 'PGP'. I opened it, and lo and behold, inside was a copy of the private key, public key, and revocation certificates for all of my PGP identities. After a year of searching, I had found it completely by accident. If I hadn't checked that folder before deleting it, I would have deleted the only remaining copy of my key.