GPG fails with gpg: problem with the agent: Permission denied when I invoke it after switching my user with su:

su - user2
gpg --symmetric --passphrase=foo foo.txt

If I invoke the command from my own user, it doesn't fail. Is there a workaround?

I found a thread a thread in their mailing list about it but it's unanswered. It speculates that the error is because:

the tty is owned by the original user I logged into via SSH, not the user I switched to via su

  • Did you try script -c "gpg --symmetric --passphrase foo foo.txt" /dev/null/
    – Amith KK
    Oct 2, 2018 at 7:21
  • I fix it by logging in user2 directly instead su from other users.
    – jueti
    Jun 14, 2020 at 8:27

1 Answer 1


Try using the PIN entry mode of loopback:

gpg --decrypt --pinentry-mode=loopback <file>

I can replicate your issue on my Linux system when I try GPG with a terminal su:

$ gpg --decrypt example.gpg
gpg: AES256 encrypted data
gpg: problem with the agent: Permission denied
gpg: encrypted with 1 passphrase
gpg: decryption failed: No secret key

The solution that works for me:

$ gpg --decrypt --pinentry-mode=loopback example.gpg
hello world

You may also want to verify that your GPG is up to date:

$ gpg --version
gpg (GnuPG) 2.2.4
libgcrypt 1.8.1

You may also want to add pinentry-mode loopback to your ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf file (thanks to @Deathgrip in the comments).

  • 4
    Can also add pinentry-mode loopback to your ~/.gnupg/gpg.conf file.
    – Deathgrip
    Jul 23, 2021 at 21:50
  • @Deathgrip your comment was more helpful to me than the answer. Every single command requires the --pinetry-mode option, so saving it to the config is a lifesaver. Feb 9, 2022 at 20:05
  • Glad I can help
    – Deathgrip
    Feb 10, 2022 at 21:06
  • thank you joelparkerhenderson and @Deathgrip, you are life savers! Apr 28, 2023 at 14:02

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