A Very Quiet E-Mail
With all of the scandals that have been happening recently on the Internet regarding governmental wiretapping and email spying, many people have been on the hunt for a more secure email solution. If you haven’t heard of Hushmail already, understand that they are a web-based provider of email services with encryption using OpenPGP as well as file storage services. A lot of people feel safer using a protocol like OpenPGP since it is open source. Therefore you don’t need to worry about government agencies injecting backdoors and code that will facilitate spying because everyone can see the source code. But is this mail service all it’s cracked up to be? Let’s take a closer look at its features.
Features and Security
After a user and the recipient have access to the encryption keys, they can send end-to-end encrypted and authenticated emails without the fear of the N.S.A. collecting and reading their messages. When compared to other email providers, Hushmail’s selling proposition puts an emphasis on security while others add value and market their services with other features. Although, if you only use their free service you might find other free email provider’s more attractive.
Not only does their service block spam, but they also scan emails for malware and viruses. But don’t think that they provide this service exclusively. In addition, they allow you to create lists of trusted parties and groups of people you want blacklisted. You have the option of blocking incoming mail from both domain names and by individual email accounts. But just consider that just about any other standard email service provider will do the exact same things. If they didn’t include either of these features, they wouldn’t even be a viable email service provider. In fact, there are free tools you can use to encrypt email end-to-end that work with the most popular email services such as Gmail.
For individual users, there are essentially 3 different pricing plans. First of all there is the free plan that will give you 25 MB of storage with zero advertising. The only catch is that you need to sign in and use their service one time every 21 days for your account to stay active.
Next, they offer a plan for $34.99 a year. This plan provides better features over the free plan, and it will allocate you with 1 GB of storage. Again, you will not see any advertisements and you can have as many email aliases as your heart desires. In addition, you receive dedicated support. At this price, you are paying approximately $2.90 per month which really isn’t too bad.
Lastly, they offer a plan for $49.98 ($4.17 per month) that will give you 10 GB of storage. You get all of the services found in the cheaper plans such as no advertising, unlimited email aliases, and dedicated support. However, this plan will also give you access to POP/IMAP email protocols as well as web access.
Legal Compliance Issues and Security Caveats
But don’t make the mistake of thinking that because Hushmail uses OpenPGP that they are exempt from forfeiting information to the government. While other security services like VPNs can rightfully choose to not log any data from their customers, Hushmail has given up information to third parties in the past. But this is the exception and not the rule. Most notably, they forfeited copies of email messages that were linked to specific addresses because of their burden to comply with the law. Law enforcement officials requested this information to be handed over due to the Mutual Legal Assistance treaty.
But this was only one example. There have been other similar incidents as well. In another case they dug up emails from specific addresses, recorded them on discs, and handed them over to US authorities for legal matters. In fact, they state clearly in their policy that they will indeed continue to log IP addresses for several reasons. They claim that it will help them identify trends in the market, better understand information regarding demographics, and to “prevent abuse of our services.”
Because they market themselves as leaders in the email security industry (the operative word is market) you might erroneously feel safe from prying eyes. In the past they had claimed that even their employees who were given access to their servers didn’t have the ability to decipher your data. The fact of the matter is that their hands are tied when the government produces a court order to seize email data for legal reasons.
But what does this all really boil down to? Well, we know that there aren’t any N.S.A. or other backdoors into their system since they use open standards. Thus far, it also seems that they have been pretty responsible in protecting their users’ rights to privacy. The only exceptions were a few legal matters, but even then they only handed over small subsets of data regarding the concerned parties. I would say that if your only concern is only your right to privacy, you have nothing to worry about. However, if you are plotting nefarious activities and you want to leverage their system to hide your communications, you might be in trouble. On the other hand, Internet security purists will usually turn their nose up at any service that states they will log user data and turn it over to the government if they are forced to.
To bottom line is that Hushmail provides a strong and reliable service, especially for an email service that’s free of charge. But what sets them apart from other email leaders like Google? They don’t seem to add much (if any) value past what you can already find in the market for free. While it’s true that they promote their service by making claims of its security, it isn’t really any more secure than its competitors. If you like this service and use it already, by all means keep using it since they do a good job of securing and protecting users’ email data. But I wouldn’t switch to their service solely on the notion that they provide stronger security than some of the leading services. It seems that their boasts about security are only a marketing tool since none of their competitors use security as a sole platform to sell their services.