Hushmail Turns Out To Not Be Quite So Hush Hush

from the privacy-is-an-illusion dept

Many people are familiar with the company Hushmail, who provides encrypted web-based email that the company claims is completely private. In fact, the company makes it clear: "not even a Hushmail employee with access to our servers can read your encrypted e-mail, since each message is uniquely encoded before it leaves your computer." It turns out that isn't quite true. Wired reports that Hushmail handed the feds 12 CDs worth of plain text emails from the service following a court order. The Wired piece goes into great detail concerning what happened here -- and the folks at Hushmail were quite honest about how their service works. Hushmail has two different versions, one which requires a java app to be downloaded, which handles all the encryption locally. The other, more popular one, is entirely web-based, meaning that your passphrase is stored on the server ever so briefly -- and that's how Hushmail was able to access the accounts required in the court order. So, while it's true that Hushmail is mostly secure outside of a court order, the marketing material on the site is at least a little misleading, implying that even in such cases, your email will be encrypted.
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Filed Under: drug dealers, email, encryption, fbi, privacy
Companies: fbi, hushmail


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  1. identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 9 Nov 2007 @ 4:26pm

    Re:

    Thank you, Claire Rand! Finally someone got the point:
    Yes, Claire got it right.

    Hushmail offers Java-based software that will encrypt outgoing data *before* it even gets to Hushmail and then will decrypt it after it leaves Hushmail. When used, Hushmail sees nothing but encrypted gibberish.
    Maybe, maybe not. You see the problem with Hushmail's Java applet is that you can't verify that it is secure. While Hushmail does publish the source code for an encrypting Java applet you still can't be sure that it corresponds to what is actually downloaded to and run on your computer each time. That's why you should use only open-source encryption software that you can verify and install on your own computer if security is really important to you.

    The people who had their plaintext email passed onto law enforcement were to damned lazy to use the software and instead uploaded plaintext messages for Hushmail to do the encryption on the server end. That's stupid.
    As explained above, using their Java applet could also be said to be lazy and stupid. Good security usually isn't easy to implement. That's why most people don't do it.

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