The best webmail services

Written by Wil Harris

February 19, 2007 | 11:38

Tags: #gmail #hotmail #live #mac #mail #spamcop #webmail #windows

Companies: #apple #google #yahoo


OK, now here's something a little different. Hushmail is a positively old-school brand of webmail. There's no AJAX - the whole client is frame-based, it looks ugly and boy, is it limited. Check this out - the default amount of storage for the free account is just 2MB. 2MB! You can, fortunately, upgrade this for $30 a year - but only to 250MB!

So, given that it's so decidedly backward, why is Hushmail even in our feature? Well, it has one thing, in abundance, that most of the other systems don't - and that's security. This is what justifies the name, and Hushmail is built from the ground up to be all about security and privacy. If you want to keep your email on the down-low, or if you just object to government email snooping, this is the place to be.

Security starts even at the sign up process. Just to sign up to the service you are given a HTTPS page, which means that the data travelling between your machine and Hushmail - your info, password etc - are encrypted with AES 128-bit encryption. That's a good start. You're encouraged to select a 'strong' password, and there's a little visual indicator that tells you how good your password is. Why would you want a such a strong password? Well, because that will form the basis of your PGP private key.

The best webmail services Hushmail The best webmail services Hushmail
Yes, you read that right - Hushmail integrates PGP right into the system. If you're not familiar with it, go check out PGP on Wikipedia. The bottom line is that it's an asymmetric key encryption system that is, to all intents and purposes, uncrackable. PGP works by creating two different keys - a public key, which is published for the world to see, and a private key, which only you have. Data that is encrypted with the public key can only be decrypted by the private key, meaning that anyone sending you secure mail can be sure that only you are going to get to see it. You can also use your PGP private key to sign mail, enabling anyone to check whether or not a message from you has been tampered with or altered - any alteration will mess with the security on the message, which you can detect on the other end.

So if you're a PGP fan then this is a great webmail service for you. But you're probably also security conscious / paranoid, and how can you know that you can trust Hushmail with your details? Well, the firm publishes the source code for its service, which you can download and take a look at for yourself, should that interest you. Hushmail also keeps a large repository of documentation that explains, in technical detail, each aspect of its service, from the difference in security between the Java client and the straight HTML client, as well as white papers on email security and the FBI's Carnivore email interception service. It's a security fan's dream.

The best webmail services Hushmail The best webmail services Hushmail
But what about the actual service? Well, it's a fairly standard webmail client, with standard message composition tools, the ability to add folders and filter based on rules, as well as set preferences for checking a POP service. The spam control, as you might expect for a service that bills itself as security conscious, is pretty hot. There's a lot of flexibility in spam management, and the actual execution of this is great, too. Apart from the normal whitelist and blacklist kind of thing, there's the option to straight delete spam 'undeliverable' mails, as well as options for dealing with encrypted and unencrypted mail separately. There's also challenge-response, which you can use to check that mail is being sent by a human being. The combination of all these factors makes for a low-spam service - which, we suppose, is handy when you only have 2MB of storage!

You need to log in regularly to maintain the free service, but the Premium service keeps you alive for as long as you maintain the payment.

The best webmail services Hushmail The best webmail services Hushmail
All in all, Hushmail is a unique service that could really do with a bit of a 21st-century makeover. In a world that is becoming ever more security conscious, the combination of secure authentication, PGP and spam control is a great one - but the storage space and the web client are just far too backward for this to be a recommended choice for anyone but the most paranoid.

Uppers: Fantastic security, great spam control.
Downers: Interface, tiny storage,
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