Hushmail in U.S. v. Tyler Stumbo

auto37159 at auto37159 at
Fri Nov 2 10:02:50 EDT 2007

Calling Hushmail a scam (which seems lower in the continuum than 
Snake Oil) is pretty strong.  I have been (and am) a Hushmail user 
for many years and have been impressed by how they go about their 
business.  They are pretty explicit in explaining how things work, 
opening the code up for review, using OpenPGP, non US servers and 
incorporation, etc.

Given the above, I was surprised at what was in the affidavit.  I 
know there are several assumptions; the most glaring is that the 
defendants actually used the PGP implementation in the Hushmail 
system.  The assumed response to a legal request for emails would 
be the data stored on the server, which should be just PGP and 
headers. The affidavit does not state that crackers or keyloggers 
were used or that the passphrase was obtained from the users.  
Given the rest of the detail, it seems like these important actions 
would have been listed if they were used.

I wanted to know the collective opinion on how the contents of the 
emails could then be made known to the DEA without a glaring hole 
in the implementation or administration of Hushmail, either of 
which would be important but disappointing to hear about.


On Thu, 01 Nov 2007 16:52:28 -0400 Jon Callas <jon at> 
>On Nov 1, 2007, at 10:49 AM, John Levine wrote:
>>> Since email between hushmail accounts is generally PGPed.  
>(That is
>>> the point, right?)
>> Hushmail is actually kind of a scam.  In its normal 
>> it's in effect just webmail with an HTTPS connection and a long
>> password.  It will generate and verify PGP signatures and 
>> for mail it sends and receives, but they generate and maintain 
>> users' PGP keys.
>> There's a Java applet that's supposed to do end to end 
>encryption, but
>> since it's with the same key that Hushmail knows, what's the 
>I'm sorry, but that's a slur. Hushmail is not a scam. They do a 
>good job of explaining what they do, what they cannot do, and 
>which threats they protect. You may quibble all you want with its  
>*effectiveness* but they are not a scam. A scam is being 
>You also mischaracterize the Hushmail system. The "classic" 
>does not generate the keys, and while it holds them, they're  
>encrypted. The secrets Hushmail holds are as secure as the end 
>operational security.
>I know what you're going to say next. People pick bad passphrases, 
>etc. Yes, you're right. That is not being a scam.
>They have another system that is more web-service oriented, and 
>explain it on their web site far better than I could. It has 
>limitations in security but with increased usability. It is also 
>a scam.
>	Jon
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