back to article Hushmail warns users over law enforcement backdoor

Hushmail has updated its terms of service to clarify that encrypted emails sent through the service can still be turned over to law enforcement officials, providing they obtain a court order in Canada. September court documents (pdf) from a US federal prosecution of alleged steroid dealers reveals that Hush Communications …


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  1. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bad bad precedent, what if Microsoft complied?

    "Unlocking targeted accounts involves sending a rogue Java applet to targeted users that captures a user's passphrase and sends it back to Hush Communications"

    Well that's a bad precedent, since Microsoft has the ability to send similar code via it's Windows Update to capture passwords or private communications. What if they received one of these demands? Would/have they sent a rogue applet to the users machine?

    (Didn't we just have an undisclosed Windows Update recently?)

    All you'd have to do is issue a warrant to them to spy on anyone, any government official in any office in any jurisdiction, all subject to a US warrant issued under US law directly to Microsoft in Redmond.

  2. Anonymous Coward

    Bad luck for the Brits then

    "adding that stand-alone desktop encryption packages such as PGP Desktop provide higher levels of security than web-based services."

    Unless you're in the UK, in which case it's now a crime to withhold your encryption keys from the police.

    Hold on Big Brother, I'll just drop my trousers and bend over, shall I?

  3. Ash

    @Anon. Coward

    They could have just put it into the OS anyway.

    Are you suggesting you know EXACTLY what ANY of the applications on your Windows machine is doing? ALL of the time?

    Hell, any closed-source application can do whatever it wants on your windows system.

    The question is, how much privacy are you willing to forfeit for ease of use? You could not do web, phone, or mail banking, but then every time you wanted to fill up your car, you'd have to find your cheque book, go to the bank, make a cheque out for cash, get back in the car, go to the petrol station, fill up, and pay. Even then, though, you're on CCTV in the bank, in the petrol station, in the street, on traffic monitoring systems on certain motorways, you have your numberplate recognised by forecourt cameras (which links to your name, address, driving license number etc), and ultimately this can all be linked together. You've not even TOUCHED a Windows PC up until this point.

    Paranoid yet? I'm not. They can take my student debt if they want :P

  4. John PM Chappell
    Gates Horns

    *sigh* Silly paranoia begins...

    Anyone imagining absolute security whilst using a middleman was naive to say the least.

    As for the above nonsense about MS - they are not a service provider (when you are simply using one of their horrible OSes) so your paranoia can be notched down a bit, sunshine.

  5. Grant
    Black Helicopters

    So do you use a closed source OS?

    And people wonder why China and many other governments want to use linux or some other code that they can read the source to. What makes you think Cheney has not already issued executive orders to gather passswords from anyone he feels like this week.

  6. Logic Bomb


    "Unless you're in the UK, in which case it's now a crime to withhold your encryption keys from the police."

    Yeah, they can also enter onto private property, and even arrest people.

  7. uniXbomber
    Black Helicopters


    E-mail will almost never be 'secure' because there are too many clients and servers involved. Even if your client is secure and your message body is encrypted so the email providers can't read it, whoever your sending it to is still a weak link and still has to be able to read it or what was the point in sending it.

    The best you can do is encrypt your hard drive with an encryption package that securely destroys your key on log in and recreates it on logout. If the police bust in and seize your system without shutting it down properly the loss of the key is their fault and you have no key to give them. The down side is that you are at risk from every minor power outage. In which case I would advise generating our key off of a publicly available block of data ( like the .pak file from the shareware version of quake 1 ) so you can recreate it in case of emergency. Of course, then your stuck with lying to the police about not having a key to decrypt it, but your story will be more believable when they step-trace your system and see that the key does in fact get deleted on login.

    In any case the use of rainbow tables and other new crypto-breaking techniques will make most forms of cryptography irrelevant in the near future. I am a crypto hobbiest, both designing and breaking codes for fun. I have a few ideas about how to improve cryptography, but if i said them out loud I'm sure I'd get arrested for treason or some other such idiocy.

  8. Anonymous Coward

    Country changes but the situation remains the same...

    Sounds a lot like Google in China.

  9. A J Stiles

    Hushmail != secure

    Hushmail always struck me as being a bit like someone saying in a cheesey Mexican accent, "Hey greengo! You wanna send top-secret message to your buddy? I have plan! Me an' my brother, we got this super-secret code we invented, we only two people in the whole world who unnerstand it, si? So, jou dictate to me, one word at time, si, and I write it down in special super-secret code. Then, I send it to my brother, and he read it, si, and he tell it to your buddy! Ees seemple!"

    I wouldn't trust ANY crypto product that I hadn't built myself from Source Code. If you think that's being paranoid, you aren't paying attention.

  10. uniXbomber

    @ A J

    The original Hushmail setup was fairly secure, your browser downloaded the java client which did the encryption on your machine and sent only the encrypted message back. The loophole that is being exploited is that you are downloading the java app from them every time ... which makes you vulnerable to being filtered and served their *rogue* java app which sends back the key with the message. Its no different than catching any other password sniffing trojan from the web. The next step in this tit-for-tat security fuss will be an installed local client, which can be as simple as a local cache of the web page with the unmodified java app, or perhaps a proxy server that holds the secure app in cache and filters and replaces the rogue app. And yes, open-sourcing the client wouldn't hurt.

    Hushmail will have to consider discontinuing its services which are proven to be exploitable if they are ever going to regain any credibility as a secure communication provider.

  11. Greg Bromage
    Thumb Down

    RE: Bad luck for the Brits

    True, it's illegal not to hand over your encryption keys.

    And they want to make it illegal to transport data on laptops UNLESS it's encrypted. (Unless you work the HMRC).

    So, damned if you do, damned if you don't.

  12. Symrstar
    Black Helicopters


    is an illusion in all aspects. Any political entity able to leverage force, be it economic or physical, is capable of breaking down any barriers between them and the power they crave. The individual does not matter in this scenario; neither do any perceived liberties.

    Not saying that I welcome our Police State overlords with open arms; sometimes wearing a tinfoil hat just confuses them into thinking your not worth their time.

    I am not paranoid. I know that any thing I do, or say for that matter, has the potential of being recorded, logged, scanned, interpreted, placed in a relational database, ect. ect. ect.

    Look at the brighter side of things; at least thoughts (in most cases) are still private.

  13. The Auditors
    Jobs Horns


    ... "at least thoughts ... are still private" ...

    Hah! We, The Auditors, have been unencrypting humans' thoughts for aeons. Frankly, most of them are rubbish! About 55% are about sex and 35% about food.

  14. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    @ The Auditors

    that makes 90%...

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Ah - but one can maketh a mess..

    The entertaining thing is that data access still does not equal data quality. The more Big Brother invades, the more deception becomes an entertaining passtime.

    That is a rather weak point in any data collection system: it lacks the brains to detect deception (which is why, for instance, data corruption is such a menace - it's not detected until the damage is so great that it's even obvious to an algorithm).

    A bit of martial arts knowledge helps here: to avoid getting hit, block, deflect or avoid. Avoid is impossible here, blocking means your force against an unknown counterpart. Deflection seems thus the better approach, not to mention the most entertaining one..

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