Today we’re doing an update on the Hushmail review by examining and testing the service once again. Hushmail has been around since 1999 and is an established player in the secure email space. It brands itself as a secure alternative to Gmail — but it also comes with some drawbacks that we discovered.
As we pointed out last time, Hushmail has some unique features that could make it an ideal email service for your needs. But the service has several drawbacks, too. We’ll look at both the pros and cons of this long-running system to help you decide if it is still a good choice in the more hostile online environment of today.
- Built-in OpenPGP support
- iOS mobile app
- Supports POP, IMAP, SMTP
- Supports encrypted communication with non-Hushmail users
- Strips IP addresses from emails
- Special features for a range of different business categories
- HIPAA compliant
- Hushmail can capture user’s passphrase, allowing them to decrypt OpenPGP messages
- Not open source
- Canadian company, subsidiary of a US company (bad privacy jurisdiction)
- No calendar or file storage
- More expensive than competitors
Hushmail features overview
Hushmail lacks several features that we find with other secure email services. The “basic” features that Hushmail contains include:
This puts them a few steps behind the competition since they do not include:
- File storage
That said, Hushmail does include several benefits:
- Secure forms for various business types
- A detailed Security Analysis
We’ll look at these benefits in more detail later. In particular, we’ll be talking about the way Hushmail implements OpenPGP in their servers, as this is a two-edged sword when it comes to the security of your messages.
Hushmail company information
Launched in 1999, Hushmail is a product of Hush Communications, Ltd., a Canadian company. Hush Communications, Ltd. in turn, is a subsidiary of Hush Communications Corporation, which is based in the United States.
While the company emphasizes the security they provide for your email messages, they also stress that they comply with Canadian warrants requesting data from users, from both the Canadian and US government.
Both the United States and Canada are founding members of the Five Eyes intelligence organization. Both conduct large-scale intelligence operations and are believed to spy on each other’s citizens and share that data, allowing them to circumvent domestic espionage restrictions.
They can and do force local companies to help them spy on users, and may use gag orders to prevent those companies from even informing the targets that they are being spied upon. And now the pandemic is upon us.
After 9/11, the US government began massive additional surveillance of the populace, including sucking up everyone’s email that they could. Many security experts fear that additional assaults on your privacy will result from “temporary” measures to fight the virus.
The difficulty of protecting the privacy of users causes most secure email services to locate themselves outside the United States and Canada. The same can also be said of Canada VPN providers, which are also affected by these laws.
Hushmail technical specifications
Hushmail uses standard encryption algorithms and protocols to protect your messages. These include:
- PFS (Perfect Forward Secrecy)
- HSTS (HTTP Strict Transport Security)
In addition, their specialized business accounts may meet relevant industry standards:
- Hushmail for Healthcare — HIPAA compliant
- Hushmail for Law — Support for Attorney/Client privilege
Hushmail hands-on testing
The original version of this review was conducted using the browser-based client and a free trial account. That free trial account made it easy to get a sense of whether Hushmail was for you, before signing up for one of the myriad paid plans they offer.
Apparently Hush has decided that a free trial is not necessary. The former links to the free trial now lead to the paid plan signups, so be prepared to pay a hefty price ($49.98 at the time of this review) for the one personal Hushmail option now available.
Signing up for Hushmail
Signing up for Hushmail shows you right away that this isn’t a privacy-first service like Tutanota or Posteo. To get your secure Hushmail account, you are required to give them your current email address. That is annoying in itself, as it results in a link from Hushmail back to you that can easily be hacked or even handed over to anyone who asks for it nicely (or while backed by several big dudes in body armor).
But it gets worse. You are also required to give them a phone number, which is the most anti-privacy signup requirement you will normally see. While you could always create a burner email address for the signup process, using a fake telephone number isn’t usually an option. And given your telephone number, anyone can get a whole lot of information about you simply by doing a reverse lookup on any of dozens of websites.
If this puts you off, you might want to stop reading and check out our Tutanota review or our Posteo review.
The look and feel of Hushmail
The Hushmail email interface is an old-style, 2-pane setup as shown here:
I say old-style because this isn’t a drag-and-drop interface like we found in the ProtonMail review.
Here, you check the box to the left of one or more messages, then select what you want to do to that message (Mark read, Move, Delete, whatever).
Note that the client displays buttons for Desktop or Mobile at the bottom of the right pane. Select Mobile to see the Hushmail client as a responsive interface designed for smaller screens. Depending on the characteristics of your device, it will look something like this:
This Mobile view should work on any Android or iOS device, but is not a separate app, merely a different form of a browser page. By contrast, a true mobile app, like the iOS app Hushmail also offers, will only work on certain devices. In general, however, it will be more secure than a responsive web page, even if you are using a secure browser.
You won’t have trouble composing a message in Hushmail. It is virtually the same as composing a message in any other email client. The options you are most likely to need all appear right in the composition window.
There are, however, two options you don’t normally see. They are the Form Builder button, and the Attach secure web form link. These allow you to create secure forms and attach either your custom forms or some of the prebuilt forms that Hushmail comes with.
Sending messages is also simple. Aside from clicking the Send button, the only thing you need to consider is whether or not to send that message encrypted.
Sending to Hushmail users
By default, messages sent to another Hushmail user will automatically be sent encrypted with OpenPGP, which is a good security option. It is important to realize, however that the encryption is applied on the server, not on your device. This means that Hushmail could conceivably read your messages before encrypting them, perhaps under pressure from law enforcement or the federal government.
Sending to non-Hushmail users
If you are sending to a non-Hushmail user, you can select or clear the Encrypted checkbox to send either encrypted or unencrypted. If you send the message encrypted, Hushmail sends the recipient a link to a secure web page where they can read the message.
Things are actually a little more complicated than I just described when you send an encrypted message to a non-Hushmail user. If this is something you think you will be doing, I suggest you go to this page to see the complete details.
Receiving messages doesn’t require any special actions on your part. Hushmail automatically decrypts any encrypted messages you receive from other Hushmail users, making the encryption transparent to you.
If you plan on using Hushmail a lot, you will probably want to disable the Email notification option. With this option active (which it is by default), every time you receive a message in Hushmail, you will also get a notification in your “other email address” – the one you were forced to give them when you signed up for Hushmail.
During the course of this Hushmail review, I received dozens of these notifications, clogging up the other email address. If you don’t want this to happen to you, here’s how you disable this option:
- In the top right of the Hushmail window, click the Options icon (three horizontal lines in a box).
- Select Preferences from the menu that appears.
- On the About you tab in Preferences, go to the bottom of the page and disable the Email notification option.
Searching for messages
The Hushmail Search feature is simple and efficient. Type in the word or phrase you are looking for and Search will find all the messages that contain it, whether in the message header, body, or any other field.
Note that the search function searches the current folder, not the entire folder structure.
Hushmail gives you a basic Contacts system that has one particularly useful feature. As you can see in the following image, the Contacts page displays a lot of information about each contact, instead of just a list of names and email addresses. You may well be able to pick out the information you need about a particular contact directly on this page, instead of having to open the contact to find it.
While this might get to be clumsy if you have a lot of Contacts, the Search box on the page should take care of that problem.
Hushmail can also import contacts from other services that can export their contacts using the CSV format.
Calendar and file storage
As mentioned above, Hushmail does not provide a Calendar or a File storage area. I consider this a mark against the service. Most other secure email services offer this, as you can see in the Mailfence review, Posteo review, and more.
We dipped into the Preferences section of Hushmail when I showed you how to turn off email notifications. But there is much more you can do here. I’m not going to attempt to describe all the possibilities in this review, but you’ll get an idea of what’s possible from this list of the tabbed pages included in Preferences:
- About you
- Automatic response
- Email aliases
Capabilities like automatic responses help make Hushmail a good tool for businesses. We’ll talk more about Hushmail business capabilities a little later.
Hushmail mobile apps
Hushmail has a mobile app for iOS. It was originally launched in July, 2016 but apparently isn’t too popular. Almost 5 years after launch, it has a total of only 43 reviews. Worse, the app only gets 3.0 out of 5 stars, but with so few reviews posted, that doesn’t necessarily mean anything. It appears to be fully-featured, and something worth trying out if you use both Hushmail and an iPhone.
Integration with other email clients
Thanks to its POP, SMTP, and IMAP support, you can work with your Hushmail email using many non-Hushmail email clients. This gives you a way to use your Hushmail account with a real client app instead of through a web page, whichever computer or mobile device you are using.
Hushmail provides instructions for managing your Hushmail account using third-party apps on this page.
Is Hushmail secure? Is it private?
Now that you’ve seen what Hushmail looks like, let’s talk specifically about the security and privacy it provides. We’ll start with the Hushmail Logging Policy.
Hushmail logging policy
Hushmail does a good job of laying out what information it logs, when it does so, and what happens to the data after it is recorded. Unfortunately, there are some things in this policy you probably won’t like.
As I grumbled before, the problems start when you create an account. Hushmail records your IP Address, Phone Number, and Email Address. They say,
We use this information to analyze market trends, gather broad demographic information, and to prevent abuse of our services. We will not share this information with third-parties.
When you sign in to your account, Hushmail says the information they record may include:
- Your IP address
- Your browser type
- Browser language
- Date and Time of the action
- Account usernames
- Sender and recipient email addresses
- File names of attachments
- Subjects of emails
- URLs in the bodies of unencrypted email
- Any other information that we deem necessary to record for the purposes of maintaining the system and preventing abuse.
When it comes to the OpenPGP encryption provided by the service, they say that,
Please note, we may be required to store a passphrase for an account identified in an order enforceable in British Columbia, Canada.
Because of the way the Hushmail encryption system is built, there is a possibility that the company could see and record the passphrase of an account. In other words, the Canadian government can order them to record information that could be used to read your encrypted messages.
Sharing your data with the government and gag orders
Like most secure email services, Hushmail will respond to a legally enforceable order to turn in information to the local government (in their case, the government of British Columbia, Canada). But companies like Tutanota or ProtonMail log as little information as possible, meaning they have little that they can turn over in response to an order.
They also have no way to decrypt your encrypted messages, contacts, files, and so on stored in their systems. This means that even if forced to turn over your data, no one will be able to read it. Hushmail, on the other hand, does extensive logging of user activities and personal information and will turn all that information over when commanded to. And in some cases, Hushmail has the ability to decrypt encrypted messages, contacts, and other data, and provide that clear text information to the government as well.
Will Hushmail notify you if they are forced to turn over your data? Not a chance. They say (emphasis added),
Because such orders generally state that we are not permitted to disclose the existence of the order to a user, we will not disclose to any user the existence, or nonexistence, of any order we may have received.
Well at least Hushmail employees won’t be reading your mail, right? Don’t be so sure. Read these two passages from the policy:
Where there are exigent circumstances, such as where the safety or well-being of an individual or individuals is in imminent danger, and we believe in good faith that the disclosure of personal information and account data is reasonably necessary to protect against such harm, we will disclose the records. This may include but is not limited to the welfare of a child, or an act of terrorism.
We comply with Canadian Bill C-22 as enacted into law in Canada. “An act respecting the mandatory reporting of Internet child pornography by persons who provide an Internet service”. This means that should we become aware of a user that is using the Hush service for the transmission or storage of Internet child pornography, we are required to report this to the appropriate authorities and preserve the records in the user’s account. As a result of this notification, we may receive an order enforceable in British Columbia, Canada, requiring the disclosure of personal information or account data.
These statements at least open the door to Hushmail employees looking through your stuff to ensure that they comply with these requirements.
How secure is Hushmail?
Since Hushmail logs lots of information about you, and in some cases can even decrypt your messages when requested to by the government, it is one of the least secure email services I’ve looked at recently.
But is Hushmail secure enough for your needs? That of course depends on your threat model. And Hushmail provides some real help here.
One of the nice things about the service is that they post a couple of different articles on how they provide security for your account. Their How Hushmail Can Protect You article tackles their security from a layman’s perspective, while their Security Analysis gets into a more detailed, technical discussion. Reviewing these documents should quickly reveal if Hushmail is secure against the threats you are concerned with.
How private is Hushmail?
From my perspective, it is hard to claim that your Hushmail account is private. Here are my reasons for saying this:
- The United States and Canada are founding members of the Five Eyes international intelligence organization. Among other things, this means that they share intelligence information about each other’s citizens.
- As a result of a US Supreme Court case and some legislation called the CLOUD Act, under most circumstances, companies like Hush Communications Corporation are required to provide user data to US law enforcement, even when that data resides on servers in another country. See this for more details.
- Most of the computer code that handles your Hushmail account is proprietary. This means that there is no way for outsiders to see whether or not your data is truly protected in the Hushmail system.
- Hushmail’s OpenPGP encryption is implemented on their servers, rather than in your client. This means that you must trust Hushmail to implement the encryption properly, without recording data in unencrypted form or the passphrase used to encrypt your data.
Note: Normally, I recommend using a good VPN service that secures and encrypts the data flowing between your device and Hushmail’s servers. The VPN will hide your IP address, making it much more difficult for a snoop to identify you. While using a good VPN service with Hushmail is still a prudent move, with all the other information the company logs about your activities, along with phone registration, hiding your IP address through a VPN may not be enough.
Hushmail business features
We’ve already seen that Hushmail has some business-oriented features, such as automatic responses. But the real bonus is its secure forms.
Hush secure forms
One business feature that helps Hushmail stand out from the email crowd is Hush Secure Forms. As the name implies, this is a capability to create secure web forms from within Hushmail. While this threw me at first, once I saw some examples of the forms you can create, it made good business sense. Here are a few examples of forms templates that are ready for you to complete and put to use:
- Secure Contact – Your customers can use this form to initiate a secure conversation with you.
- Secure File Transfer – A form that you can use to receive confidential documents and other files from your customers.
- Client Experience Survey – After an appointment, send this survey to your clients to find out what went well, and how they think you can improve.
- Dental Appointment Request Form – You can link to this form from your website, social media, and email signature. Your customers can use the form to request an appointment with you.
Hushmail provides Email and Telephone Support. The telephone support is offered Monday through Friday, 9AM to 5PM Pacific time. Customer Support gets mixed reviews from users. This may well be caused by the fact that there is no telephone support available for people during their free trial of the service.
They also post service status updates and other information to their Twitter account: @hushmail.
Hushmail plans and pricing
Hushmail pricing remains as complicated as ever. That’s because of all the different options they offer. You can get a personal account, or several flavors of business accounts. Here’s a quick rundown of the options that exist today.
Hushmail no longer offers a free trial account with limited storage and a single email address. Hushmail Premium is the only option you have now. The price is $49.98 per year, with 10GB of storage and unlimited email aliases. However, even with Hushmail Premium, you are limited to Hushmail-provided domain names. If you want to use a custom domain name, you need to use one of their business accounts.
Things get complicated here. There are two Small Business plans, three HIPAA-compliant Healthcare plans, as well as plans for Law firms, Nonprofits, and the ability to craft custom solutions. If you fall into any of these categories, you should go to this page and check out the specifics for your situation.
Is Hushmail the best email service for you?
As always, the answer to this question is influenced by your threat model and personal needs. Here are some factors to consider:
- Jurisdiction – The company that runs Hushmail is based in Canada, but is a subsidiary of a US firm. In at least one case, Hushmail provided data to the United States, apparently decrypting supposedly secure messages at the request of the government.
- PGP support – Uses an audited version of OpenPGP.
- Import feature – Can import Contacts in CSV format.
- Email apps – A web-based client along with iOS app.
- Encryption – Emails and attachments encrypted in transit. Messages that do not have the optional OpenPGP encryption are stored unencrypted on Hushmail servers. Because OpenPGP encryption is applied on the server, it is possible for Hushmail to record your passphrase, giving them access to your supposedly secure messages.
- Features – Offers some unique features for specific types of businesses. Does not include a Calendar or file storage capabilities.
- Open Source Code – Hushmail is not Open Source.
If you don’t need any of the special features of Hushmail, there are several secure email services that are more secure, more private, and a better value. Here are five other options with in-depth reviews:
Some of these email providers offer free accounts up to a certain storage limit.
And if you only need an email address for a short time, we also have a guide on temporary email services.
Hushmail review conclusion
Hushmail offers some unique features for businesses like doctor’s and lawyer’s offices. And it appears to be secure against many types of attacks. However, it has a relatively high price and is missing features like a calendar and file storage, which are standard on most of the competition.
Beyond that, thanks to OpenPGP encryption being done on their servers instead of the client, Hushmail has the capability to record your passphrase, giving them the ability to decrypt your messages.
They have at least once decrypted user messages and provided the decrypted messages to the United States government. This makes your messages far less private than on other services which do not have the capability to decrypt those messages. They may also be required by law not to disclose these privacy violations to users.
In many ways Hushmail is similar to Fastmail, an email service in Australia that also is not quite as private or secure as other options.
In short, if you don’t mind Hushmail employees, along with the United States and Canadian governments reading your encrypted messages, and you don’t mind paying a premium price for the features they offer, Hushmail might work for you. But unless you need their specialized business features, I suggest looking elsewhere.
Check out some of the other best secure email providers here.
And here are our other secure email reviews:
This Hushmail review was last updated May 1, 2022.
I had a civil litigant get a court order for information on my account based on fabrications proffered to a Canadian court. I was given no opportunity to refute these fabrications.
While my opponent was not able to obtain message contents, between subject lines, data and time stamps, geolocation, and billing records, I wound up with very little privacy. And Hushmail didn’t even bother to tell me, despite the fact it was not forbidden from doing so per the court order.
Bottom line, Hushmail is security and privacy in name only. It makes no effort whatsoever to challenge subpoenas, to inform the customer, or otherwise to demonstrate even basic respect. I strongly urge against using this service.
Oh, and beware: The company retains data for two years after you close your account, regardless of your wishes.
the owner does not have access to his or her own passphrase, but hackers do. the passphrase is unknown and the only resource to make sure you type the right passphrase is the confirmation the time you opened the account. I found out that the employees of hushmail have the passphrase and , you can be logged out of your account with no resource. I lost over 7 years of legal documents, open another hushmail, thinking I had privacy, which I did not, and yet another only to receive teh same message from the company…my passphrase was wrong, but if that was so, how come it logged in for weeks. So, as I said, I first lost 7 years of documents, which I tried to transfer. They do not allow synchronizing either, even though they say they do. So, after all, your passphrase is only concealed to the user, no one else, even when you retype, it does not show what is being typed but during my conversation with a representative I found out that they do have your passphrase, not to mention that hackers can generate tens of thousands of passwords per minute (?). Hushmail is an ilusion, it offers no privacy.
Years ago I started using hushmail when they used to claim customers had secure encrypted email to include at rest and claimed not even their staff could read your email at rest or email sent encrypted (end to end). This if true was only correct up until someone supposedly tried to use their service to sell US Gov secrets (well over 10 years ago). At that time privacy ended even though for a year or so they continued to advertise secure/private email. For customers it was clear there was no more privacy (This was years before hush offered the ability to send encrypted email to people outside hush using a virtual email box that was/is encrypted and a web link is sent to the person outside hush providing some privacy for both to communicate). Up until hush compromised their own system I used to recommend hushmail to people. Sadly back than like most Americans I was not aware of the massive abuse by Gov intercepting all Americans’ digital communications without warrants and long before Edward Snowden came along. Since hush compromised their system significantly lessening customers’ privacy they went on to regularly record email at lest when it contains web links. At that point after being a customer for years I had enough and left. I would never recommend them and puzzled how they can claim to meet HIPAA compliance since they do record email of paid customers.
Hushmail terminated two accounts I pay for because they didn’t like how I communicated with them after they failed to solve my problem. I’ve noticed a lot of service outages. They do not inform people of the outages. We freak out and then they say, “Clear your cache.” So, they terminated my accounts with NO WARNING and my whole life is in that account. So don’t piss off their customer service people or they will just terminate you and any other account you hold. So, otherwise I liked Hushmail’s features, especially the search function, which is not mentioned here. It appears to be full-text.
But as you say, probably not a secure option. I thought it was until I read this. And given Canada’s utter descent into absolute fascism, I don’t want anything to do with a Canadian company anymore.
So I will move away from Hushmail instead of begging for my accounts back. Hopefully they will give me my data, and that is something not mentioned in your reviews. What happens when you WANT your data. the European standards say you have a right to “port” your data. So I expect I can still get it. But it’s nerve wracking not knowing with these despots. I’d say forget Hushmail and avoid them. They’re not nice and they’re not protecting your privacy. They need to up their game if they are going to be a serious privacy email.
The thing is none of these are perfect. CTemplar is the best newbie on the block but no full-text searches? OUCH. Oh well. Hopefully they will not suck as much as Hushmail did.
Just an addendum. After Hushmail terminated my accounts without warning, for a minor issue, after I had EIGHT YEARS of being a good customer of theirs, they then “permitted” me to download my data only to a local drive through Thunderbird. I told them they were in violation of their own GDPR standards, since they stole the data by cutting it off, didn’t allow me to port it, not just download it, and not communicating that they were shutting off the service. They were totally nasty and disgusting and claimed I violated their “terms” even after I apologized three times for the miscommunication. They would not simply give me a warning and restore the accounts. Legally, terms mean nothing. I am going to sue them. They cannot do this to people. Your data is your property and this needs to be a mantra. Better laws in North America must be enacted against this. They will steal your data or just delete at a whim, despite their alleged compliance with GDPR.
THEY ARE NOT COMPLIANT WITH GDPR. THEY WILL DO WHAT THEY WANT, ESPECIALLY IF YOU ARE NOT IN THE EU.
In any event, despite my attempts to force them to keep my account open until I could find a new provider and move everything away, which is difficult because I like the two-column layout and not many people have it, they shut down my account again after reopening it for a WEEKEND to get my data. No help was offered in this, and the data was indeed corrupted. As noted, they are nasty Canadian fascists who don’t care about you or your privacy. AVOID THEM.
Talking to myself from the past
Hushmail was a nightmare. I’d gotten it to help protect myself from a stalker. It got hacked. THey didn’t care. Stopped using them, and won’t use them again. The “encrypted” “private” email services need to quit using false claims in their advertising. What I will say is while gmail is creepy, it protects best against stalkers. Just get separate accounts. And, don’t log into the same windows or chrome profile with them to prevent them from being “attached” to one another. Never use your full name on your email account either. Just trying to be helpful.
It is true that hushmail employees block you from your own account. Some are nice, but some are plain nasty and refuses to answer any question and if you ask to speak with someone else, well too back, that employee just block you from your own account, forever. I lost 3 accounts, actually 4 with hushmail and a great deal of legal documents and it never occurred to me that the fact that they do not allow me to see my own passphrase when I open the account or when I log in, does not mean privacy..I’m the only one blocked to see the passphrase which gives hushmail the right to block me and allege that my passphrase was wrong. In one of my emails (which I had for 7 years) suddenly, my passphrase became wrong…. A piece of advice, stay away from those people…
– I use hushmail, private emails sent to google and yahoo are sent as links.
– Some people don’t understand that the encrypted message you want to send to a gmail account, actually the actual email isn’t sent – You must load the link and depending on the level of security you set, you must put in a password on it given by the other person, or create a new account on their system to read your messages.
This is a good service to use, esp. if you need health data HIPAA stuff (I’m in the health field).
Some people are talking about default encrypt. I contacted them to default it on.
If you are thinking to use this email for illegal activities, probably not the best choice. If you are doing healthcare related stuff that requires stringent rules, then hushmail is a good choice (with their forms