What about web mail? (2)

from the July 2006 Newsletter
by Rob Zorn

Web mail, where you log into a web site to send and receive e-mail, has been around for a long time, and there are many free web mail providers out there vying for your attention, each attempting to out-do the other in providing you with the most sublime online web mail experience.

Last month we looked at a few of the larger generic web mail providers out there (Hotmail, Yahoomail, GMail, NZoomail and Actrix web mail). This month we'll have a look at two or three that offer a more specialised service. 

HUSHMAIL (www.hushmail.com)

Hushmail is specifically designed to appeal to those hyper sensitive about security. It works automatically with PGP (Pretty Good Privacy) if you have that installed, and if you don't (and if you don't know what PGP is, don't worry), it encrypts your e-mail anyway so that no one can read it in transit.

If you don't use PGP, and neither does your recipient, the system asks you for a question only you and the recipient will know the answer to. The recipient then receives an e-mail with your question in it. If they know the answer, they're taken to a secure web page which displays the message. They can also reply to the message from that page.

A simple password isn't enough when joining, either. Hushmail requires a pass phrase, and the seven-word sentence I used (with some capitalisation) was deemed only "moderately strong" by the site at signup.

SHARPMAIL  (www.sharpmail.co.uk )

Sharpmail openly touts itself as a prank e-mail service. It has little value as a workable tool, but you can certainly have a lot of fun with it. You can send e-mails to anyone you like (or don't like) with a forged sender's name and e-mail address. Sharpmail would be a great way to send an e-mail from the boss to the guy in the next cubicle announcing that he's fired.

Replies to the e-mail will still come to your web-based Sharpmail account, even if the recipient has no idea who they're replying to.

There's a promotional blurb about the service automatically included at the bottom of each e-mail you send which makes it clear it's a fake e-mail, so the potential for deceptive harassment is limited, but this warning can be removed if you upgrade for £19/year.

You can still be traced by the information your PC hands over when you sign up, and the operators warn you that they will pass on details about you to the authorities if you use SharpMail for evil, so you're well-advised to keep your Sharpmail activities well within the bounds of good-natured fun.

At SharpMail, if prankish skills momentarily escape you, you can choose from a number of pre-set saucy or humorous templates (e.g. Re: your order of the Fancy Mandy inflatable love doll) to send to your unsuspecting victim.

If you come up with a particularly inspired prank e-mail of your own, you can offer it for inclusion on the template list.

MAILINATOR (www.mailinator.com)

Mailinator offers disposable e-mail addresses for one-time or short-term use. It's ideal for those times when you're asked for your e-mail address, but you're not sure you want to give your real one out. You Just make something up on the spot such as eggandchips@mailinator.com, or nzhotstud@mailinator.com (though that's probably gone). Later, go to the site and check that account. It's that easy.

Mailinator accounts are created when mail arrives for them, so you donít need to sign-up or hand over any personal information. You can see the person's e-mail and choose to either respond to or ignore them.