Photographer: Chris Ratcliffe/Bloomberg

Microsoft to Warn E-Mail Users About Government Hack Attacks

  • State-sponsored attacks more sophisticated than other hacks
  • Microsoft joins Google in singling out government hacking

Microsoft Corp. said it will tell users of its e-mail and cloud storage services when government-backed hackers may have targeted them.

The policy expands on existing procedures where Microsoft tells users if they believe an account has been targeted or compromised by a third party, Corporate Vice President Scott Charney wrote in a blog post Wednesday.

“We’re taking this additional step of specifically letting you know if we have evidence that the attacker may be ‘state-sponsored’ because it is likely that the attack could be more sophisticated or more sustained than attacks from cybercriminals and others,” Charney wrote. “We do not plan on providing detailed or specific information about the attackers or their methods.”

Microsoft, whose Internet services include Outlook.com e-mail and OneDrive online storage, joins rivals including Google Inc. in advising customers when they suspect state-sponsored groups attacked their accounts. Countries seeking access to personal communications often use anti-terrorism efforts or protecting national security as motives.

Google’s Gmail service warned former U.S. diplomat William Stanton that state-sponsored attackers may have attempted to access his account, Bloomberg News reported last month, citing Stanton. That warning didn’t name the country, though Stanton said he believes he’s a target of Chinese attacks because of his former job, akin to the U.S. ambassador to Taiwan, and his current role as an academic at Taiwan’s National Tsing Hua University.

U.K. Proposal

The U.S. Congress in June passed a bill curbing the National Security Agency’s power to collect phone calls, part of a backlash against state spying highlighted after revelations by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden about U.S. government monitoring of electronic communications.

Apple Inc. is among the global technology companies that have publicly pushed back against government attempts to access personal communications, saying a proposed U.K. surveillance law would weaken privacy and isn’t justified by national security threats.

“The creation of back doors and intercept capabilities would weaken the protections built into Apple products and endanger all our customers,” Apple said in a submission to the U.K. parliament this month. “A key left under the doormat would not just be there for the good guys. The bad guys would find it too.”

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