Microsoft personnel found many years ago that Chinese government hacked into over a 1,000 Hotmail accounts. The accounts targeted mainly belonged to international leaders of the country’s Uighur and Tibetan minorities. However, Microsoft made a decision not to inform the victims. This led the hackers continue their efforts as per former Microsoft employees.
Violence in the Chinese state of Xinjiang bordering Kazakhstan that has a large population of Uighurs has resulted in hundreds of deaths during recent years. Beijing holds the Islamist militants responsible. However, as per human rights groups, the Chinese heavy-handed clampdown on the culture as well as the religion of the Uighurs is to blame.
On Wednesday, after multiple requests to comment on the hacking matter, Microsoft declared that it will alter its policy and in future inform its email customers when the organization suspects a government hacking campaign.
The organization also stated for the first time that it had not phoned, emailed or informed in any manner the Hotmail customers that their online correspondence had been gathered. The company refuses to say how the exposure of the Hotmail hacking played a role in its policy change.
The hacking involved a miniature program that exploited an earlier unnoticed flaw in Microsoft’s online pages to make Hotmail forward copies of all of a user’s incoming mail go to an account owned by the attacker. More than a thousand users were affected by which time Microsoft put a patch on the flaw.
Microsoft had its independent investigation discovering that the hacking had started in the mid of 2009 and the victims involved leading Uighur as well as Tibetan activists in different countries, African and Japanese diplomatic personnel, human rights activists as well as certain people in sensitive positions within China.
Till recently, Microsoft was against giving off direct warnings regarding state-sponsored hacking. Alphabet Inc (NASDAQ:GOOGL), Yahoo! Inc. (NASDAQ: YHOO) and Facebook Inc (NASDAQ:FB) have already been issuing explicit warnings. Twitter Inc (NYSE:TWTR) also has joined the bandwagon of companies issuing explicit warnings regarding suspected government sponsored hacking.
Nations seeking access to personal online communication tend to use anti-terrorism reasons or the motive of safeguarding national security. Microsoft’s decision is welcome as it safeguards personal rights as well as attacks on human rights groups.