Microsoft said Wednesday night that it will tell users if their account has been “targeted or compromised by an individual or group working on behalf of a country or nation state.”
The announcement comes after Reuters reported that Microsoft did not notify thousands of Hotmail (now Outlook.com) users that their accounts were hacked by Chinese authorities back in 2011.
Microsoft, which disputes the Reuters story (see below) said it already notifies users if it suspects that their account has been targeted by a third party and offers advice on how to keep their information secure.
“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,” the company said in a blog post. “These notifications do not mean that Microsoft’s own systems have in any way been compromised.”
Other tech giants like Google, Facebook, Twitter, and Yahoo already have policies in place that notify users of suspected government hacks.
Reuters reported that Microsoft uncovered evidence of the 2011 hacks that targeted diplomats, media workers, human rights lawyers, and “others in sensitive positions inside China.” The company told the affected targets to reset their passwords, but did not say anything about a hack, Reuters noted.
Update: Here’s a statement from Microsoft in regard to the Reuters story about the 2011 hacks. The company notes that “Microsoft nor the U.S. Government were able to identify the source of the attacks, which did not come from any single country.”
“Our focus is on helping customers keep personal information secure and private. Our primary concern was ensuring that our customers quickly took practical steps to secure their accounts, including by forcing a password reset. We weighed several factors in responding to this incident, including the fact that neither Microsoft nor the U.S. Government were able to identify the source of the attacks, which did not come from any single country. We also considered the potential impact on any subsequent investigation and ongoing measures we were taking to prevent potential future attacks.”