Microsoft to warn users of a state-sponsored attack

Microsoft is another tech heavyweight that has decided to warn its users if they’re being targets of a state-sponsored attack.

The news was confirmed on the Microsoft blog yesterday, and it sees the Redmond-based company join Google, Facebook, Twitter and many others that have been doing the same for some time now.

As of yesterday, Microsoft will start warning its Outlook.com (former Hotmail.com) users.

“If you receive one of these notifications it doesn’t necessarily mean that your account has been compromised, but it does mean we have evidence your account has been targeted, and it’s very important you take additional measures to keep your account secure. You should also make sure your computer and other devices don’t not have viruses or malware installed, and that all your software is up to date,” it says in the blog post.

“The evidence we collect in any active investigation may be sensitive, so we do not plan on providing detailed or specific information about the attackers or their methods. But when the evidence reasonably suggests the attacker is “state sponsored,” we will say so.”

According to an exclusive Reuters report, this is a change in policy by Microsoft, which came after it was discovered that the company failed to notify Hotmail users of a breach back in 2011.

“The policy change comes nine days after Reuters asked the company why it had decided not tell victims of a hacking campaign, discovered in 2011, that had targeted international leaders of China's Tibetan and Uighur minorities in particular,” Reuters said.

Microsoft disputes the Reuters report, saying it was unable to identify the source of the attack at the time, and that it acted per its policy at the time:

"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," said a Microsoft spokesperson.

"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."