No one likes unwelcome intrusions on their properties. And when that no one in question is a corporation such as Google or Microsoft, you have to be mad to even attempt such a thing — unless of course, the intruders are none other than Governments.
Well, needless to say, it hasn’t been sitting down well with the corporations in question and Microsoft has joined the growing list of companies that have now put their foot down.
On Wednesday, Microsoft stated its intentions of warning users when any of its consumer services — including Outlook.com email — receive unwanted attention from government agencies. The move comes even as the company’s motives behind failing to inform the victims of a hacking campaign — targeting international leaders of China’s Tibetan and Uighur minorities — were questioned by various independent agencies.
While the company defended its decision of not informing the victims of the said attacks — a number of which could be traced to a Chinese network known as AS4808 — by telling Reuters that not all of these attempts originated from the same place and that neither it nor the US government could pin-point the origin of every single attack, hearsay is that the company did not want to put itself on the wrong side of the Chinese government.
North Korea for example, is another country thought to be employing these techniques — It was a prime FBI suspect in the Sony picture leaks.
The company is certainly not the first to take this welcome move, many others including Facebook, Twitter and Yahoo have already taken similar decisions. While a few have questioned the necessity of such drastic measures, most are probably relived by it since the incidences of trying to gain unauthorized access to virtual properties are not isolated either. The severity of the issue can be realized by the fact that according to Google, which started warning its users back in 2012, already issues tens of thousand of alerts every month.
Well, Microsoft has jumped the bandwagon of corporations issuing these warnings. In a blog post, the company said,
We’re committed to helping our users keep their personal information secure and private. A key part of our work is identifying and preventing unauthorized access to your Microsoft Account (including Outlook.com email and OneDrive) by anyone other than you.
We’re taking an additional step today. We will now notify you if we believe your account has been targeted or compromised by an individual or group working on behalf of a nation-state.
Notice the “additional step”. The company already warned you whenever it detected the presence of a third-party trying to access your account. However, it has included “nation states” within its definition of third-parties, only now.
Well, so now if you are unlucky enough to have attracted a government’s attention in this manner and they attempt to jump in and read your mail — rest assured that Microsoft will not only notify you, but will also issue you with guidelines to safeguard your account. However, the company will not give you detailed or specific information about the attackers or their methods — and lets face it, what could a single person do against a state government anyways!
Meanwhile, the following are a few steps you can follow to ensure the overall well-being of your Microsoft account:
- Turn on two-step verification
- Use a strong password and change it often
- Watch for suspicious activity on your account
- Be careful of suspicious emails and websites
- Keep your computer software, including your Web browser, up to date and run an up-to-date anti-virus program