Microsoft is making a big change to the way it alerts some of its Hotmail and other account holders that they've been hacked. Specifically, it will now tell you if you've been hacked by a state-sponsored group.
The change in policy was outlined by Microsoft, which said: "As the threat landscape has evolved, our approach has too. We'll now go beyond notification and guidance to specify if we reasonably believe the attacker is state-sponsored."
This change comes after years of hacks by China, Russia and other governments on United States citizens. That includes White House officials, including President Obama.
But, more specifically, it comes after years of Microsoft not informing some of its Hotmail email subscribers that Chinese officials were hacking into their accounts, and spying on them. The victims include leaders of China's ethnic minorities, Tibetans and Uighurs.
The hackers loaded their victims' computers with malware that sent a copy of the victims' emails to the hackers. Thousands of accounts were hacked.
It's bad enough that Microsoft didn't tell its email subscribers that they'd been hacked. Worse, they kept it secret at least since 2011.
In 2011, cybersecurity experts alerted Microsoft that emails sent to people in Taiwan contained a link to a malicious computer program. It wasn't clear at that time that it was the work of Chinese officials, though. Microsoft issued a patch for that vulnerability.
However, Microsoft's own research into the hack revealed that it had begun as early as 2009. At that time, hackers were targeting political leaders inside China, including leaders of its Uighur and Tibetan minority populations. Other officials in countries such as Japan were also targeted.
Some of the hacks were conducted by the Chinese group AS4808, which in 2011 hacked EMC Corp. Microsoft acknowledged those hacks, saying:
"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."
In sharp contrast, Google has been alerting its users to suspected state-sponsored attacks since 2012. Other companies, like Facebook and Twitter, also warn users about state-sponsored hacks.
Note: It's critically important to keep yourself protected when you're online. Visit the Komando Security Center for tips on creating secure passwords, hiding yourself online, anti-virus software programs and more.