Microsoft denies intentionally shutting off Hotmail encryption in Arab countries

Microsoft says it did not "intentionally limit" access to Hotmail's HTTPS encryption service in foreign countries where freedom of expression is under attack.

The Electronic Frontier Foundation said Friday that "Microsoft appears to have turned off the always-use-HTTPS option in Hotmail for users in more than a dozen countries," calling the move "deeply disturbing."

ELECTRONIC FREEDOM: Cell phones are 'Stalin's dream,' says free software movement founder

"For Microsoft to take such an enormous step backwards -- undermining the security of Hotmail users in countries where freedom of expression is under attack and secure communication is especially important -- is deeply disturbing," the EFF said.

Microsoft fixed the error in its email service later in the day Friday and denied it was an intentional move to limit privacy in any particular region of the world.

"We are aware of an issue that impacted some Hotmail users trying to enable HTTPS," Microsoft said. "That issue has now been resolved. Account security is a top priority for Hotmail and our support for HTTPS is worldwide -- we do not intentionally limit support by region or geography and this issue was not restricted to any specific region of the world. We apologize for any inconvenience to our customers that this may have caused."

Syria, Morocco, Bahrain, Iran, Lebanon, Jordan and Algeria -- countries where there have been recent anti-government protests -- were among the affected countries, according to the Electronic Frontier Foundation. The HTTPS option had also been disabled in Congo, Myanmar, Nigeria, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan.

Microsoft has been offering HTTPS encryption for Hotmail since late 2010.

But until the recent problem was fixed, users in affected countries were receiving an error message stating, "Your Windows Live ID can't use HTTPS automatically because this feature is not available for your account type," the EFF said. The organization recommended that users fix the problem by changing their home country to the United States or another country unaffected by the HTTPS outage.

"Hotmail users in the affected countries can turn the always-use-HTTPS feature back on by changing the country in their profile to any of the countries in which this feature has not been disabled, such as the United States, Germany, France, Israel or Turkey," the EFF said.

Gmail provides HTTPS by default during all communications, whereas Yahoo Mail seems to use HTTPS during login, but not while viewing and sending email.

Microsoft's HTTPS support for Hotmail was designed to "give users the option of always encrypting their webmail traffic and protecting their sensitive communications from malicious hackers using tools such as Firesheep, and hostile governments eavesdropping on journalists and activists," according to the EFF.

Firefox users can encrypt much of their Web communications by installing HTTPS Everywhere, an extension that works across many websites and was produced by the Tor Project and Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Follow Jon Brodkin on Twitter: www.twitter.com/jbrodkin

Read more about software in Network World's Software section.

Join the newsletter!

Error: Please check your email address.
Rocket to Success - Your 10 Tips for Smarter ERP System Selection

Tags unified communicationsE-mail servicesMicrosoftNetworkingsecuritysoftwareencryptionElectronic Frontier Foundation

Keep up with the latest tech news, reviews and previews by subscribing to the Good Gear Guide newsletter.

Jon Brodkin

Network World
Show Comments

Cool Tech

SanDisk MicroSDXC™ for Nintendo® Switch™

Learn more >

Breitling Superocean Heritage Chronographe 44

Learn more >

Toys for Boys

Family Friendly

Panasonic 4K UHD Blu-Ray Player and Full HD Recorder with Netflix - UBT1GL-K

Learn more >

Stocking Stuffer

Razer DeathAdder Expert Ergonomic Gaming Mouse

Learn more >

Christmas Gift Guide

Click for more ›

Most Popular Reviews

Latest Articles

Resources

PCW Evaluation Team

Walid Mikhael

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

It’s easy to set up, it’s compact and quiet when printing and to top if off, the print quality is excellent. This is hands down the best printer I’ve used for printing labels.

Ben Ramsden

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

Brainstorming, innovation, problem solving, and negotiation have all become much more productive and valuable if people can easily collaborate in real time with minimal friction.

Sarah Ieroianni

Brother QL-820NWB Professional Label Printer

The print quality also does not disappoint, it’s clear, bold, doesn’t smudge and the text is perfectly sized.

Ratchada Dunn

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The Huddle Board’s built in program; Sharp Touch Viewing software allows us to easily manipulate and edit our documents (jpegs and PDFs) all at the same time on the dashboard.

George Khoury

Sharp PN-40TC1 Huddle Board

The biggest perks for me would be that it comes with easy to use and comprehensive programs that make the collaboration process a whole lot more intuitive and organic

David Coyle

Brother PocketJet PJ-773 A4 Portable Thermal Printer

I rate the printer as a 5 out of 5 stars as it has been able to fit seamlessly into my busy and mobile lifestyle.

Featured Content

Product Launch Showcase

Latest Jobs

Don’t have an account? Sign up here

Don't have an account? Sign up now

Forgot password?