Microsoft fails to patch Hotmail servers, hit by Code Red

Proving again that it doesn't practice what it preaches, Microsoft on Thursday confirmed that the Code Red worm infected two servers used for its Hotmail Web-based e-mail service.

"A few MSN Hotmail servers were affected by the Code Red worm virus. The servers were promptly removed from the MSN Hotmail environment, shut down and patched," said a Microsoft spokeswoman in the U.K., adding that the infection was detected late Wednesday afternoon in the U.S..

The two infected systems were a test system and a production system, the spokeswoman said, adding that no user data was compromised and that all users should be able to access the Hotmail service in a secure fashion. Hotmail has over 100 million users worldwide.

Microsoft has taken extra steps to ensure the security of its network and servers to minimize the impact of the worm, according to the spokeswoman. The company seems to have been caught by the Code Red II (also known as Code Red 3.0) variant of the original Code Red worm that surfaced last weekend.

"Our understanding of the Code Red variant is that it is very effective and has a greater potential to compromise systems," the spokeswoman said.

Code Red and Code Red II exploit a known hole in Microsoft's Internet Information Server (IIS) software. A patch for the vulnerability has been available since mid-June. Microsoft was part of an unprecedented public relations campaign in late July that urged all users of the software, a standard part of Windows 2000 and Windows NT, to install that patch in the wake of the Code Red reawakening on Aug. 1.

This isn't the first time that Microsoft has neglected to install its own security patches. Dutch hacker Dimitri managed to hack into a Microsoft Web server twice last year, the second time after Microsoft said its security personnel had plugged the security hole exploited by Dimitri.

Besides Microsoft, Code Red has also claimed other victims in various locales worldwide. Employees of consulting company Cap Gemini Ernst & Young LLP in some countries on Tuesday had no access to their intranet for many hours because of the worm, a spokeswoman confirmed. Also, about 30,000 DSL (Digital Subscriber Line) users in Taiwan were attacked by the worm, slowing down their Internet connection, according to security firm Trend Micro Inc.

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Joris Evers

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