As Easter approached earlier this year, Outlook, MSN, and Hotmail users were all treated to a distasteful surprise: the contents of their email accounts had been exposed after malicious hackers had gained access to personal information. However, it appears that only individual users were targeted, leaving enterprise profiles unaffected by the breach. The intruders were able to gain access to this information due to a security breach of a high-level support agent’s account, meaning that the hacker may have access to more information than other employees.
After discovering the data breach, Microsoft was quick to warn its users by email explaining that individuals outside of the company were able to access affected users’ email addresses, folder names, the subject lines of emails, and the names of other email addresses that the user communicates with. The company assured users that it had already disabled access to the hacked support agent’s account and that the content of the messages and attachments were not compromised. However, after numerous reports, Microsoft later released a new statement confirming that email content was also accessed. Further conflicting reports arose when discussing the amount of time for which hackers had access to the content. While Microsoft claims that they had access to the data for a period of three months from January through to March 2019, other sources suggest it was as much as six months.
As an additional measure of security, Microsoft advised users to update their credentials and be alert of possible phishing emails being sent in the next weeks.
While it is worth applauding the fact that Microsoft took the effort to inform the affected users instead of trying to keep the breach hushed, it’s also disappointing that the company tried to omit information to further discredit the leak. This is important because as one of the leading companies in the world, Microsoft should be investing in online security for its own employees to ensure this situation never happens.
How to Stay Safe From a Data Breach
This isn’t the first time a major company is the subject of a major data breach. Ahead of 2018’s Black Friday sales, Amazon was victim of a data breach that exposed user details such as names and email addresses.
To avoid this kind of situation, users themselves must be extremely cautious when using their accounts. Despite constant warnings, still little attention is paid to password management. To set a good, strong password, users should use a combination of letters – both uppercase and lowercase – numbers, and special characters. For those who need help defining a password, there are plenty of password managers that can help them do that.
Combining the use of an antivirus with a VPN is also a good choice to avoid being hacked or having personal data being stolen, too. Antiviruses protect the device by checking for any kind of infected archive or malware that may be hidden. Some antivirus services also include internet protection and email encryption.
And since internet service providers can monitor their customers’ online activity, network encryption is also important whenever browsing in public or even using an private connection. VPN services provide encrypted, anonymous, and private connections, ensuring that users can safely browse the internet, send emails, or make payments without any worries.
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