Microsoft: Hotmail virus-safe -- customers say no

According to Microsoft the McAfee anti virus software monitoring the Hotmail system is constantly being updated. But customers have a different opinion.

According to Microsoft the McAfee anti virus software monitoring the Hotmail system is constantly being updated. But customers have a different opinion.

In an internal Microsoft letter dated October 22 Lead Product Manager Deanna Sanford writes to the Swedish Hotmail Business Manager Jens Gorne: “We continually keep this [McAfee] updated and as soon as new signature files are released we update our software to continually protect users”.

The Danish bank Jyske Bank, however, estimates that the virus definitions used in the antivirus tool date from early 1998 and according to the British ISP Star Internet even six month-old macro viruses are being spread through Hotmail.

Jyske Bank is extremely dissatisfied with Microsoft’s handling of the problem with viruses on Hotmail. Last week the bank was infected with the virus W32/Pretty.Worm from Hotmail but the bank’s own virus scan caught what Hotmail couldn’t. It is a common virus (not a macro virus) which has been known since last June. All new and updated anti-virus programs detect it but the one used by Hotmail does not.

“We have sent Microsoft several e-mails but communication with them is incredibly slow. So far we have only received trivial answers written by a computer. I am very angry,” Jan Lind, systems programmer at Jyske Bank’s data security unit, told Computerworld Danmark.

But according to Microsoft, Hotmail does scan e-mail for viruses. Microsoft even suggests that Hotmail be used as a virus scanner. In a letter to Jyske Bank Microsoft wrote: “McAfee VirusScan scans files that are sent as attachment to your MSN Hotmail account. If you believe that a file on your hard disk drive contains a virus, and if that file is under 1 megabyte, you can send it to your Hotmail account and scan it.”

“They are offering us a service that does not work. I think their virus definitions date back to early 1998 and therefore they cannot stop the newer viruses” said Lind to Computerworld. He added, “We cannot forbid our employees to use Hotmail at home but we are considering sending a letter to those of our employees who have a PC at home, which (number) 2,500, in order to warn them against Hotmail.”

Microsoft cannot blame the anti-virus program McAfee for the poor virus protection on Hotmail. According to Network Associates the product runs on almost all flavors of Unix. The product is running under AIX, HP-UX, Linux, SCO, and Solaris. Up to now FreeBSD has not been on the list but according to Network Associates the product is ready for release now. Microsoft – as well as all the other customers – has had access to a beta for several months however.

It is still a secret what Hotmail is based on. Nobody at Microsoft is prepared to tell which programs and operating systems are being used, although Danish Country Manager Jens Moeberg has confirmed that FreeBSD Unix and not Windows NT is part of it.

In 1997 Microsoft bought Hotmail which had at that time 10 million users. At that time the purpose was to port it to Windows NT. This has not happened and today Hotmail has five time as many users.

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