How the Hotmail 'cookie monster' bites

Microsoft Corp.'s "security zones" development in versions 4.

Microsoft Corp.'s "security zones" development in versions 4.0 and 5.0 of the Internet Explorer browser may be the reason why many users of the company's free Hotmail e-mail service were unable to access their accounts this week, following an upgrade of the Hotmail site.

Some IE 4.0 users said they were being denied access to their Hotmail accounts because their browsers didn't support cookies, even when the cookie support feature was, in fact, enabled. Since then, users of version 5.0 of the browser have reported they too are experiencing the so-called "cookie monster" problem.

Sources speculate that a new security feature in the last two versions of Microsoft's Web browser that lets users assign a level of "trust" to sites being accessed may be the culprit. While users may have their cookies enabled in the browser, IE 4.0 and IE 5.0 aren't recognising Hotmail as a trusted site and are refusing to give out the proper amount of cookie information to gain access.

While some Hotmail users said they didn't expect all that much from a free service, others were upset by Microsoft's poor planning and lack of response. "How crazy it is to announce the system changes in an e-mail that customers can't reach," said one Hotmail user in Toronto who has had trouble accessing mail via IE 5.0. "And it's equally amazing that they haven't posted anything about the problems on the Hotmail home page."

Microsoft officials in the US said the company is collecting data on the problem but declined to comment further.

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