A Year Ago: Hotmail glitch steals passwords

First published: Tue, 25 Aug 1998 14:44:47 GMT

Canadian Web programmers have uncovered a security glitch that could fool users of Microsoft's Hotmail e-mail service into revealing their passwords.

The glitch allows a malicious user to send a malicious Java applet to a Hotmail user. The applet, which runs as soon as the e-mail message is viewed, alters the Web-based user interface of the Hotmail account, creating a false timeout message, and asking the user to re-enter his or her password in order to use the account.

Once Hotmail users re-enter their password, they return to the normal Hotmail interface -- but the password is mailed to the malicious user. Canadian Specialty Installations -- a reseller -- posted a demonstration of the exploit, which it calls "Hot" Mail, on the Web site "Because-we-can," which publishes the work of Specialty Installations Web programmers. "The security problem is easy to take advantage of," said the programmers in a message posted on because-we-can.com. "A would-be hacker needs only to embed the JavaScript code into the body of an e-mail message using a standard e-mail program such as Netscape Mail."

Hotmail officials did not immediately return telephone calls.

Once a user has someone's password, he or she can not only alter that Hotmail account, but can also alter or delete messages on an Internet service provider e-mail account, through the POP-mail feature on Hotmail.

The glitch works on any Java-enabled browser, according to Specialty Installations. The programmers recommend users turn off JavaScript on their browsers while using Hotmail, until the problem is fixed.


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