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Thursday, 2 November, 2000, 16:55 GMT
Microsoft hacking: 21st century epidemic?

The FBI is hunting computer hackers who managed to infiltrate Microsoft's network in the United States.

It is thought they may have been trying to steal blueprints of the company's newest products - including the latest versions of Windows and Office.

Microsoft won't say whether access has been gained to their secret codes. One former computer hacker, now turned consultant, Robert Schifreen, says that if the codes have been stolen, the results could be very serious for Microsoft.

Is any organisation safe? Is hacking becoming a 21st century epidemic? How can it be stopped?

This debate is now closed. Read a selection of your comments below.


Your reaction

Having worked in IT for over 17 years, and seen how computer security used to work in the "old" days (before Windows became so commonplace), I am always amazed at how little thought for security goes into Microsoft's products. For them to be the victim of their own poor approach to security is, to me, poetic justice.
David Hazel, UK


They love the idea that Microsoft was hacked because everyone is jealous of it being too successful

Simon Moore, UK
To say that hacking is just "programming for fun" is a bit like saying that someone who manages to break into your car without causing a huge amount of damage and then proceeds to drive it away is "car-stealing for fun". It's nonsense talk. If any of these people had their own PC's hacked into and their bank and personal details stolen the stupid smug grins would soon be wiped off their faces. Let's cut to the chase here - they love the idea that Microsoft was hacked because everyone is jealous of it being too successful. Why don't we stop being jealous and for god's sake grow up.
Simon Moore, UK

This could signal the beginning of the long awaited end to Microsoft's unfortunate monopoly in the software industry. This near perfect and worsening monopoly is healthy for nobody but Microsoft.
Donath Olomi, Tanzania

In the Commons, we have Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition. In the computer corporate world, we have Hackers and Crackers. Vive La Revolution!
Kristian, Canada

Whilst in Dubai I worked for an IT company and it transpired that the Directors were hacking into various networks to gain a business advantage. This was reported to the BSA who did nothing. It was also reported to Lotus and Microsoft - both organisations have been awarded business partner status. Live by the sword, you die by the sword!!
Paul Ingrey, UK

Neither hacking nor cracking are 21st century epidemics, but loosely knit networks with little or no security. I hope the recent attacks against MS and others will lead to the conclusion that network and computer security are vital to our interconnected world.
Cidher Gruen, Germany


The more automated society becomes, the more vulnerable each and every one of us becomes

Stephen Kenney, USA
You think that electronic theft and hacking is bad today? Just wait until the techno-addicts push governments into having electronic voting! Fraud and hacking galore! The more automated society becomes, the more vulnerable each and every one of us becomes.
Stephen Kenney, USA

Microsoft products (known as 'billware' in my firm) are renowned for bugs, vulnerability to viruses, and atrocious security. The company's trading methods have made it widely reviled in the industry - the only surprise is that it didn't happen sooner.
Guy Chapman, UK

All organisations are vulnerable to hacking. It is possible to design secure systems but it does take more time and effort. How do you justify a more expensive quote to an organisation that doesn't understand your language? Most decision makers understand nothing about programming languages.
John Ley, England

While anti-crime I am not anti-hacking - it is a science. Microsoft - of all people - should have had better security and I think that "Auntie Beeb" is blowing this out of proportion by referring to it as an "epidemic". The Internet was developed as a medium for the free exchange of knowledge. If there is any freedom anywhere in this world it is on the Internet - may it always be so - the Beeb's and even Microsoft's word on it count no more than the single user pounding away in a basement room.
Ron Garland, Canada

Hacking has been about for years, I used to do a bit many years ago. But maybe an idea would be to make a contest out of it a company would lay down a challenge for you to hack into their system for prizes, offering a grand prize who ever reaches a central point
Alistair Robson , uk


Hacking means programming for fun, to experiment with what you can do

Seb, UK
To all the humble computer users out there, who feel that inferring that someone who "hacks" is simultaneously breaking and entering is totally wrong. Hacking means programming for fun, to experiment with what you can do. Cracking on the other hand implies some level of malevolent intent. Crackers deliberately try to gain access to networks. It is crackers that do the "breaking and entering". Is it too much to ask that you don't label as criminals, the very people who created this whole wonderful Internet thing?
Seb, UK


I wonder if peoples attitudes toward this problem will become tougher when they have their own computer hacked by some faceless cyber criminal?

Simon Jones, UK
Hacking may indeed be a problem that becomes more of an issue for the home user in the future than you might expect. With the advent of ADSL and other high speed 'always on' connections, hackers could gain access to peoples home machines. Clearly this doesn't threaten national security in any way the government would be too concerned about, but I wonder if peoples attitudes toward this problem will become tougher when they have their own computer hacked by some faceless cyber criminal?
Simon Jones, UK

As computers are becoming more and more intertwined with out lives, in particular governments and financial establishments, hacking may become a future component of war. The fiasco with NATO's bombing plans on Kosovo on the internet could just be start!
Pau; Atkins, UK

If Bill Gates weren't so busy running down "The Road Ahead" he might look over his shoulder to check if his army of employees were following him. He avows "Ease of Use" of the Web - but have you tried Microsoft support lately? Hey Bill! There's no one there! Even for security.
Amanda Dea, Canada


I also find it hard to believe that you would even have such important "proprietary source-code" in reach of crackers

Steve, USA
As a programmer I will definitely agree that Microsoft's OSes are buggy. I program Windows applications on the job, and run Linux at home. The best thing that could happen to Windows would be that the source code would be stolen (done) so that legions of Open-Source programmers would be able to fix it. I also find it hard to believe that you would even have such important "proprietary source-code" in reach of crackers.
Steve, USA

I think to call "hacking" an epidemic is to blow the issue out of proportion, simply on the grounds that this is an instance of one of the biggest corporations in the world being hacked into. I agree with those who have said that hacking for the purposes of theft of source code is wrong and should be eliminated. But there are many individuals out there who hack software and systems simply for the challenge of doing so, without any malicious intent whatsoever. Some have even subsequently been employed by businesses and software firms to test the strength of their systems and help in finding loopholes in security. Undoubtedly hacking can be useful, and it will always exist - it is human nature to rise to the challenge it presents.
James Whale, UK

Reports suggest Microsoft detected their passwords being sent via email. Does that mean they search every email for their passwords?
Matthew Sinclair, Australia

It has long been feared that companies such as Microsoft have access to your computer, I have read reports on the internet about the way that these software companies can access data on what software is installed and used plus other personal data files, and then be sent every time you go online. Trojan horses are indeed a problem, but what if the operating system that most people use is in fact a Trojan horse itself? Hacking is a problem but only for people that have things to hide, and in theory why would someone waste their time to hack into Joe Blogg's computer, to see that they have just sent an email to their aunt. In some cases the hacker may not be the bad guy but the Robin Hood. Is it the pickpocket we fear or big brother? I let you decide.
James, UK, currently in New Zealand


Shouldn't we applaud Microsoft for going public on this

Rob Hebron, UK
Shouldn't we applaud Microsoft for going public on this? If it hadn't been announced by them then presumably we would never have known about it, which leaves me wondering how many of the other major IT companies would be this open?
Rob Hebron, UK

As a humble computer user who doesn't really know much about how it all works, I'm amazed by some of the prevalent attitudes on this page from some obvious geeks. Hacking is breaking and entering, full stop. If you break into my house, I don't really care if you plan to steal anything or not. You shouldn't be there. I certainly won't excuse you just because you were curious, or wanted a mental challenge. Also, why all this hate directed at Microsoft? Stop whining. The world is full of products that dominate without being the best. That's not an excuse to break into the factories that make them. Hacking (breaking and entering) is not a new problem. What's new is this attitude that there's nothing wrong with it because a self-appointed e-elite has said they deserve it.
Graham Bell, Brazil

People are the weak link in any security system. It starts at the top - firstly senior management often don't see the value good information security brings. Instead they see it as a cost - they honestly believe something like this won't happen to them. In the Microsoft case they obviously do take security seriously however once again it's likely people were the weak link. The virus could be picked up, as people have said, by standard anti-virus software but it's likely update procedures failed. Someone also suggested the intruders had access for 3 months. If this is the case people are the weak link again for not choosing suitably strong passwords and not changing their passwords on a regular basis. Finally I would imagine people are responsible for the third and final area of weak security in the Microsoft case - the computers connected to the internet. The intruders had to come in from the Internet to transfer the files so either the authentication systems, firewalls or general system security is weak. This all comes down to people being sloppy and not doing a proper job in protecting, auditing and most importantly maintaining and upgrading systems.
Andrew Cardwell, UK

Caught by their own bugs ... the irony is beautiful!
Mark M. Newdick, USA/UK

I agree that the term "hacker" is being misused here. It was originally a term used to describe any computer programmer and dates back to the early days of computing.
Alex, Perth, Australia


The more advancements we have in IT the more problems of hacking will be in the future

Albert P'Rayan, India/Rwanda
We live in a world that is dominated by science & technology. Don't we welcome and hail scientific advancements? The more advancements we have in IT the more problems of hacking will be in the future. Necessity is the mother of invention. Hackers are great programmers and they exhibit their skill in the IT field. When some IT professionals try to solve the problem of hacking, hackers will try to find the loopholes of that software and we will face some more new problems. It is complex in nature and that is the beauty of science & technology. New diseases and new medicine and again new diseases.
Albert P'Rayan, India/Rwanda

This is really rich when one considers that Microsoft's products are a fertile ground for viruses. I do not view "hackers" as evil people. I think that the companies that try to stifle creativity to increase their own profits are the real evil. The Internet is a virtual free land that is probably one of the last bastions of true freedom left in this world. Microsoft will benefit from laws regarding information technology security all the while stomping the competition to bits with their own practices. Concerning those who would try to break through the virtual walls; people will try to climb mountains because they are there. When there are no challenges, there will be no hackers.
Bruce P, USA

In science we dissect and examine every piece, then we sit back and say why? and how? and when someone should find a flaw he is quick to expose it for accreditation amongst his colleges.. Hacking is a science!
Levi M.C, Australia

Breaking into other people's computers is wrong, but having said that it does bring up the question of how secure Microsoft products are? P Willis is correct in stating the safest way to protect a computer is to be offline (also a good antiviral protection) and to me if a company has secrets to keep that's the place to keep them. As to the suggestion that Linux is the future, this will not happen unless other software companies support the software. All the software I have seen will only support Windows.
Adrian, UK

Let's say they changed the WinME code, now they could have access to everyone's new computer, let's say they changed an upgrade or patch for IE5, most users upgrade their browser regularly, so if they did they could easily bring down nearly every computer in the world, a scary thought.
Marc Wickens, England

Create new software to automatically delete the software of hackers during hacking time.
K.S.Jain, India


Hackers are merely the curios minds behind computers today looking to enhance their knowledge of software

Josh Yanny, US
Hackers are merely the curios minds behind computers today looking to enhance their knowledge of software. Similar to hands on mechanics taking things apart to build better machines, hackers will and currently do, in some cases, lead to the creation of better software. Crackers, as it was pointed out, are the malicious hackers who do not seek knowledge for self-improvement but seek destruction to satisfy their need for fame. Secondly, software cannot be made to prohibit hacking without impeding their basic functionality. Hacking and cracking can be done using just simple telnet protocol, as well as through use of your HTTP, the common web protocol. Lastly, security loopholes are merely a consequence for the many features we have in our modern software. It would be rather simple to build a DOS-like environment with a high level of security, but because of all the new additions and tools added to software, the current gateway opened to crackers and hackers alike, has become much, much larger. It's a simple trade-off that can be fixed in most cases, but will almost indefinitely exist so long as software is written.
Josh Yanny, US


The simplest way to protect your company's "top secret" data is to only put it on one machine and then, quite simply, unplug the computer from the phone line

HA, UK
The simplest way to protect your company's "top secret" data is to only put it on one machine and then, quite simply, unplug the computer from the phone line, stick it in a purpose built room, hire a seven foot body-building heavy and tell him to stand by the door and guard it. Old fashioned, time tested security and I bet you NO one will get the "secret codes". However Microsoft should not follow this advice because it is about time they released their source code to developers like me so that I can build software which is as good as the far superior Linux!
HA, UK

Industrial espionage and sabotage have been around for centuries, a new tool has been added, hacking. That is all that has been done, like physical breaking and entering hacking will continue to be used to steal commercial secrets.
Richard T. Ketchum, USA

Any operating system, including the beloved variants of UNIX will have a number of security holes; with the size of programs becoming as large as they are, it's a fact of life that unintended "functionality" will creep in.
As far as the hackers and crackers are concerned, some are concerned with increasing their software virtuosity while others are merely thieves. The thieves among them could use a good long jail term, say ten years per offence minimum to begin with.
Vic, USA

With any luck the intrepid hackers will release a bug free version of Windows on the net!
Mike Nicholson, UK


If companies the size of Microsoft can be hacked then it doesn't leave much hope for smaller organisations

Tony Lofthouse, United Kingdom
No organisation is safe. If companies the size of Microsoft can be hacked then it doesn't leave much hope for smaller organisations who don't have access to the same level of resources. It is amazing that businesses today spend millions of pounds every year on IT security products yet the majority don't insure their IT systems against this kind of attack.
The IT infrastructure is a businesses most important asset - the repository for valuable IP; customer and supplier records and thereby imperative to brand integrity. Why isn't it protected in the same way other business assets are?
Tony Lofthouse, United Kingdom

A 21st century epidemic? What hyperbole. Industrial and commercial espionage and theft is as old as business itself. They have merely evolved along with business over the centuries. One day the clever geeks in business will realise that it is unwise to stow extremely sensitive information on systems that can potentially be accessed from the comfort of one's home. At least the physical theft of papers required inconvenience, discomfort and risk, which would have deterred many potential thieves.
Chris Klein, UK


If the code that's been stolen gets into the wrong hands I worry about the security consequences for the computer industry!!

Mark Evans, United Kingdom
I'm stunned that Microsoft could be infected with the QAZ worm (VIRUS). Any standard AntiVirus software would have traced the virus before any damage was done. The hackers have had access to Microsoft's network for the past 3 months. If the code that's been stolen gets into the wrong hands I worry about the security consequences for the computer industry!!
Mark Evans, United Kingdom

The only way to stop this hacking is to stop the internet. Pandora's Box has already been open and there is no going back. I think the world in 100 years time will be a vastly different world to the one we live in today. Will it be better? I am not sure but the large corporations strangle hold on the planet may well come to an end.
Peter Willis, Scotland

The irony of this situation is that the hackers more than likely were using Microsoft software, at least to some degree. Microsoft, being the largest corporation in the world, are probably one of the most common targets for hackers, and should have implemented more secure security measures from such sensitive pieces of information.
Phil, UK


The internet is the beginning of anarchy and will be the downfall of the capitalist state

Steve, England
The internet has finally allowed the "little man" to have a footing equal to the evil capitalist companies. The internet is the beginning of anarchy and will be the downfall of the capitalist state. This will change the world.
Steve, England

If Microsoft can't keep their systems secure it shows just how secure the versions they sell the public really are. At least now they can blame all their bugs on someone else.
John B, UK


There are thousands of companies that make millions every year trying to stop hackers

Adrian, UK
Whilst not wanting to encourage hacking, cracking or any other form of 'cyber crime' it has now become a huge part of our economy. There are thousands of companies that make millions every year trying to stop hackers. What would happen if hacking were to disappear? Far more people would be affected by losing their jobs.
In the same way, if no one were to commit crime any more, it would be devastating to the economy. Just think of all the policemen and women, security guards, customs officials, military officers and even football stewards that would be out of work.
Adrian, UK

They wouldn't have the problem if their software were any good. First, the software would not allow hacking. Second, there would be far fewer people who dislike Microsoft enough to hack them. The anti-Microsoft feelings amongst most of us are not just down to them being rich (if they'd got rich honestly we wouldn't mind), but that they became rich by foisting rubbish software on the world.
Phil, UK

Hacking has been with us since the dawn of the 'computer'. The only thing thats changed are the people who are affected. Since the home computer has become more accessible more people have started to use it, thus creating a larger playing ground for 'hackers'. The problem won't go away. Anyway, hackers do the system good by showing up flaws in so called 'security'.
It's about time Microsoft went open source, they took the biscuit by creating their own version of Java, they don't like to play ball, everything has to be their way, be it good or bad. Look at the minimum spec for their products, you need oodles of memory and disk space, everything is so wasteful.
M Pickering, UK

If there are holes in software people will find them, since Microsoft's products are notorious for being badly written it makes Microsoft an easy target. When will large/small companies and home users learn that Linux/Unix is the future, out of the box with security as standard.
Jon, UK


Hacking doesn't need to be stopped - it will be a poorer world without people trying to figure out how anything and everything works

Ben, UK
The theft of source code and passwords from Microsoft is not hacking it is theft. Hacking is solving problems, not theft.
There are builders who are criminals, there are sports people who are criminals and there are managers who are criminals. This does not make all builders, sports people and managers criminals. There are criminals who are also hackers, in stealing code from Microsoft they performed a criminal act, not an act of hacking.
Hacking doesn't need to be stopped. It will be a poorer world without people trying to figure out how anything and everything works. it's crime that needs to be stopped.
Ben, UK

No one is safe from hacking, just as no one is safe from getting the common cold. The trick is to realise that the problem is there, and to make backups; something I learnt the hard way.
Many people have been critical of the low quality products offered by Microsoft, and I doubt there will be many tears shed over this. It just shows how insecure windows is. I bet this wouldn't have happened if they were using Linux!
Andy, UK

Please get your terms right. A Hacker is a top quality programmer who enjoys programming for the mental challenge.
People who break into computer systems are known as Crackers.
Dave Cross, UK

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See also:

27 Oct 00 | Business
Microsoft software 'stolen'
19 Oct 00 | Sci/Tech
Cybercrime threat 'real and growing'
07 Jul 00 | Sci/Tech
Crackdown on computer criminals
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