Under siege from phishers, Microsoft blocks some Hotmail accounts

Phishing attack also hits Gmail, Yahoo, and AOL.

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Many Hotmail users were today denied access to their accounts – a precaution taken by Microsoft after a series of phishing attacks crippled Gmail and Hotmail, among other email services. "Several thousand Windows Live Hotmail customers' credentials were exposed on a third-party site," Microsoft officials wrote in a blog post on Monday:

Phishing is an industry-wide problem and Microsoft is committed to helping consumers have a safe, secure and positive online experience. Our guidance to customers is to exercise extreme caution when opening unsolicited attachments and links from both known and unknown sources, and that they install and regularly update their anti-virus software. If you believe you’ve been a victim of a phishing scheme, it’s very important that you update your account information and change your password as soon as possible.

Microsoft said company servers were not violated in the attack.

In August, IBM released a report showing a big drop in the volume of phishing attacks. In that report, IBM claimed that phishing accounted for just 0.1 percent of all spam in the first six months of 2009. By comparison, in 2008, phishing made up 0.2 percent to 0.8 percent of all spam.

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Still, this week's attack was a sharp wake-up call to many users, who rarely give a second thought to the information stored on their webmail accounts.

In a statement to the BBC, Google said that it was responding to the threat accordingly. "We recently became aware of a phishing scheme through which hackers gained user credentials for web-based mail accounts including a small number of Gmail accounts,” a Google spokesman said. "As soon as we learned of the attack, we forced password resets on the affected accounts. We will continue to force password resets on additional accounts if we become aware of them."

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