By Ted Bridis
June 2, 2005
WASHINGTON - Microsoft acknowledged Thursday that hackers
booby-trapped its popular MSN Web site in Korea to try to steal
passwords from visitors. The company said it was unclear how many
Internet users might have been victimized.
Microsoft said it cleaned the Web site, www.msn.co.kr, and removed the
dangerous software code that unknown hackers had added earlier this
week. A spokesman, Adam Sohn, said Microsoft was confident its
English-language Web sites were not vulnerable to the same type of
Korea is a leader in high-speed Internet users worldwide. Microsoft's
MSN Web properties - which offer news, financial advice, car- and
home-buying information and more - are among the most popular across
The affected Microsoft site in Korea offers news and other information
plus links to the company's free e-mail and search services. Its
English-language equivalent is the default home Internet page for the
newest versions of its flagship Windows software sold in the United
The Korean site, unlike U.S. versions, was operated by another company
Microsoft did not identify. Microsoft's own experts and Korean police
authorities were investigating, but Microsoft believes the computers
were vulnerable because operators failed to apply necessary software
patches, said Sohn, an MSN director.
"Our preliminary opinion here was, this was the result of an unpatched
operating system," Sohn said. "When stuff is in our data center, it's
easier to control. We're pretty maniacal about getting servers patched
and keeping our customers safe and protected."
Microsoft's acknowledgment of the hacking incident was the latest
embarrassment for the world's largest software company, which has
spent hundreds of millions of dollars to improve security and promote
consumer confidence in its products.
Security researchers noticed the suspicious programming added to the
Korea site and contacted the company Tuesday. Microsoft traced the
problem and removed the hacked computers within hours, Sohn said, but
it doesn't yet know how long the dangerous programming was present.
In recent days no customers have reported problems stemming from
visits to the Web site, Sohn said.
The hacker program scanned visitors' computers and tried to activate
password-stealing software that was found separately to exist on some
hacked Chinese Web sites.
Microsoft said it was trying to decide whether to issue a broad public
warning to recent visitors of the Korean site as it examines its own
records to attempt to trace anyone who might have been victimized.
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