A simple bug in Microsoft's messaging system means users' Hotmail passwords can easily be discovered if they leave their PC unattended.
The glitch affects all versions of Microsoft's MSN Messenger service, including the latest 1.0.0885 release. MSN Messenger, available free of charge, lets users exchange text messages in near real time.
If MSN Messenger is connected on an unattended PC, either because the password is saved or because Messenger has not been logged off, a person can access a user's personal password.
The password gives access to the user's Hotmail email account as well as the instant messaging service.
The bug can be reproduced by selecting 'Tools' in the Messenger menu, then 'Hotmail Inbox' from the MSN Messenger Service menu. A browser then launches, and if the user hits the 'stop' button quickly, the password can be clearly viewed on the source page.
The bug has not yet been shown to let people access MSN Messenger passwords remotely.
MSN Messenger users who are worried about the glitch are advised to type their password in manually each time they use it and always log off if the PC is going to be left for any period of time.
Microsoft said that it is aware of the bug and plans to issue a fix this week. In the meantime Microsoft suggests that users should use password protection for their PC if they are leaving it unattended.
The glitch comes on the back of warnings from AOL that users of AOL Instant Messenger should not give their passwords out to third parties. Microsoft, whose MSN Messenger Service is the first to work with the two services - MSN and AOL - has routinely worked around any AOL blockings.
Microsoft has teamed up with other instant messenger vendors, including Yahoo, Prodigy and Tribal Voice, to ask AOL to stop blocking non-AOL users. A truce, however, has yet to be reached.
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