Microsoft has collaborated with the National Security Agency more extensively than it has acknowledged, helping it hack Outlook and Hotmail communications by providing access to its customer data whenever the company changed encryption, according to a report based on disclosures by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.
Quoting classified internal NSA newsletters obtained from Snowden, The Guardian reported that Microsoft gave the US spy agency "pre-encryption stage" access to supposedly encrypted e-mail via Outlook and Hotmail.
The Guardian said Microsoft had also provided the FBI with access to its SkyDrive service, a cloud storage service with millions of users. Microsoft, according to The Guardian, also worked with the FBI to study how Outlook allowed users to create e-mail aliases, while Skype, now owned by Microsoft, worked with the government to help it collect the video and audio of conversations. It also reported that information collected through the NSA programme code-named Prism was shared with the FBI and the CIA.
Microsoft said it provided access to its systems only when required to do so by court orders.
"We only ever comply with orders about specific accounts or identifiers, and we would not respond to the kind of blanket orders discussed in the press over the past few weeks," it said.
The latest disclosure from documents leaked by Snowden underscores the increasingly close ties between the NSA and the hi-tech community.
The revelations have also prompted the annual Def Con hacking convention to ask the US government to stay away this year for the first time in its 21-year history. "It would be best for everyone involved if the Feds call a 'time out' and not attend Def Con this year," conference founder Jeff Moss said.
An irreverent crowd of 15,000 hackers and tech experts are expected to attend the Las Vegas convention next month.
Additional reporting by Reuters