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Hotmail is the largest free email service on the internet. As a result, Hotmail draws both millions of users and those who would abuse them.

Why is Hotmail such a magnet for hackers, spammers, and...?

I cut off this question because it went on to be somewhat less than complimentary to Hotmail users.

And that's just not fair.

"Magnet" is a reasonable term and Hotmail is a magnet for hackers, spammers and others for a variety of reasons, not the least of which is that it's free and easy.

But I do believe that it's getting better.

It's Microsoft and it's everywhere

Hotmail is owned by Microsoft. In fact, its true name is Windows Live Hotmail, having been placed under the Windows Live umbrella. 1

"There is still no direct phone or email-based support - honestly, that's probably too much to expect from a service that is completely free."

More than anything else, that means it's ubiquitous. Just about anyone with a Windows machine is encouraged by the Windows setup and maintenance process to create a Hotmail account in order to access assorted Windows Live features that might now even be directly related to Hotmail itself.

Given the number of Windows installations, that's a lot of Hotmail accounts.

Malware authors and hackers love big targets.

It's many people's first email

Many people use Hotmail as their first email experience.

Personally, I think that's great - Hotmail and other free email services are perfect for people just getting on to the 'net and learning the ropes.

The downside is that these are people just getting on to the 'net and learning the ropes. They don't necessarily have the experience that allows them to make good judgments about passwords, attachments, links, and other safety-related issues.

Malware authors and hackers know this and work hard to exploit people's lack of internet safety savvy.

It's free

This is somewhat redundant with the first two points and certainly not unique to Hotmail, but being free matters.

For many people, "Hotmail" is synonymous with free email. Even if they're not intending to use Hotmail every day (though millions and millions of people do), Hotmail's the place that they go when they need a throw-away email account. Particularly with throw-away accounts, they may not bother to put into place the proper amount of security as they set things up.

Malware authors and hackers are also cheap and, as a result, when they need to set up an account for their less-than-honorable purposes, they also often think of Hotmail first.

Hotmail is maturing with us

Hotmail is one of the oldest-surviving, free email services and has been through its own set of growing pains.

For example, it was once very easy to create a lot of Hotmail accounts in an automated fashion. That's long since been thwarted with things like the Captcha that "proves" that you're human at account creation time.

It was once possible to send large volumes of email via Hotmail. That's been addressed by rate limits imposed by the service.

It was once possible to send a single email to a large number of people at once. That's been addressed by recipient limits.

In many ways, Hotmail has been the test-bed for spammers and hackers and at times, Hotmail has been slow to respond. But, eventually, they do respond and improve their service.

As hackers and spammers devise new ways to abuse the service, Hotmail will eventually respond.

Hotmail customer service is lacking

Like most free email services, Hotmail has no real customer support. Initially, it had almost nothing at all, which is one reason I believe that its reputation suffered. Hotmail users with problems - be they legitimate questions or issues relating to malicious activity - had nowhere to really turn. Hackers knew this and targeted Hotmail accounts even more, knowing that once they had compromised an account, it was likely to remain that way.

Slowly (and I do mean slowly), Microsoft has improved some of the resources available to Hotmail users. There is still no direct phone or email-based support. Honestly, that's probably too much to expect from a service that is completely free.

However, there is a growing knowledge base of useful support articles to those willing to search for them. In addition, there's a fairly active support forum where Hotmail customers can help each other and where the occasional Hotmail support engineer will also jump in to help.

It may be ever so

Even with its improvements, Hotmail still has a poor reputation in the email industry.

I know that I get more questions and issues related to Hotmail than to any other email service, free or paid.

I think that in part because of its history, in part because of its reputation, and it part because of its sheer size that Hotmail will always be a magnet for both those seeking free and easy email accounts and those wanting to exploit them.

1: Today. Hotmail has gone through several name changes over the years: HoTMaiL, MSN Hotmail and today's Windows Live Hotmail. Who knows what the next name will be, or when?

Article C4889 - July 29, 2011 « »

Leo Leo A. Notenboom has been playing with computers since he was required to take a programming class in 1976. An 18 year career as a programmer at Microsoft soon followed. After "retiring" in 2001, Leo started Ask Leo! in 2003 as a place for answers to common computer and technical questions. More about Leo.

Not what you needed?

July 29, 2011 11:42 AM

It seems GMail is trying to get a similar bad reputation for throwing off users which they think are below the age of 13 without warning. I see lots of messages about this on internet recently.

August 2, 2011 10:10 AM

I've had my hotmail address for twelve (count 'em!) years, and have never once been hacked or over-spammed. The spam filters work just fine, and I've had the same password for those twelve years. I think people who get hacked/spammed must be practicing all sorts of unsafe 'net behavior to attract so much bad attention.

Michael Perera
August 2, 2011 10:14 AM

Honestly, I'm still surprised to see people use Hotmail accounts. I know it's cheap, free, easy, etc., but Hotmail/Windows Live seems so... 1990s.

August 2, 2011 11:21 AM

People tend to use what they're comfortable with, what they find easy, and free.
I still use Yahoo for all the above reasons, and I've only had problems because of my own stupidity.

Brenda Taylor
August 2, 2011 3:00 PM

What would br considered the best email account ?

A paid account with your ISP is typically the best place to start, perhaps set up to be used by an email address on a domain you own yourself. The best free is currently Gmail, in my opinion, but that changes over time as well.

Cath C
August 3, 2011 3:37 AM

NOTE: For around $20 a year, you can have a premium hotmail account with phone, email and live chat support. I decided the extra storage, no ads and support was well worth it. For 15+ years, I haven't had one issue with my primary hotmail account.

August 3, 2011 4:00 AM

The only problem I have is receiving Hotmail emails via Yahoo. Often they cannot be opened or they 'piggy back' or share PC World for example so that perhaps the message will be there but any attachments will be unobtainable.
One way I found to read the message was by going to reply and (hooray) the message will
be there inviting a reply of course. Sometimes the attachment will show itself some few days later but without the message and a few days further on - 'lo and behold' - the whole message may be found when opening the sending but don't count on it.

Sandy Coulter
August 3, 2011 8:18 AM

I use AOL which lately has overactive spam filters that often prevent desired email from getting through even if I put the email addresses in my address book. I have been using AOL since 1996 and can't change this old habit, but Hotmail has been the worst since its inception. At one time I had all email from the hotmail domain completely blocked. Later on too many legitimate people I knew started using it and couldn't send me email, so I had to unblock the hotmail domain. I wish it would just disappear.

August 8, 2011 1:12 PM

I think that Hotmail has a poor reputation for many reasons, BUT the primary reason is that the Hotmail IT staff makes drastic changes to Hotmail whenever they want without any regard or input from Hotmail users. That is arrogance and poor customer service at its height! My customer e-mail base is switching over to local internet service and g-mail as fast as they can!

June 17, 2012 8:29 AM

I had a terrible experience with Hotmail customer service. It does not exist and this is a huge surprise as hotmail overflows with spam and hackers. It is also, in recent times, extremely slow compared to gmail. I was unable to recover my account despite providing every single possible detail of my hacked email address.

February 28, 2013 1:10 AM

Every person and family member I have who had a Hotmail account has been hacked.

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