Microsoft sounds fresh alert as Windows secrets revealed

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Software giant Microsoft says portions of its Windows source code - the tightly-guarded blueprints of its dominant operating system - has been leaked over the Internet.

Microsoft spokesman Tom Pilla said that some incomplete portions of the Windows 2000 and Windows NT4.0 source code had been "illegally made available on the Internet".

Access to the source code could allow hackers to exploit the operating system and attack machines running Windows, which is used on hundreds of millions of computers worldwide.

Th alert comes just days after Microsoft warned customers about "critical" security problems with its Windows software that could let hackers quietly break into their computers to steal files, delete data or eavesdrop on sensitive information.

The company was made aware of the latest leak yesterday and was investigating, said Mr Pilla. He did not know how much of the code had been leaked or how many people may have gained access to it. The company could not immediately pinpoint the source of the leak, and has contacted law enforcement authorities, he said.

Mr Pilla said there was no indication the code leak was a result of a breach of Microsoft's corporate network. There was no known immediate impact on Microsoft customers, he said.

Microsoft has previously shared some of its source code with some US government agencies, foreign governments and universities under tight restrictions that prevent such organisations from making it publicly available. But the company has generally argued that the blueprints to its operating system are proprietary, and should not be made public.

Still, because some people outside Microsoft have had access to the code, analysts said it was not too surprising for such a leak to occur at some point - either intentionally or unintentionally.

"It seems unlikely this is going to create a material, significant security problem, said Rob Enderle, a technology expert and principal analyst with the Enderle Group. "It's more embarrassing than anything else because it makes it look like Microsoft can't control its code."