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Outlook and Hotmail users hit by waves of spam as filter crashes

Users first noticed the problem on Tuesday evening, heading to social media to discuss the unusually high volumes of spam in their inboxes. Microsoft later confirmed a problem at its datacentres meant some customers may receive “excessive” spam mail in a post on its Office 365 Service Health page.
Although it is unclear what went wrong, the issue occurred with Microsoft’s automated spam filter designed to stop unsolicited or malicious mail reaching inboxes. Usually, the spam filter runs behind the scenes, scanning incoming emails to determine whether they’re junk or not.
When a junk mail arrives, the filter either disposes of it immediately or sends it to the user’s Junk email folder. It is designed to run seamlessly, which is why many people never knew it existed until it went offline yesterday.
All the spam mail that would usually be automatically banished ended up uncategorised in the inbox, just like a regular email. Users complained of getting a new spam email “about every minute” as the filter refused to do its job, making it difficult to keep up with actual messages.
Microsoft has issued a temporary fix to patch the problem. As of writing, the spam filter is now back online and safeguarding users’ inboxes once again. Microsoft said it has “mitigated” the effects of the bug by implementing patches on Office 365.
The update was applied in two phases. The company first provided “short term relief” to prevent spam reaching inboxes. It has since followed-up with a longer term solution which is being deployed throughout the Office 365 infrastructure. Microsoft said this fix should prevent spam reaching Office 365 in the first place, giving the spam filters less junk mail to deal with.
Microsoft’s official status tracker indicates it became aware of the reports yesterday at 7 p.m. UTC. It had the systems back online and functioning correctly by 11:52 a.m. UTC today. The 16-hour window gave spammers plenty of opportunity to fill users’ inboxes with accident compensation alerts, free spins at casinos and offers of cut-price car insurance, leaving customers to clean out the mess before starting their day.
Some people managed to find a funny side to the outage. “Now if you chaps will excuse me, I’m off to become an erect millionaire getting a great deal on my car insurance with my new Russian bride at the Casino with my free bets,” wrote one Reddit user, neatly incorporating the majority of spam emails distributed today.
Microsoft has not revealed the root cause of the issue. Some speculated it could be related to the company’s ongoing migration of to Office 365. Earlier this year, it relaunched with an all-new interface based on Office 365. It is now in the process of transferring millions of existing users to the new service, built on top of a much newer platform.

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