Hackers stole information on Windows vulnerabilities from Microsoft in 2013

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Hacking happens all the time, and when it affects a large number of people, companies typically disclose the breach. The company never fully disclosed the extent of that hack despite the potential risks it posed to users, Reuters reported.

One ex-employee told Reuters: "They absolutely discovered that bugs had been taken".

"Our security teams actively monitor cyber threats to help us prioritize and take appropriate action to keep customers protected", Microsoft said in a statement.

"Bad guys with inside access to that information would literally have a "skeleton key" for hundreds of millions of computers around the world", Eric Rosenbach, who was USA deputy assistant secretary of defense for cyber at the time of the breach, told Reuters.

While Microsoft failed to disclose the breach and had reportedly fixed the flaws "within months of the attack", three of the ex-employees interviewed by Reuters said that the stolen bugs may have been used in attacks following the breach. The group behind the attack, referred to as Morpho, Butterfly, or Wild Neutron, managed to break into Mac computers used by employees, leveraging them to move on to Microsoft's company networks.

The theft occurred in early 2013 amid a string of attacks on other big tech companies like Apple and Facebook.

The report is embarassing for Microsoft, which a year ago criticised the US' National Security Administration (NSA) for "hoarding" secret vulnerabilities so that it could use them to infiltrate computer systems. "We have no evidence of customer data being affected, and our investigation is ongoing", the company said at the time. In 2015, the nonprofit Mozilla Foundation - which develops the Firefox web browser - said an attacker had gotten access to a database that included 10 severe and unpatched flaws.

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Like the Pentagon's Rosenbach, Weatherford said he had not known of the Microsoft attack.

Inside the company, alarm spread as officials realised the database for tracking patches had been compromised, according to the five former security employees. And it was poorly protected, the former employees said, with only a simple password locking it down.

They determined that while those bugs had in fact been used to carry out attacks, the hackers involved could have learned of the vulnerabilities from elsewhere - there was no evidence linking the other attacks to the Microsoft breach.

The attack was particularly troublesome, not simply because the details were not publicly disclosed but because the hackers who carried out the breach were in possession of information about vulnerabilities that plagued millions of machines around the world.

In the wake of the attack, the former employees are still mixed in the reactions to the way Microsoft responded.

The possibility could not be ruled out, however, as Microsoft relied on automated reports from crashes to track attacks, according to Reuters.

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