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Microsoft cites 'security' for TechNet suspension

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Confused about why your subscription to Microsoft's TechNet has been suspended? So is Microsoft, judging by the experience of one Reg reader.

Our reader, who wished to remain anonymous, has been in touch to say how his TechNet account was abruptly suspended without warning by Microsoft.

The reason given by Microsoft when he contacted them was he'd abused the terms of his membership.

The rules of TechNet are clear: you can only use TechNet for testing and evaluating Microsoft's software and each account can only be used by the named subscriber. Suspensions are not uncommon.

Our reader tells us he'd committed no crimes, and had done nothing out of the ordinary. He uses his TechNet account for his job, working with a small web design, consultancy and support shop in the UK, and had been a worry-free subscriber since 2009 – this is his second subscription. The account is vital to testing Windows, Windows Server and Office on behalf of his company in projects with customers, and being without it leaves the company high and dry.

His only sin: he confesses his main computer is a Linux PC but uses his TechNet sub with a bonafide Windows machine.

Not that this mattered to Microsoft. The account was suspended on a Monday and when he called the main TechNet call center he was told he had the opportunity to write in and present his side of the case – pretty Kafkaesque, considering there was no case and he claims he'd done nothing wrong.

He presented his side via email anyway and followed up with a call to TechNet central the next day but there was no clarification, explanation or re-activation of the account.

When our reader called back a third time on the Wednesday, he says Microsoft's story had changed from one of abuse of account to a matter of security.

His account had been suspended "to protect the security of your account," he says Microsoft's call-center people told him. When he asked what that meant – had his account been hacked, for example – "they were no more forthcoming". When he asked to speak to a higher up who could explain, our man was told they don't have a line manager.

Talking to the TechNet operatives did harvest one interesting piece of information, though. He says he was told that Microsoft has been suspending TechNet accounts since June 3 and the operator made it "sound like thousands of accounts rather than hundreds."

Back to our story, though, and another call got him put through to a different part of Microsoft, people in licensing, who promised to look into his case. This produced an email that said they'd monitored "unusual activity" on his account, which was why it had been suspended.

Again, no explanation or clarification, and a follow up email only added to the deepening mystery. Our reader tells us that Microsoft informed him it was: "Not able to disclose the nature of the suspicious activity for security reasons, because it's clear we need to refine the measures we are using."

On the plus side, his account was re-activated by the end of the week complete with an apology and an extension on his subscription to make up for the period it was suspended.

We contacted Microsoft with a number of questions relating to the case. We asked: how many other accounts have been suspended for the same reason as our reader, and over what period of time? What is the unusual activity Microsoft has found on the accounts of TechNet members? What is Microsoft doing to protect accounts? And why did Microsoft tell our reader his account had been suspended for abusing the terms of his membership when the truth was there was another problem?

As you might suspect, Microsoft refused to be drawn on the details of this specific incident and instead issued a boilerplate statement.

According to a Microsoft spokesperson: "Per standard Microsoft privacy guidelines, all TechNet Subscriptions are reviewed regularly to determine if product usage meets the TechNet Subscriptions License Terms.

"If an account suggests usage of products outside of the TechNet Subscriptions License Terms, then that subscription is automatically put on hold. Microsoft then follows a process to review each case individually to determine if it meets the product usage guidelines."

This didn't impress our reader, who repeated he'd done nothing wrong: "They do what they want," he said in response.

Have you had your TechNet account mysteriously suspended by Microsoft, too? Let us know at The Reg. ®

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