I continue to receive regular reports of people having trouble connecting
to, logging into, or reading their Hotmail email. The problems are as varied as
the symptoms. But there is one thing that’s consistent in most all of the
I’ve collected here a number of things to help try to resolve the assorted
problems you may be experiencing.
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Scan and Scan Again: We’ll start with the obvious stuff,
that I hope you’re doing already. Accessing Hotmail, as well as many other
sites, can definitely be affected in many different ways by both viruses and
spyware. Thus it’s important that you run an up to date virus scan and
Check hosts: One of the common targets of malware is the
“hosts” file. Normally found in C:\Windows\System32\Drivers\etc, open it in
notepad. If there’s a line referencing “hotmail.com”, or “passport.com”, then
the file has most likely been altered by malware of some sort. The safest thing
to do if that’s the case is to simply rename the file to something else. You
can read more about the hosts file in my article “Is there a way to block
certain URL’s in IE?“.
Though many might argue the point, IE itself isn’t a problem.
However various readers have reported a couple of things that helped in some
Reinstall or repair Internet Explorer: On Windows XP, you
can try running the System File
Checker. Even on Windows XP, and on all other versions of Windows, the best
“repair” is really a reinstall. Just visit Microsoft’s Internet
Explorer site and download the latest version.
Switch to a different browser: Several people have reported
that switching to Firefox or Netscape resolved their
issues accessing Hotmail.
Lower Security: While I can’t say that I really recommend
it, some users have reported that reducing the security on their internet zone
in Internet Explorer to medium-low resolves some issues. I note that Internet
Explorer itself makes this difficult (no doubt on purpose, as you are
increasing the risk of viruses and other malware). Going to
Tools, Internet Options
Security, Custom Level, Reset
to, and setting Medium-low should do the trick.
HTTP Version: Some folks have reported that altering the
version of HTML that IE uses helps resolve their issue. In IE:
Tools, Internet Options,
Advanced, locate the entry HTTP 1.1 settings
and uncheck Use HTTP 1.1. You may have to exit and reload IE
for the change to take effect.
Make sure that Cookies are enabled: Hotmail apparently
requires that cookies be enabled in order to get past the “match the picture”
security check. So:
- In IE, go to Tools, Internet Options
Privacy, and press Default.
- Clear your cookies, in case an existing cookie is causing
problems. In IE, go to Tools, Internet
Options General, and press Delete
- Clear your cache, in case a cached page is not being
properly refreshed. In IE, go to Tools, Internet
Options General, and press Delete
Files, and be sure to check Delete all offline
content prior to clicking OK.
Open the firewall: It’s also important that your firewall
not block cookies, and some do. You’ll have to refer to the documentation for
your firewall, but several people have reported that resolving this allows them
to progress past the “match the picture” stage. Note that this probably does
not apply if you’re using a router for your firewall, or if you are
using the Windows XP embedded firewall. A quick test would be to turn
off your firewall and try accessing Hotmail, but I would definitely
not leave your firewall turned off.
Sometimes networks and networking can get confused, and block, or misroute,
access to sites.
Reboot and Reboot: I’ll assume you already have rebooted
your PC, but make sure to reboot your modem (power off and back on again), and
your router, if you have either. I know I have gotten my own router into a
state where its behavior was erratic, and a quick reboot resolved several
This command might not be available on all versions of Windows, so you still
may want to do that reboot.
Fiddle with Network Settings: I’ve seen this in a number of
discussion groups. It involves altering an obscure network setting called “MTU”
or “MaxMTU”. Normally that requires a dive deep into the registry, but
fortunately there are utilities out there that make this setting a little
easier to tweak. I’ve used TCP
Optimizer from SpeedGuide.net. Using that utility, these changes are
reported to help:
- click on the appropriate connection type (Dialup, DSL, DSL (PPPoE), or
- Click on Custom Settings
- Change MaxMTU to 1220
- Change MTU Discovery from Yes to Default
- Click on Apply Changes, and then
This type of change does require a reboot to take effect. (The theory, by
the way, is that Hotmail made some type of change involving this setting to
prevent or avoid Denial of Service attacks. Sadly it seems many users were
denied service as a result.)
Try again later: Sometimes Hotmail itself is the problem.
We’ve definitely seen periods of time where Hotmail was simply not working.
While Hotmail’s notification of such events is quite lacking (as in, pretty
much non-existent), because of its high usage any widespread outages are
evident to them quite quickly, and you can be certain that they are working on
the issue(s) even though you might not hear about it. How long to wait? I’d
typically give it a day.
Play with the numbers: When issues aren’t wide spread,
things get a little trickier. Exactly how Hotmail’s load is distributed across
the hundreds, if not thousands, of servers they use, is a mystery. If you’re
able to log in to Hotmail, you’ll see addresses like this in your address
The numbers, 18 in this case, will vary, presumably as Hotmail distributes
the load by assigning your session to one particular server or set of
In perhaps one of the most obscure ideas I’ve ever encountered, one reader
reported that changing the number (a 2, in his case, to a 23) resolved an issue
that was happening after login. Since we have no way of knowing
exactly what this really does or why this might work, it’s difficult
to formally recommend, but you might give it a try if you are able to login and
get to an address that looks like that, but then begin having problems. Edit
the url directly in the address bar, changing both numbers, and press enter. Who knows? It might work.
If you’re used to using your free Hotmail account in Outlook Express, that
might be the entire problem. Hotmail support in Outlook Express is being phased
out. This Microsoft Knowledgebase Article explains
that in order to continue using your Hotmail account in Outlook Express you
need to upgrade and purchase an MSN Hotmail Plus account.
Hotmail’s web interface remains free.
Check your clock: make sure that the date and time on your computer are correct. Several aspects of your connection to secure sites like Hotmail
rely on your clock being accurate.
The best approach is to use the built-in clock synchronization facility. On Windows XP, right click on the clock in your taskbar, select Adjust Date/Time, click on the Time Zone tab and ensure that the time zone is set correctly. Then click on the Internet Time tab, check Automatically synchronize with an Internet time server. Click
Update Now to update the time immediately.
Finally, there are two scenarios we need to touch on as well, that can lead
to your not being able to log into your own Hotmail account: phishing and
Phishing: If you’ve received an email purportedly from
Hotmail asking you to visit a certain web site and asking you to “re-verify”
your account by re-entering all your personal data, you may have fallen victim
to a phishing scam. The email was probably not legitimate, and the website that
it pointed you at was probably not Hotmail at all. Even if it looked like
Hotmail, it may simply have been a hacker attempting to get your personal
information. My article Phishing? What’s Phishing? has more.
Theft: Is your password easy to guess? Did you “loan” your
account to a friend? Did you access your Hotmail in an internet cafe or other
public venue? Then it’s quite possible that your account has simply been
hijacked or stolen. Someone got or guessed your password, and then went off and
The bad news in both of these scenarios is that you may be SOL (Severely Out
of Luck). There are few, if any, resources to help you recover your free email
account’s password, OR the contents of your address book or mailbox. The only
real solution for this scenario is to learn from it, start over, and take steps
so that it doesn’t happen again.
A special Thank You to all the readers of prior articles
here on Ask Leo! who’ve contributed ideas and
solutions for others to experiment and work with, and to everyone who reported
back on their success and/or failure. Your ideas and comments are helping