This week’s technology news – 20th March 2015

The Windows 10 launch party welcomes all including pirates

Microsoft has announced that Windows 10 will be launching this summer to 190 countries. A new feature of the system called Windows Hello was also demo’d for the first time. It also lets users log in via fingerprint, face recognition or iris recognition.

To get ready for Windows 10’s big launch party, Microsoft has been teaming up with app service providers worldwide including Chinese internet giant Tencent who will bring their hugely popular (over 32 million active players) online game ‘League of Legends’ onto the Windows 10 store and their QQ social app which has over 800 million active users.

Microsoft sees China as a huge opportunity for Windows 10 and getting companies onboard in providing relevant and highly successful apps, games and services to the Windows 10 store will go a long way to securing Chinese users to upgrade to Windows 10 this summer.

The biggest challenge has always been getting users to adopt genuine Windows instead of pirated versions. Currently two-thirds of all PCs in China run pirated versions, not purchased from Microsoft.

In an unprecedented move, Microsoft will be allowing these ‘non-genuine’ versions of Windows to also be upgraded to Windows 10 for free. Those who do upgrade in this fashion will still have non-genuine, non-supported systems, but will have access to the new features of Windows 10 – most importantly for Microsoft, being the new Windows 10 store where Microsoft takes 30% of all profits made.

Microsoft continues to be very aggressive in its push of the upcoming Windows 10.  It’s strategy of allowing pirated system upgrades and free upgrades in general, is tactically cunning, showing that its first goal is to get as many people as possible using the new system, sooner rather than later and gain maximum marketshare.

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Amicus ITS explores a trio of cyber security stories in this week’s roundup of technology news:

US healthcare provider Premera not so premier following cyber attack

The FBI were recently called in by Premera Blue Cross, a US non-profit health insurance company which posted revenues in 2013 of $7.6 billion, to investigate a cyber attack on their IT systems which occurred over an eight month period without detection from May 2014.  It is not clear yet how the attackers broke in and the company has not identified how the breach was discovered. However, 1.8 million records were illegally accessed, with medical records, personal data and employee data exposed, as well as any company which did business with Premera Blue Cross.   The data penetrated included:  access to names, dates of birth, addresses, telephone numbers, email addresses, Social Security numbers, member identification number, medical claims information and financial information (though no customer credit card information was held).

This comes on top of another huge cyber attack on Blue Cross Shield insurance giant Anthem, which recently had 78.8 million customer records illegally accessed.

The correct professional PR stance of both Premera and Anthem has been to publish a direct response on the front pages of their websites to try and assuage customer concerns by advising of their remedial steps with their security partners, including offering 24 months of free credit monitoring and ID protection services.

Whether either company will fully regain the trust of their clientele only time will tell, but at least the right reactive steps were taken to tackle the issue head on with its customers.

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Get me insured – I’m under attack!

The US Department of Homeland Security (US DHS) has started a wholesale review of cybersecurity insurance, as it has emerged that security issues have been marginalised and are not forming a core part of an organisation’s enterprise risk management framework.

Cyber insurance is a relatively new aspect for the financial markets and given the rise in cyber attacks and major data breaches worldwide in recent months, it seeks to offer an olive branch to the financial toll companies can face from the fall out of attack.  However, delivering the insurance is another matter as data to evaluate the threat landscape is thin on the ground.

Senior Cybersecurity Strategist at the US DHS Tom Finan comments:  “Perhaps unsurprisingly, companies are not publicly disclosing their own damages from cyber incidents they’re experiencing….. big data about cyber incidents could be a potential treasure trove that would aid their efforts (to get insured) immensely.”

Meanwhile in the UK, HM Government in its November 2014 summit between Government departments, leading UK insurers, trade and industry representatives and GCHQ, agreed a joint statement to commit industry and government to closer working to develop the UK’s cyber insurance market. They also recognised the role insurers can play in driving improvements in cyber security risk management.  The cyber insurance market report will be supplied to the Cabinet Office in April 2015.  In the meantime, practical measures for businesses to undertake include:

• Detailed insurance gap analysis
• Network security survey
• Security policy review and development
• Cyber risk identification and quantification exercise
• Risk financing optimisation.

Plus, evaluation by experts on internet and network exposures, including:

• Liability: privacy and confidentiality
• Copyright, trademark, defamation
• Malicious code and viruses
• Business interruption: network outages, computer failures
• Attacks, unauthorised access, theft, website defacement and cyber extortion
• Technology errors and omissions
• Intellectual property infringement.

Clearly, Finan adds, “CISOs need to be a central part of any business risk management discussion going forwards,” he said. “And until they do so, businesses will miss out on otherwise more extensive cybersecurity insurance offerings than would otherwise be available to them.”

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World Economic Forum publishes cyber threat risk framework

The World Economic Forum (WEF) launched a new framework in collaboration with Deloitte recently based on resiliency, to help companies calculate the risk of cyberattacks. The risk calculation involves three components:

• An assessment of a company’s vulnerabilities and defences
• The potential cost of data breaches and
• A profile of the attacker

Understanding the risk vs cost is still very difficult even amongst expert voices.  However, it should force Boards globally to sit up and work through the problem, identifying risk areas within their organisation as they try to get inside the mind of a potential attacker.

The lack of historical data required to estimate the probability of attacks from particular types of attackers in particular industry sectors is a stumbling block. However, if, as the WEF have proposed, businesses globally start to openly share information about cyberthreats, instead of burying their shame, all businesses will gain.  Mass learning will ensure companies start to deploy better strategies, policies and more resilient tactics including education, training and staff awareness which can only be a good thing.

Amicus ITS is part of the new Government led UK IT Cyber Security Forum.  Any enterprise seeking advice about major infrastructure security concerns is invited to contact JP Norman or one of the Sales team on 02380 429429.
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Samsung and Blackberry team up for new secure tablet     

Blackberry has announced a new tablet called SecuTABLET for the public sector and government use.

The SecuTABLET differs greatly from the company’s only previous tablet, the ‘Playbook’, which launched in early 2011. Unlike the Playbook which ran on Blackberry’s own OS and hardware, this new tablet runs on Android for the OS and the hardware is being provided by Samsung.

Samsung is also providing part of the security with its KNOX security layer which helps separate personal and professional apps and data, by having two distinct modes that the user can switch between.

The now Blackberry-owned ‘Secusmart’ is providing encryption, including an inhouse built secured microSD card, equipped with a range of encryption features.

Finally, IBM is providing a software wrapper for secure apps to keep the data of each app separated and protected from others apps and services.

Altogether the SecuTABLET comes with an impressive list of security features, built on-top of a reliable Samsung tablet foundation – but these do come at a cost. The tablet won’t be available for general consumer purchase – and the reported retail price will be $2,380!   This incredibly high price point makes the SecuTABLET very hard to recommend.

Although the amount of security features is impressive, each of the three core security components seem to overlap in actual usage. Blackberry is going to have an uphill battle convincing organisations to go with one of their new tablets instead of, for the same price, three Samsung tablets with KNOX – or even a Microsoft Surface 3.

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This week’s technology news – 30th January 2015

Will the race for the smartest AI expose a huge security risk? 

Artificial Intelligence used to be restricted to science fiction, but today it is being using by millions, even if you don’t realise. When you buy a smart phone today, chances are it will come with its own AI-driven digital assistant. By typing or speaking, you can ask the device natural questions and receive natural sounding answers to your queries. Some of these assistants also learn things about you during their use. You have the option of letting them know more about yourself, so they can offer you a more personalised service. A lot of their actual usage falls under novelty currently but these assistants have proved that for some tasks, asking a machine to do a specific task is quicker than tapping through apps and comparing data by yourself.

With Google, Apple and Microsoft fighting for advancement and innovation in this area and with millions of active people using these services, AI is in rapid development.

Microsoft are big players in AI, recently making waves with its virtual assistant Cortana being built into all Windows 10 PCs, tablets and phones, which if the OS is a success will make Cortana the most widely available virtual assistant ever.  Microsoft also provides machine learning with its own branch of AI and drives a lot of their advanced Azure services including the platform that runs Cortana. Machine Learning allows scientists and developers to integrate predictive analytics data into their own apps.  Microsoft research chief Eric Horvitz’s recently revealed that over a quarter of all attention and resource at his research unit is focused on AI activities.

One of the most vital questions around the evolution of AI has been:   if artificial intelligence achieves consciousness, could it be a threat to human life? Last December Stephen Hawking predicted that such machines could “spell the end of the human race”.  Eric Horvitz has begged to differ, “I fundamentally don’t think that’s going to happen. I think that we will be very proactive in terms of how we field AI systems, and that in the end we’ll be able to get incredible benefits from machine intelligence in all realms of life, from science to education to economics to daily life.”   Of course Microsoft has a deeply vested interest in the advancements of AI so you wouldn’t expect the same concern from a party profiting from its rapid development. Eric Horvitz also commented on the competitions involvement in the technology.  “We have Cortana and Siri and Google Now setting up a competitive tournament for where the best intelligent assistant is going to come from… and that kind of competition is going to heat up the research and investment, and bring it more into the spotlight.”

The main area of concern remains around privacy. AI systems will continually be able to make deeper inferences about users by weaving together the mass of data generated not only by information obtained via responding to a user’s queries, activities and life style preferences, but also from the access these systems have to a user’s emails, contacts, calendars and more.

Some services do let you choose what can and can’t be used via your AI assistant but this of course directly affects their usefulness. Going forwards collected information and the means to grant or prevent access needs to be even more transparent and the relevant legislation in place with sovereign governments to reasonably safeguard citizens whilst ensuring criminal exploitation is minimised.   Secondly, where information is stored (whether encrypted on device or on a server) is also hugely important. The amount of data an AI could gather about you would be incredibly valuable to ad providers for example or security intelligence agencies.

As the technology moves forwards and AI evolves, so must both our application and cyber security. Exposure of this data would enable identity theft at a whole new level and unauthorised use of an advance AI service could be detrimental, allowing a hacker to query anything from calendar appointments to email details from any participating user. The likelihood of either scenario is minute with numerous safeguards already in place, but time has shown again and again, that if someone can build something, someone else will work out how to break it down.

 

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Microsoft Windows 10 –  surprise hardware announcements

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event last week was not just about showcasing new software.  Instead the technology giant woo’d its audience with some truly great commercial tech offerings.

Microsoft biggest surprise was its announcement of a long developed and never leaked new device called HoloLens.  HoloLens is a wearable holographic computer with high definition see-through lenses that promises to take virtual reality technology to a new level.

Worn like goggles, it doesn’t require cables or other devices to operate and runs Windows 10. Unlike other virtual reality headsets in development HoloLens doesn’t block off your view of the world but instead places virtual holograms on top of the real world without the requirement for markers or external cameras.

Demo’d during the event, Microsoft showed off specialised applications such as one being developed with NASA for its Jet Propulsion Laboratory, to help control the Curiosity Mars Rover and offer scientists a more interactive way to view Mars.  An onstage demo then showed someone wearing the device to create a 3D quad-copter in 3D-space by pointing their finger, using hand gestures and voice control using an application called HoloStudio.  Once created virtually, Microsoft revealed one they had 3D printed earlier. One of the biggest issues with 3D printing is content creation and HoloLens may just have solved that.

One application of HoloLens to quickly get into people’s homes will come through Minecraft, following Microsoft’s recent $2.5 billion acquisition of the hugely popular game from Mojang in 2014.  A HoloLens version of the game was shown on video where the device wearer can see the ‘blocked’ virtual world across their real-world interior furnishings. The player can walk around their creation and even virtually destroy real world objects that will have direct implications in-game.

Select members of the press were impressed that Microsoft delivered as advertised. With Windows 10 launching later in 2015, we will hear much more about HoloLens once Microsoft have figured out the pricing and its likely roll out will be in 3D modelling, engineering and robotics.microsoft-hololens

 

 

 

 

 

 

Microsoft – Surface Hub
A much larger new technology has been shown off by Microsoft.   Called Surface Hub, the device is built for smart team collaboration.   The huge 84 inch tablet is designed to be installed on a meeting room wall. Once again, this collaborating device also runs Windows 10, and can be controlled by pen, touch or even voice.

You can invite external workers into the panoramic discussion using Skype For Business, who are then face-to-face with you, using the Hubs built in cameras and microphones. The conversation doesn’t have to be full screen either and can be snapped to one side while the rest of the screen is freed up for note taking, annotations or even reviewing advance 3D modelling.

The cameras and microphones are based on Microsoft’s Kinect for Xbox. These cameras can detect who has attended the meeting and the microphones can pick up natural speech commands from across the room.   Setup is simple, needing just one power cable to operate. The rest is done wirelessly.  Users can beam content from their phones to the Surface Hub to share.   Then, once a meeting has finished, the ‘whiteboard’ contents are sent down to peoples’ devices, including any meeting minutes solving both problem of taking a photo of a traditional whiteboard and having a dedicated resource taking minutes in situ.

Being a full-fledged Windows 10 PC, the Surface Hub can also run additional apps. The new store will have a dedicated section for apps, giving developers a new market to target for business.

Both Microsoft hardware announcements were genuine surprises, which makes a pleasant change to the usual pattern of leaks.

One area Microsoft has been quiet on so far is new phones to take advantage of the upcoming operation system and with their Surface line now pulling in over $1 billion in revenue it would not be surprising to see a Surface 4 Pro running Windows 10 on launch.  Although it was a slow start, Microsoft seems to be sticking true to its modern branding of a ‘devices and services’ company and more announcements will be expected in the run up to the big Windows 10 launch later this year.

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Heartfelt 3D printing

Since the first 3D printed gun was fired in May 2013, 3D printing (or ‘additive manufacturing’) has come a long way commercially.  This has varied from creating ‘bump’ keys for locksmiths, repairing worn out parts ‘live’ in space in the International Space Station and Oslo University’s creation of self-healing bots – all of which we wrote about in 2014.

The amazing applications for healthcare have now taken 3D printing to new heights.  From facial reconstruction of 3D printed bone and human tissue being printed to make arteries, we now have a heart warming story where 3D printing has recently saved a 2 year old girl’s life.  Born with a serious heart defect, the girl who had spent most of her life poorly and fed through tubes, underwent vital surgery to repair a hole between the two chambers of her heart.  Doctors created imaging using a CT scan and a 1:1 3D image of her heart was made in plastic using specialist software.  From this, surgeons were able to successfully plan the operation, giving vital and accurate information to assist in the delicate procedure.

The potential is seemingly limitless and the opportunities for servicing industries substantial.  For businesses, being able to send an engineer to a customer who can 3D print an exact part on site, might advertise guaranteed satisfaction.  However, the original manufacturer is then threatened with lost business from lack of replacement orders and a reasonable concern over copyright for a copied part.  This might be one for the courts to rule on as the technology progresses, or if one were to be cynical, perhaps manufacturers will purposefully drive towards shorter shelf life and price changes to keep out the competition and force whole replacements in the market.

3D heart

This week’s technology news – 23rd January 2015

Are you into Cloud yet?

Offering peer insight, a recent 2015 survey of over 200 IT and security professionals by US expert ‘not for profit’ organisation The Cloud Security Alliance (CSA), found that 72% of companies questioned, didn’t know the number of shadow IT apps within their own organisation.

This has been blamed on a lack of knowledge about Cloud by both IT staff and senior execs in organisations.  CSA’s CEO Jim Reavis explains:  “The word “Cloud” means different things to different people in a company.  In IT departments, “Cloud” often refers to a specific type of server virtualization technology, or use of IaaS platforms such as Amazon AWS.  For everyone else, SaaS is also “Cloud,” including used tools such as Dropbox, Google Docs, LinkedIn and Facebook”.

Another problem is procurement.  Employees can readily sign up for cloud services without any input from IT at all.  The answer for this would be to monitor outbound connections, block access to certain sites and manage the increasing proliferation of BYOD devices.  Staff bypassing the IT department can quickly create potential headaches and security issues for organisations in ignoring governance and compliance.

Security of data remains the top barrier to cloud adoption, however organisations are still moving forward in adopting cloud services with 74% confirming wholesale adoption, or at least step migration into Cloud services. Part of the holdback remains a lack of knowledge and experience by IT and business managers.  49% of companies with fewer than 5,000 employees reported spending more than 20% of their IT budget on Cloud services.

One of the ‘progressive’ spin offs for companies witnessing the data disasters experienced by major retailers, banks and blue chip names in 2013 and 2014, is the increased involvement of executives taking the decision making around IT to the boardroom which has risen to 61%.  This according to Reavis is a good thing: “We think it will help close the gap on some of the problems we were talking about.”

CSA hopes to enable organisations to make better decisions and help confidently and responsibly accelerate the use of Cloud services in their environments.  The whole report can be accessed at:
https://cloudsecurityalliance.org/research/surveys

Organisations seeking to take their first step into Cloud Services and wondering about security, compliance, scalability and flexibility or cost savings can review the Cloud framework videos offered by Amicus ITS at http://www.cloudservicesframework.com or our dedicated Backup +Recovery options at http://backupandrecovery.amicusits.co.uk

Cloud 10@300

 

 

 

 

 

 

Windows 10 – The price for success is….Free!

This week Microsoft held a Windows 10 event, containing several big announcements that showed off a new Microsoft with fighting spirit. Press events are not usually Microsoft’s strong suit, but this latest event showcased a new mastery of showmanship reminiscent of Apple’s best product announcements.

The show started off with a bang; Windows 10 will be free to anyone running on Windows 7 or above if they upgrade within the first year of the Windows 10 release. This move alone will likely give Windows 10 the best launch yet.  Free upgrades of course will slash potential short-term profits on desktop licences but Microsoft is thinking bigger – and is a cunning strategy to grow Windows beyond the PC.

With Windows 8, Microsoft promised the same experience across all your devices, be they PCs, tablets or phones. This move did not play out as well as hoped. The idea was good but the execution left many feeling alienated, expressing they had been forced a mobile, touch-driven interface on their non-touch PC.

This time around the same strategy is in place but much of work has been done to tailor the interface to each particular device type, whether it is big, small, touch, keyboard and mouse, or even a mix.

If you are on a desktop you will see a new version of the much missed Start bar and on a tablet, the full Start screen Windows 8 introduced. These modes can also aquatically switch on hybrid PCs, for example detaching the keyboard on a Surface tablet will switch it from PC to tablet mode on the fly.

This is all well and good on an OS layer but it is apps that are hugely important today. During the event Microsoft demonstrated new universal apps like Office will run on Windows 10 from small phones to large PCs and these apps like the OS will also adapt to each.  This apps pitch alongside the free upgrade is Microsoft’s big play.

If Windows 10 gets the expected momentum, with users actively downloading new apps from the Windows store, app developers would be silly to ignore this huge new market. With these same new apps made for desktop, but also able to run on Windows Phones, this could give Microsoft’s mobile platform the shot in the arm it certainly needs.

What Microsoft is essentially doing is incorporating Windows Phone as a platform into just “Windows”, reflected in its new renaming; dropping the “phone” to simply “Windows 10” so it can reap the benefits from its desktop monopoly.

In addition, as part of Microsoft’s ‘Continuity’, they announced its voice assistant ‘Cortana’ will, for the first time, be branching out from just the phone to tablets and PCs also. This was demo’d by asking the PC with voice to find specific documents, search for photos from a specific month, dictate emails, control music and more.

As if this wasn’t enough, the much rumoured new browser was officially launched. Currently called ‘Project Spartan’, this browser will come alongside Internet Explorer which will be kept to handle legacy and corporate intranet sites. Project Spartan uses a new rendering engine alongside a different, newer look and feel. A new annotations feature lets you doodle on pages and share with others. Plus Cortana support is also built-in, letting you search with your voice and intelligently suggest searches as you start typing, based on previous interactions (such as showing flight details booked when typing in the airlines site).

All in all, Windows 10 is shaping up to finally live up to Microsoft’s ambitious goals which misfired with Windows 8. The free upgrade will ensure it gets the best launch possible, which will please consumers and developers alike, and give Windows Phone its best chance of success.

The sting in the tail is for hardware partners.  Obviously you cannot please everyone in this game – and with users getting free Windows 10 upgrades later in 2015, it is the hardware partners who will not be happy, as they will face that challenge of seeing their usual buyers staying away as for once they do not have to buy new PCs upon upgrade.

Microsoft’s Windows 10 event this week, wasn’t just about new software that was shown off.  There was also a big splash about the business implications for holograms and the persuasive use of collaboration technology with a new 84″ meeting display?   Interested – watch this space on Monday 26th January!

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Microsoft brings the focus back to users with Windows 10

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Last week at a private event in San Francisco, Microsoft announced the next version of their desktop OS (operating system).  The name, catching all off guard is skipping 9 and going straight to Windows 10.  Not only will 10 be the next version of Windows for PCs and tablets – but also their phones too, currently running the separate OS Windows Phone.

Windows 8 attempted to bring PCs and tablets together with a unified touch-friendly design which was met with severe criticism amongst traditional keyboard and mouse users.  With Windows 10, Microsoft has rethought this approach.  The same system will run across their devices with the user interface changing depending on what control inputs are available.  On a non-touch laptop, an updated version of the old Start menu will help you navigate.  On tablets you will still have the full Start screen which Windows 8 introduced and on hybrid devices when the keyboard/mouse is accessible, you will get a smaller Start menu and when in touch mode the more finger friendly Start screen appears in its place.

Microsoft is also promising a single store that all Windows 10 devices will be able to access, regardless if you have a PC, tablet or Phone.  In theory you would only have to purchase the one app that will run on all these devices instead of having separate apps for phones, tablets and PCs.

Windows 10 is also boasting better multi-tasking chops for its power users. The snap feature has been expanded so when a window is snapped to one side of the screen, suggestions appear as to what you can snap to next to it.   In addition multiple virtual desktops will now be available as standard so you can switch between different desktop layouts for heavy multi-tasking.

The reasoning for the name Windows 10 may be to distance it from Windows 8 in the public eye, which was not the success Microsoft must have been hoping for. The interesting thing here is that from what we have seen of 10 so far, it has a lot in common with what 8 is and what that version was trying to achieve; one OS and interface across different types of devices.  Perhaps the naming then suggests Microsoft believes that what let Windows 8 down was not its premise but the delivery and marketing, believing their original intentions were good but very much misunderstood.

Feedback coming out of the announcement of Windows 10 has been very positive, so perhaps there was method to the naming madness? Naming aside, Windows 10 does look to deliver a much more intuitive desktop experience and even brings more options to power users without losing the touch friendly advantages and the new Microsoft ecosystem Windows 8 established. Windows 10 launches late 2015 and we will learn a lot more of its new features coming up to the time of release.  So far, Microsoft has put its best foot forwards – its aim here is to convince the 100 million+ Windows 7 owners that Windows 10 is the upgrade they have been waiting for.