Archive for the ‘cloud’ Category

OpenAI bot crushes Dota 2 champions, and now anyone can play against it

April 15th, 2019
Screenshot of a fiery video game monster.

Enlarge / Shadow Fiend, looking shadowy and fiendish. (credit: Valve)

Over the past several years, OpenAI, a startup with the mission of ensuring that "artificial general intelligence benefits all of humanity," has been developing a machine-learning-driven bot to play Dota 2, the greatest game in the universe. Starting from a very cut-down version of the full game, the bot has been developed over the years through playing millions upon millions of matches against itself, learning not just how to play the five-on-five team game but how to win, consistently.

We've been able to watch the bot's development over a number of show matches, with each one using a more complete version of a game and more skilled human opponents. This culminated in what's expected to be the final show match over the weekend, when OpenAI Five was pitted in a best-of-three match against OG, the team that won the biggest competition in all of esports last year, The International.

OpenAI is subject to a few handicaps in the name of keeping things interesting. Each of its five AI players is running an identical version of the bot software, with no communication among them: they're five independent players who happen to think very alike but have no direct means of coordinating their actions. OpenAI's reaction time is artificially slowed down to ensure that the game isn't simply a showcase of superhuman reflexes. And the bot still isn't using the full version of the game: only a limited selection of heroes is available, and items that create controllable minions or illusions are banned because it's felt that the bot would be able to micromanage its minions more effectively than any human could.

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Posted in Artificial intelligence, cloud, dota 2, Gaming & Culture, machine learning, OpenAI, Tech | Comments (0)

Hackers could read non-corporate Outlook.com, Hotmail for six months

April 15th, 2019
Hackers could read non-corporate Outlook.com, Hotmail for six months

Enlarge (credit: Getty / Aurich Lawson)

Late on Friday, some users of Outlook.com/Hotmail/MSN Mail received an email from Microsoft stating that an unauthorized third party had gained limited access to their accounts, and was able to read, among other things, the subject lines of emails (but not their bodies or attachments, nor their account passwords), between January 1st and March 28th of this year. Microsoft confirmed this to TechCrunch on Saturday.

The hackers, however, dispute this characterization. They told Motherboard that they can indeed access email contents and have shown that publication screenshots to prove their point. They also claim that the hack lasted at least six months, doubling the period of vulnerability that Microsoft has claimed. After this pushback, Microsoft responded that around 6 percent of customers had suffered unauthorized access to their emails, and that these customers received different breach notifications to make this clear. However, the company is still sticking to its claim that the hack only lasted three months.

Not in dispute is the broad character of the attack. Both hackers and Microsoft's breach notifications say that access to customer accounts came through compromise of a support agent's credentials. With these credentials the hackers could use Microsoft's internal customer support portal, which offers support agents some level of access to Outlook.com accounts. The hackers speculated to Motherboard that the compromised account belonged to a highly privileged user, and that this may have been what granted them the ability to read mail bodies. The compromised account has subsequently been locked to prevent any further abuse.

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Posted in cloud, hack, Hotmail, microsoft, Outlook.com, security, Tech | Comments (0)

Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police

March 22nd, 2019
Clippy briefly resurrected as Teams add-on, brutally taken down by brand police

Enlarge (credit: theaelix)

On Microsoft's official Office GitHub repository (which contains, alas, not the source code to Office itself but lots of developer content for software that extends Office), the widely loved (?) Clippy made a brief appearance with the publication of a Clippy sticker pack for Microsoft Teams. Teams users could import the stickers and use them to add pictures of a talking paperclip to their conversations.

The synergy between the two seems obvious. With its various machine learning-powered services and its bot development framework, Microsoft finally has the technology to make Clippy the assistant we always wanted him to be: a Clippy that can be asked natural language questions, that we can actually speak to and that can talk back to us, that can recognize us by sight and greet us as we sit down to the working day. Teams, an interface that's conversational and text heavy, is the perfect venue for a new Clippy compliant with all the buzzwords of the late twenty-teens. Twenteens? Whatever.

Clippy is, after all, far more expressive than Cortana. While Clippy and Cortana share a tendency to reshape their basic form to meet the needs of the task at hand—Clippy can distort itself into a question mark or an envelope or whatever, and Cortana can deviate from her usual circular form—Clippy has a killer advantage in that it has eyes, and more particularly, eyebrows, enabling a range of emotions such as incredulity and contemptuous pity that Cortana can only dream of.

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Posted in clippy, cloud, Fun, machine learning, microsoft, paperclip, Teams, Tech | Comments (0)

Microsoft ships antivirus for macOS as Windows Defender becomes Microsoft Defender

March 21st, 2019

Microsoft is bringing its Windows Defender anti-malware application to macOS—and more platforms in the future—as it expands the reach of its Defender Advanced Threat Protection (ATP) platform. To reflect the new cross-platform nature, the suite is also being renamed to Microsoft Defender ATP, with the individual clients being labelled "for Mac" or "for Windows."

Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will initially focus on traditional signature-based malware scanning.

Microsoft Defender ATP for Mac will initially focus on traditional signature-based malware scanning.

macOS malware is still something of a rarity, but it's not completely unheard of. Ransomware for the platform was found in 2016, and in-the-wild outbreaks of other malicious software continue to be found. Apple has integrated some malware protection into macOS, but we've heard from developers on the platform that Mac users aren't always very good at keeping their systems on the latest point release. This situation is particularly acute in corporate environments; while Windows has a range of tools to ensure that systems are kept up-to-date and alert administrators if they fall behind, a similar ecosystem hasn't been developed for macOS.

One would hope that Defender for Mac will also trap Windows malware to prevent Mac users from spreading malware to their Windows colleagues.

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Posted in apple, cloud, Defender, MacOS, malware, microsoft, security, Tech | Comments (0)

Microsoft is first major cloud provider to open African data centers

March 6th, 2019
Microsoft is first major cloud provider to open African data centers

Enlarge (credit: Microsoft)

A little later than planned, two new Azure data centers have gone live in South Africa. With these, Microsoft has become the first major cloud provider to have any infrastructure on the African continent.

First announced in 2017, the company originally intended to open its facilities—South Africa West in Cape Town and South Africa North in Johannesburg—in 2018. Even with the delays, Microsoft has still beaten Amazon to the punch; an AWS datacenter is to open in Cape Town in 2020. As well as offering Azure services, Microsoft is going to use the facilities for hosting Office 365 from the third quarter of the year and Dynamics 365 from the fourth quarter.

Microsoft is also investing in connectivity in Africa, with a fibre network reaching Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and soon Angola. The customer profile in Africa is perhaps a little more varied than in the other regions Microsoft serves. Early customers include not just a bank and a municipal water utility, but also the Peace Parks Foundation, which is working to monitor and prevent poaching. The foundation processes tens of thousands of cameras used to monitor areas at risk of poacher activity and also intends to use expanded network infrastructure to relay radio communications to improve its ability to reach remote areas.

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Posted in amazon, AWS, azure, cloud, microsoft, South Africa, Tech | Comments (0)

Microsoft’s latest security service uses human intelligence, not artificial

February 28th, 2019
Microsoft security experts monitoring the world, looking for hackers.

Enlarge / Microsoft security experts monitoring the world, looking for hackers. (credit: Microsoft)

Microsoft has announced two new cloud services to help administrators detect and manage threats to their systems. The first, Azure Sentinel, is very much in line with other cloud services: it's dependent on machine learning to sift through vast amounts of data to find a signal among all the noise. The second, Microsoft Threat Experts, is a little different: it's powered by humans, not machines.

Azure Sentinel is a machine learning-based Security Information and Event Management that takes the (often overwhelming) stream of security events—a bad password, a failed attempt to elevate privileges, an unusual executable that's blocked by anti-malware, and so on—and distinguishes between important events that actually deserve investigation and mundane events that can likely be ignored.

Sentinel can use a range of data sources. There are the obvious Microsoft sources—Azure Active Directory, Windows Event Logs, and so on—as well as integrations with third-party firewalls, intrusion-detection systems, endpoint anti-malware software, and more. Sentinel can also ingest any data source that uses ArcSight's Common Event Format, which has been adopted by a wide range of security tools.

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Posted in azure, cloud, enterprise, machine learning, microsoft, security, Tech, windows defender advanced threat protection | Comments (0)

Supermicro hardware weaknesses let researchers backdoor an IBM cloud server

February 26th, 2019
Supermicro hardware weaknesses let researchers backdoor an IBM cloud server

Enlarge (credit: Jeremy Brooks / Flickr)

More than five years have passed since researchers warned of the serious security risks that a widely used administrative tool poses to servers used for some of the most sensitive and mission-critical computing. Now, new research shows how baseboard management controllers, as the embedded hardware is called, threaten premium cloud services from IBM and possibly other providers.

In short, BMCs are motherboard-attached microcontrollers that give extraordinary control over servers inside datacenters. Using the Intelligent Platform Management Interface, admins can reinstall operating systems, install or modify apps, and make configuration changes to large numbers of servers, without physically being on premises and, in many cases, without the servers being turned on. In 2013, researchers warned that BMCs that came preinstalled in servers from Dell, HP, and other name-brand manufacturers were so poorly secured that they gave attackers a stealthy and convenient way to take over entire fleets of servers inside datacenters.

Researchers at security firm Eclypsium on Tuesday plan to publish a paper about how BMC vulnerabilities threaten a premium cloud service provided by IBM and possibly other providers. The premium service is known as bare-metal cloud computing, an option offered to customers who want to store especially sensitive data but don't want it to intermingle on the same servers other customers are using. The premium lets customers buy exclusive access to dedicated physical servers for as long as needed and, when the servers are no longer needed, return them to the cloud provider. The provider, in theory, wipes the servers clean so they can be safely used by another bare-metal customer.

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Posted in backdoors, baseboard management controllers, Biz & IT, bmcs, cloud, exploits, ibm softlayer, vulnerabilities | Comments (0)

Microsoft puts mixed reality, high-speed 3D rendering, and Kinect vision into cloud

February 25th, 2019
The Azure Kinect Development Kit.

Enlarge / The Azure Kinect Development Kit. (credit: Microsoft)

While HoloLens 2 is undoubtedly the aspirational star of Microsoft's augmented-reality (AR) offerings, the company isn't putting all its eggs in that particular basket. Alongside the new HoloLens headset, the company also announced the Azure Kinect development kit: a new version of the Kinect sensor technology.

Though Kinect first shipped as a gaming peripheral, the accessory immediately piqued the interest of researchers and engineers who were attracted to its affordable depth sensing and skeleton tracking. While Kinect is no longer a going concern for the Xbox, the same technology is what gives HoloLens its view of the world and is now available as a device purpose-built for developing scientific and industrial uses for the technology. The Azure Kinect Developer Kit (DK) bumps up the specs substantially when compared to the old Xbox accessory; it includes a 12MP RGB camera, 1MP depth camera, and 360-degree microphone array made up of seven microphones. It also contains an accelerometer and gyroscope. Early customers are using it for applications like detecting when hospital patients fall over, automating the unloading of pallets in warehouses, and creating software that compares CAD models to the physical parts built from those models.

The original Kinect used only local compute power; indeed, one of the many criticisms made of it was that the Xbox devoted a certain amount of processing power to handling Kinect data. The new hardware still depends on local computation, with things like skeleton tracking handled in software on the PC the hardware is connected to. But the Azure name is not just there for fun; Microsoft views the Kinect as a natural counterpart to many Azure Cognitive Services, using the Kinect to provide data that's then used to train machine-learning systems, feed image- and text-recognition services, perform speech recognition, and so on.

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Posted in azure, cloud, hololens, Kinect, microsoft, mixed reality, Tech | Comments (0)

Flickr gives free accounts a few more days to save their pictures from destruction

February 7th, 2019
Flickr gives free accounts a few more days to save their pictures from destruction

Enlarge (credit: Randy Adams / Flickr)

Last November, photo-hosting site Flickr announced that it was going to slash the storage afforded to free accounts; they'd be capped at just 1,000 pictures each. Starting January 8 this year, free accounts with more than 1,000 pictures were rendered unable to upload any new images, and on February 5, the service was due to start deleting the excess images. Flickr intends to delete pictures working from the oldest to the newest until each account is brought under the threshold.

February 5 has come and gone, and so far nothing has been deleted. Deletion is still in the cards, but Flickr has extended its deadline to March 12, giving its users a few more weeks to rescue their pictures. The extension comes amid widespread difficulties with downloading pictures en masse from the site, especially among its very heaviest users. As Flickr's own help pages note, it can take as long as a week to package your pictures into a single downloadable ZIP file.

Alternatively, account holders can upgrade to Flickr Pro to safeguard their pictures.

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Posted in cloud, Flickr, Gaming & Culture, photography, premium | Comments (0)

Windows 7 enters its final year of free support

January 14th, 2019
Licensing and support lifecycles are not really the easiest topics to illustrate.

Enlarge / Licensing and support lifecycles are not really the easiest topics to illustrate. (credit: Peter Bright)

Windows 7's five years of extended support will expire on January 14, 2020: exactly one year from today. After this date, security fixes will no longer be freely available for the operating system that's still widely used.

As always, the end of free support does not mean the end of support entirely. Microsoft has long offered paid support options for its operating systems beyond their normal lifetime, and Windows 7 is no different. What is different is the way that paid support will be offered. For previous versions of Windows, companies had to enter into a support contract of some kind to continue to receive patches. For Windows 7, however, the extra patches will simply be an optional extra that can be added to an existing volume license subscription—no separate support contract needed—on a per-device basis.

These Extended Security Updates (ESU) will be available for three years after the 2020 cut-off, with prices escalating each year.

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Posted in cloud, microsoft, patches, security, support, Tech, vdi, Virtualization, Windows, windows 7 | Comments (0)