Archive for the ‘cloud’ Category

Stadia’s E3 Doom Eternal demo made me a cloud gaming believer

June 13th, 2019

LOS ANGELES—Since Google's Project Stream beta test in October and the company's March announcement of the full Stadia platform, one question has loomed large over the service: will it actually work well enough for fast-paced, reflex-intensive games? After playing a demo of Doom Eternal for about half an hour Wednesday, I'm ready to say that the answer to that question seems to be yes—at least in Google's controlled testing conditions.

Google invited me out to its downtown LA YouTube Gaming creator's space—away from the Internet-congested E3 show floor—to try out the latest build of Stadia. My demo was running locally on a Pixelbook with the Chrome browser, connected to a TV via HDMI, and remotely to data centers more than 300 miles away in San Francisco. The Pixelbook had a wired Internet connection that I was told was running at "about 25 Mbps" (Google wouldn't let me run a speed test to confirm the connection quality). I controlled the demo with a Stadia controller connected to the Pixelbook via USB, but keyboard and trackpad controls also worked.

Over thirty minutes of Doom Eternal play, I'd have been hard pressed to point out any differences between the Stadia version and one running on a local PC. The 60fps animation didn't noticeably stutter for the entire demo, and the apparent resolution didn't dip below 1080p either (though a Google representative said Stadia will sometimes lower that resolution briefly to maintain a smooth frame rate if and when bandwidth dips). There were no signs of video compression artifacts or the color gradients you might see in a low-res YouTube video.

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Posted in cloud, E3, e3 2019, Gaming & Culture, google, stadia, streaming | Comments (0)

Report: Sony employees caught off guard by Microsoft cloud partnership

May 20th, 2019
The kinds of Azure server racks that could soon play host to Sony content, under a recent cooperation deal.

Enlarge / The kinds of Azure server racks that could soon play host to Sony content, under a recent cooperation deal.

Following on Microsoft and Sony's surprising announcement of a cloud gaming partnership last week, Bloomberg has a bit of behind-the-scenes analysis that uses unnamed insider sources to discuss how the deal came about.

Though Sony confirmed to Bloomberg that talks between the two console giants had been going on since last year, the announcement still caught rank-and-file employees at the company off guard, according to Bloomberg's sources. "Managers had to calm workers and assure them that plans for the company’s next-generation console weren’t affected," as Bloomberg summarizes the view from inside the company.

Sony has already spun its 2012 purchase of streaming gaming company Gaikai into over 700,000 subscribers for its cloud-based PlayStation Now service, which launched in 2015. But Sony's server and network infrastructure has proven insufficient to provide the "as good as local" experience promised (but yet to be proven) by major competitors like Google's recently announced Stadia service. That led Sony to reach out to other companies with more established cloud infrastructure to expand its streaming gaming footprint.

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Posted in azure, cloud, gaikai, Gaming & Culture, microsoft, playstation now, Sony | Comments (0)

Blockchain, zero-code machine learning coming to Azure

May 3rd, 2019
Blockchain, zero-code machine learning coming to Azure

Enlarge (credit: Caetano Candal Sato / Flickr)

Microsoft's annual developer conference kicks off on Monday, and the company will no doubt have all manner of things to announce for Azure and, if we're lucky, Windows. To whet our appetites, the company has unveiled a crop of new Azure and Internet-of-Things services with, as we should no doubt expect these days, a focus on machine learning and blockchain.

First up are some new capabilities under the cognitive-services banner. These are the services that are most similar to human cognition: image recognition, speech-to-text, translation, and so on. Microsoft is adding a new category of service that it's calling "Decision." In this category are services that make recommendations to aid decision-making. Microsoft is putting some existing services into this category: Content Moderator (which tries to automatically detect offensive or undesirable text, images, and video) and Anomaly Detector (which examines time series data to find outlier or anomalous events). To these, Microsoft is adding Personalizer, which learns about a user's preferences and makes recommendations accordingly.

Microsoft is also offering previews of its Ink Recognizer (which turns handwriting into machine-readable text) and Form Recognizer, which can extract structured data from hand-filled forms. Cognitive Search, which uses machine learning to enable searching across disparate data types (such as OCR-scanned images, PDFs, and handwritten notes) is being promoted to general availability.

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Posted in azure, cloud, edge computing, IoT, machine learning, microsoft, Tech | Comments (0)

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)