Tag Archives: Microsoft

Microsoft Selected Over Amazon for Department of Defense Contract



Microsoft beat out Amazon for a Department of Defense contract that could be worth as much as $10 billion over a decade, CNBC reported.

The achievement highlights the emergence of Microsoft’s Azure cloud as a challenger to AWS and represents the latest victory for Satya Nadella, who took over from Steve Ballmer as Microsoft chief in 2014. Early on in the process, Amazon was seen as the favorite, partly because its AWS business won a deal with the CIA in 2013. In addition, Amazon had been certified at the highest existing security clearance level, while Microsoft sought to catch up.

The Department of Defense announced its contract with Microsoft on the U.S. Department of Defense website. Part of that announcement states:

Microsoft Corporation, Redmond, Washington, has been awarded a firm-fixed-price, indefinite-delivery/indefinite-quantity contract with a ceiling value of $10,000,000,000 over a period of 10 years, if all options are exercised. The JEDI Cloud contract will provide enterprise level, commercial Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS) to support Department of Defense business and mission operations.

JEDI stands for “Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure”. I find the name somewhat amusing, because it makes me think of President Reagan’s Strategic Defense Initiative (SDI) – which critics referred to as “Star Wars”.

The New York Times reported that the contract has an outsized importance because it is central to the Pentagon’s efforts to modernize its technology. According to The New York Times, much of the military operates on 1980s and 1990s computer systems, and the Defense Department has spent billions of dollars trying to make them talk to one another.


Microsoft Reveals Group Attempted To Hack Email of a 2020 Campaign



Microsoft revealed that they have recently seen “significant cyber activity” by a threat group that Microsoft is calling Phosphorus. Microsoft believes Phosphorus originates from Iran and is linked to the Iranian government.

In a 30-day period between August and September, the Microsoft Threat Intelligence Center (MSTIC) observed Phosphorus making more than 27,000 attempts to identify consumer email accounts belonging to specific Microsoft customers and then attack 241 of those accounts. The targeted accounts are associated with a U.S. presidential campaign, current and former U.S. government officials, journalists covering global politics, and prominent Iranians living outside of Iran.

Microsoft stated that four accounts were compromised as a result of these attempts. The four accounts were not associated with the U.S. presidential campaign or current and former U.S. government officials. Microsoft has notified the customers related to the investigations and threats and has worked as requested with those whose accounts were compromised to secure them.

Microsoft did not say what U.S. presidential campaign was targeted. There are a lot of people currently running a 2020 presidential campaign, so I think it would be incredibly difficult to figure out which one of them was affected by the attempts of Phosphorus.

I would assume that Microsoft would be the most reliable source regarding which presidential campaign may have been affected. Personally, I am very hesitant to trust news articles that reference anonymous “sources” about this sort of thing.

That said, it appears “sources” told Reuters and The New York Times that it was President Trump’s 2020 campaign that was affected. However, The New York Times also reported, that the Trump campaign’s communications director, Tim Murtaugh, said in a statement that “we have no indication that any of our campaign infrastructure was targeted.”


Microsoft Invests in and Partners with OpenAI



Microsoft has formed a multiyear partnership with OpenAI. Microsoft has invested $1 billion and will focus on building a platform that OpenAI will use to create new AI technologies.

Microsoft Corp., and OpenAI, two companies thinking deeply about the role of AI in the world and how to build secure, trustworthy and ethical AI to serve the public, have partnered to further extend Microsoft Azure’s capabilities in large-scale AI systems. Through this partnership, the companies will accelerate breakthroughs in AI and power OpenAI’s efforts to create artificial general intelligence (AGI). The resulting enhancements to the Azure platform will also help developers build the next generation of AI applications.

The partnership covers the following:

  • Microsoft and OpenAI will jointly build new Azure AI supercomputing technologies
  • OpenAI will port its services to run on Microsoft Azure, which it will use to create new AI technologies and deliver on the promise of artificial general intelligence
  • Microsoft will become OpenAI’s preferred partner for commercializing new AI technologies

The press release states that Microsoft and OpenAI will build a computational platform in Azure which will train and run increasingly advanced AI models, include hardware technologies that build on Microsoft’s supercomputing technology, and adhere to the two companies’ shared principals on ethics and trust. Their intent appears to be to create the foundation of advancements in AI to be implemented in a safe, secure and trustworthy way.

OpenAI states that they and Microsoft have a mission to ensure that artificial general intelligence (AGI) benefits all of humanity. This requires ensuring that AGI is deployed safely and securely; that society is well-prepared for its implications; and that its economic upside is shared.

I’m willing to believe that OpenAI and Microsoft are being honest in their motivations. My concern is that they may be unable to prevent the problem of having biased data unintentionally seeping into their AGI. I’m very curious to see precisely how the economic upside of their AGI is shared and who it is shared with.


Microsoft Introduces New Outlook on the Web



Microsoft has introduced a new Outlook on the web. In the past 8 months, Microsoft made improvements to the new Outlook based on submitted feedback and suggestions.

Email is the heart of Outlook and where people spend a significant part of their day. We have designed the new mail experience around you and the people that are important to you – You can personalize your experience, have a little fun, do things faster, and keep those people front and center with new updated features.

Features include:

Categories – Now easier to identify, right from your message list. Categories make it easy to tag, find, or organize your messages. Add multiple categories to a message, ad a category as a favorite, or use Search to find it.

Dark Mode – Personalize your inbox with dark mode for those time when your eyes are a little tired. You can “turn on the lights” when you want to read a specific email or when composing one.

Expressions – Microsoft now allows you to add emojis and GIFs to your messages from Outlook.

Favorites – You can favorite a contact, a group, or a category so you have easier access and can see the message count for each. Once you favorite them, they sync to Outlook mobile, too.

Time Management – Microsoft recently announced new features in Outlook to help you save time with intelligent technology. Meeting Insights gives you relevant information so you can quickly prepare for your meeting. Suggested Replies let you quickly pick from a few options and send an email. One suggested option is “schedule a meeting”, which helps you book meetings faster.

The new Outlook experience will start in late July. Your ability to see it appears to depend on whether or not your organization has blocked the opt-in toggle. The Outlook update is clearly designed for business needs.

Those who use email mostly to communicate with friends and family do not need it. Some of these new features for Outlook have already been introduced in Gmail and other services.


Microsoft Introduced Project Scarlett



Microsoft introduced Project Scarlett at the Xbox E3 2019 Briefing. It is for players who want a console designed, built, and optimized for gaming. Project Scarlett is arriving Holiday 2020.

Project Scarlett will set a new bar for console power, speed and performance, arriving Holiday 2020 alongside Halo Infinite. With a custom-designed AMD processor, high bandwidth GDDR6 memory, and a next generation solid state drive (SSD), Project Scarlett will give developers the power they need to bring their creative visions to life. Thousands of games across four console generations will look and play best on Project Scarlett.

A video about Project Scarlett provides some more details. There is mention of reduced load times, where the game stops and players have to wait around for the next part to load. Microsoft’s goal with gaming is to not have those pauses.

Project Scarlett has a custom designed processor that leverages the latest Zen 2 and Navi technology from their partners at AMD. It makes processing four times more powerful than the Xbox One X. It also leverages high bandwidth GDDR 6 to ensure the best performance possible.

In the video, there is mention of giving gamers the option to connect across devices and across platforms in a way that Xbox was never able to do before. Your games, your achievements, your progression, your accessories – your console experience with Xbox all comes forward with Scarlett.

It sounds like Project Scarlett and Google’s Stadia will compete against each other for the attention of gamers. Both are being released at roughly the same time, during the holiday season. Scarlett has the advantage of already having a dedicated player base who currently play on Xbox consoles.


Social Media Companies to Tackle Terrorist and Violent Extremist Content



Facebook, Microsoft, and Twitter have responded to the Christchurch Call to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online by committing to remove that content from their social media sites. As far as I can tell, this is the first time those three companies have decided to work together on removing that type of content.

In March of this year, a terrorist attack against two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, was livestreamed. The Christchurch Call was created by New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, and French President, Emmanuel Macron. Ars Technica reported that Australia, Canada, Germany, Japan and the United Kingdom have signed on.

The Christchurch Call is a commitment by Governments and tech companies to eliminate terrorist and violent extremist content online. It rests on the conviction that a free, open and secure internet offers extraordinary benefits to society. Respect for freedom of expression is fundamental. However, no one has the right to create and share terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Facebook, Twitter and Microsoft have all committed to the Christchurch Call. Each company posted nearly identical details about how they will enact policies to combat the spread of terrorist and violent extremist content online.

Each company will be: “identifying appropriate checks on livestreaming, aimed at reducing the risks of disseminating terrorist and violent extremist content online. These may include enhanced vetting measures (such as streamer ratings or scores, account activity, or validation processes) and moderation of certain livestreaming events where appropriate. Checks on livestreaming necessarily will be tailored to the context of specific livestreaming services, including the type of audience, the nature or character of the livestreaming service, and the likelihood of exploitation.”

The companies will also improve technology to detect and remove terrorist and violent extremist content. They will combat hate and bigotry by providing greater support for relevant research – with an emphasis on the impact of online hate on offline discrimination and violence – and supporting capacity and capability of NGOs working to challenge hate and promote pluralism and respect online.

Personally, I think this is a step in the right direction. It is abundantly clear that hateful content online influences some people to take that hate offline and to act in ways that cause harm to other people. Something must be done to prevent that.


Microsoft Revealed Hackers Accessed Email Accounts



Microsoft has confirmed to TechCrunch hat a certain “limited” number of people who use web email services managed by Microsoft (such as @msn.com and @hotmail.com) had their accounts compromised. The breach happened between January 1 and March 28, 2019.

According to an email Microsoft has sent out to affected users, malicious hackers were potentially able to access an affected user’s email address, folder names, the subject lines of emails, and the names of other email address the user communicates with. Microsoft says the hackers were not able to access the content of any emails or attachments or login credentials like passwords.

Microsoft recommends that affected users change their password. No enterprise customers are affected by this breach.

The Verge reported that Microsoft has started notifying some Outlook.com users that a hacker was able to access accounts for months earlier this year.

According to The Verge, the security breach happened weeks after a former security researcher pled guilty to hacking into Microsoft and Nintendo servers. Microsoft’s Windows development servers were breached for a number of weeks in January of 2017, allowing hackers across Europe to access pre-release versions of Windows.

The Verge has an image of the email that Microsoft sent to people who had their email accounts breached. TechCrunch has the full text of the letter in their article. If your email account was affected, then you likely have already received that email.

In general, it is a good idea to change your email passwords from time to time. Most people are tech-savvy enough to spot questionable emails and know that they should not click on any link those sketchy emails contain. That said, there will be people who cannot tell the difference and who get phished.

The best solution to prevent hacking would be for big companies like Microsoft to put more effort into preventing hackers from breaching people’s email accounts.