Cash From Cloud Bigger Than Expected

A Gartner report shows evidence that revenues from the public cloud look likely to grow by 18.5% this year, and could top $260 Billion.

Public Cloud

The ‘public cloud’ refers to the service whereby companies / individuals can access virtual machines (VMs), applications or storage over the Internet on a pay-per-usage or free basis.

Technical commentators have noted that the market for cloud services is growing much faster than most other IT markets today, with much of the growth coming at the expense of more traditional, non-cloud offerings.

Big Growth Areas – SaaS and IaaS

The Gartner report shows that the big revenue growth areas this year are Software as a Service (SaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

The greater than predicted rise in SaaS revenue for last year ($48.2 billion) is a key driver for the healthy forecast in public cloud revenue for this year, where software revenues are expected to reach $58.6 billion by the end of the year.
IaaS has also seen bigger than expected revenue growth, and Gartner predicts end of year revenues of $34.7 billion, which would be a massive 36.6% increase on last years’ end-of-year figures. Many technical commentators believe that IaaS is likely to be the fastest growing area of cloud computing over the next 5 years.

Amazon is the leader in the IaaS market with 44.2 % of the market, and has a much larger share than its closest rival Microsoft. Google has also gained momentum in the IaaS market with Azure.

PaaS Too

Even though Platform as a Service (PaaS) was one of the least profitable areas of the cloud last year, revenues for these services are forecast to rise significantly by 2020, and there are expectations of an increase to $20.8 billion this year (compared to $9 billion last year).

PaaS refers to the provision of a platform and environment that allows developers to build applications and services over the internet. The PaaS services are hosted in the cloud and can be accessed by their users via their web browser, thus providing ease and convenience to a hitherto more complicated and costly area of computing.

What Does This Mean For Your Businesses?

The general trend over the last year or so has been that the hybrid cloud has been the preferred enterprise strategy, while public cloud adoption has been growing, and private cloud adoption has flattened-out.

The growth in public cloud services, as shown by the Gartner report, is something that is happening worldwide, and it is being driven by digital business initiatives, data centre consolidations and application migrations to the cloud.

Now that businesses are less fearful of the early perceived risks of a move to the cloud e.g. security concerns, and are starting to realise the key benefits that cloud services offer (flexibility / adaptability, reduced costs – no need to purchase / upgrade in-house hardware or employ the expertise to manage it, security and reduced risk – including backup and recovery), it is not surprising to see big growth in its uptake by all kinds of businesses.

Staff Sue Morrisons Over Personal Data

5,518 former and current Morrisons employees are suing the company in the High Court over failing to protect their personal data after it was posted online by a rogue employee with a grudge.

What Happened?

Back in 2014, Andrew Skelton, who was an auditor at the head office of Morrisons in Bradford, leaked the personal details of almost 100,000 staff. Mr Skelton is believed to have deliberately stolen and leaked the data in a move to get back at the company after he was accused of dealing in legal highs at work.

Although Mr Skelton was jailed for jailed for eight years in 2015 over the incident, and Morrisons was awarded £170,000 compensation against Skelton, lawyers for the employees whose data was stolen and leaked are now arguing that they should also be compensated.

What Kind of Data?

The data, which was stolen, sent to national newspapers, and posted on data-sharing websites by Skelton included details about staff salaries, bank details and National Insurance numbers.

It is estimated that the data breach cost the company more than £2m to rectify back in 2015.

Upset and Distress

In the recent case in the High Court, Jonathan Barnes, Counsel for 5,518 former and current Morrisons employees argued that they were victims too, and should therefore also (like Morrisons) be compensated.

Mr Barnes argued that due to a failure by Morrisons to keep staff personal safe, upset and distress was caused to people whose personal data had been posted online without their consent (and knowledge at the time).

The basis of the case is, therefore, that Morrisons may be responsible for breaches of privacy, confidence and data protection laws, and may have exposed employees to the risk of identity theft and potential financial loss.

The action at the High Court will last two weeks and is essentially concerned with liability. No decision has yet been made.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

With so much focus on attacks from the outside by hackers and scammers, it’s easy to forget that attacks and data breaches / leaks can come from within. Businesses may not be aware that insider attacks top the list of threats to data and systems, and because (as in the case of Skelton) certain employees have legitimate access to sensitive and valuable company information, the risk is potentially huge. What makes this risk particularly hard to manage is the fact that trust needs to be placed in employees in order for them to do their job, although their motivations are hard to predict, anticipate or control. It is also likely that, as in the case of Morrisons, insiders can select the most sensitive of data, and inflict the worst kind of damage before the company even knows about it.

Businesses should, therefore, at least be aware of the threat, and try to restrict access to sensitive data to only those people who need access to it, to build in some monitoring and checking, and to build this kind of scenario into Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery Plans.

Drone Hits Passenger Aircraft

A remotely piloted drone struck a Skyjet turboprop passenger plane as it made its approach to land at Jean Lesage Airport in Quebec, Canada last Thursday.

What Happened?

The drone craft, which was being operated by a person as-yet unknown, was reported to have been flying at a height of about 450 metres / 1,500 feet and at an estimated 3,000 metres from the runway at the airport. As the Skyjet passenger aircraft came in to land, it was struck by the drone causing minor damage to the aircraft. Fortunately, the aircraft, which was carrying 8 passengers, was able to land safely.

Interim Rules In Place

Interim ‘Transport Canada’ regulations (to be approved next year), first introduced in March and amended in June, make it a violation for recreational drone to be flown within 5.5 kilometres from an airport, and 1.8 kilometres from a heliport without having special permission. Drone operators must also not fly their drones above 90 metres in height. Violation of the current regulations can warrant a $25,000 fine.

Accident Waiting To Happen

According to Canada’s Federal Transport Minister Marc Garneau’s office, 1,596 drone incidents were reported to Transport Canada in 2017, 131 of which were deemed aviation safety concerns.

This was, however, the first time that a drone had actually struck a passenger aircraft in Canada, and Mr Garneau is reported as saying that it could have been “catastrophic” if the drone had collided with the engine or cockpit.

Worldwide Problem

Drones flying too close to airports have now become a problem worldwide. Back in July, for example, a drone being flown dangerously close to Gatwick airport in the UK meant that four Easyjet and one British Airways flights had to be diverted.

Drone Photographer Punished

In another incident in Essex back in August, a 28-year-old man from Kirby Cross was apprehended by police, after flying his drone too close to a railway station. The man was reportedly trying to use the drone to get photos of a Tornado steam engine, and was reported for a breach of his Air Navigation Order. According to the Police, the man had flown the drone within 50 metres of other people and property out of their control. Legally, a drone should not be flown within 150m of crowds or built-up areas.

The man was punished by way of an agreement contract with Essex Police, and was given a community resolution.

New Rules in the UK

In the UK, new government rules mean that drones weighing 250 grams and above now need to be registered online. Owners of these drones will also have to take safety awareness tests to determine their knowledge of UK safety, security, and privacy regulations. The government hopes that these new rules will help to develop accountability among drone owners and encourage them to act responsibly.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

Drones are part of a new industry where the technology and products have been developing before the law has had an opportunity to catch up. Drones clearly have many productive, value-adding, and innovative business uses, and they have been tested and tipped for wider use in the future by brands such as Amazon for parcel deliveries. A move towards autonomous vehicles and new transport technologies means that drones currently have a bright future when used responsibly and professionally. The fact that drones are widely and easily available (with minimal restrictions) to individuals as well as companies, as shown by the many aircraft near misses, indicates that most people would welcome the introduction of regulations that contribute to public safety. It is important, however, that any new rules take account of the rights of the majority of responsible drone users, and don’t restrict the commercial potential of drones.

Alexa Now Recognises Multiple Voices

Amazon’s Alexa AI digital assistant is now able to tell the difference between the voices of different users in the same household, thus enabling the Amazon Echo to handle multiple-user profiles in a convenient way.

Following Google

This latest development from Amazon follows Google Home’s rollout of multi-user support in the UK back in June. Google Home can, therefore, already deal with 6 different user accounts and voices in a single unit. Each individual user-account responds to each individual user’s voice, and delivers tailored calendars, playlists and preferences to whichever user is speaking to that unit.

Don’t Need The App

Although Alexa could already handle multiple user accounts before, it required the use of an app and a confirmation code to do so. Now that everything can be operated by Alexa being able to successfully recognise multiple voices and deliver tailored services accordingly, it puts the Amazon Echo back in competition (in terms of features) with Google Home.

Compatible

It has been reported that the new feature is compatible with Flash Briefings, shopping, Amazon Music’s family plan and Alexa to Alexa calling.

Teaching Alexa

Just as with Google Home, the AI element of Amazon’s Alexa needs to be taught the difference between the voices of its different users in order to operate successfully for multiple users based on voice alone. This involves each user selecting “Your Voice” in the mobile app, and repeating a series of demo commands to Alexa.

Teens Use, Parents Pay

The Alex multi-voice recognition announcement follows hot on the heels of Amazon’s announcement that an expansion of its Household subscription means that 13-17 year-olds can shop on its site through the app, and using their parents’ payment methods (provided that their parents have set a spending limit or approved each purchase). There is speculation among technical commentators that this is an area where Alexa (and its multi-voice recognition) may be employed in the near future.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is another example of the fierce competition that is currently taking place in the new and rapidly evolving ‘Voice First’ market, which is currently being led by Google, but there is some competition from Microsoft with Cortana and now Amazon. Both Microsoft and Amazon, for example, managed to miss the smart-phone revolution but are concentrating efforts now on becoming serious competitors in ‘Voice First’ revolution.

This story is also an example of how technologies are being merged / combined, copied, collaborated on (Microsoft and Amazon), to enhance / augment, add value to, and better monetize existing services e.g. Skype incorporating Cortana, and the possible addition of Alexa to other Amazon services.

The widespread use of mobile devices and apps, the introduction of (and heavy investment in) AI and robotics into many aspects of products and services by market-leading companies now means that businesses have extra threats and opportunities. As workers, automation led by AI is also likely to alter the nature of jobs, and may mean that more people will need to seek more education / lifelong learning, and be more accepting of the need for change and frequent adaptation in their working lives.

Cortana Integrated With Skype

Microsoft has added its talking digital assistant ‘Cortana’ to Skype to provide ‘contextual assistance’, which could help Skype users in their online chats.

What Kind of Assistance?

The idea is that the digital assistant can use its AI to pick up on what is being said in a Skype chat and then help to provide relevant information on that subject. This could be anything from (depending on the content of the chat) relevant restaurant option suggestions, movie reviews, and suggestions of smart replies and responses. According to Microsoft, Cortana will enable users to respond to messages in Skype without needing to type.

Your Digital Secretary

The addition of Cortana to Skype means that it will also be able to pick up on conversations about scheduling events, and will then be able to set up a reminder that can be sent to all of your devices. This will see Cortana acting like a kind of virtual secretary, able to ‘listen’ to and take note of all of your plans. This could have obvious benefits in making sure you don’t miss important appointments / events, and that you are able to improve business planning and organisation.

Cortana As Your Contact

The Cortana / Skype bundle will also mean that the digital assistant can be added as a contact in Skype. This means that you will be able to chat with it as you would other contacts, and use it to answer questions, suggest restaurants, check flights, give the weather outlook, and other information.

Setting It Up

Users will be able to easily set up Cortana in Skype on mobile devices by tapping Cortana on their chat screen, and by agreeing to allow Cortana to use the user’s location and IM conversations in Skype.

The Rollout

According to the Microsoft blog, Cortana in Skype will be ‘gradually’ rolled out, starting from 9th October, to Microsoft’s Android and iOS customers in the United States first.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This alliance of Cortana with Skype is another important competitive step in the battle for leadership in the voice-controlled / ‘Voice First’ market and will help Microsoft to achieve its aim of making Cortana available for its customers everywhere and across any device.

In September, Microsoft also announced that it was working in partnership with Amazon in a bid to put a lot of pressure on competitors, gain distribution and overlap, and to enable their respective AI digital assistants to work together in a move to create an open way to communicate and interconnect with AI platforms.

As consumers, figures show that over a one-third of us (in the US and the UK) use digital assistants weekly (the equivalent to Netflix’s adoption level). This is a trend that is set to continue. For example, Ovum forecasts the native digital assistant installed base to grow from 3.6 billion (from last year) to 7.5 billion active devices by 2021. As long as digital assistants are able to add and provide real value, and tangible benefits, more people will be willing to try them, and to integrate them willingly into their business operations e.g. Skype calls. The market is still in the early stages though, and with Google currently predicted to dominate, we are likely to see many more announcements for many more applications and integrations of digital assistants into devices and platforms in the near future.

Major Wi-Fi Security Risk

Researches have uncovered a major flaw in Wi-Fi connections dubbed as Krack, which could be putting homes and businesses at risk from hackers.

The Flaw

Researchers from Belgian university, KU Leuven, discovered that there is a critical flaw in the authentication system used by secure wireless connections.

All protected Wi-Fi networks use an old, four-way handshake (dialogue) system in order to generate a fresh session. With the handshake, the two devices agree a (session) key to use to keep a secure data connection between them.

According to the researchers, the system of random number generation used in authentication can actually be re-used, thereby allowing someone to enter a network and potentially spy on the data being sent in it.

Exploited

Hackers can exploit the ‘Krack’ vulnerability by tricking victims with a replayed, modified version of the original handshake, thereby making victims reinstall their live session key. This allows the set-up values to be reset which can thereby weaken encryption.

The researchers have found that the flaw means that attackers can potentially hijack a connection, decrypt and inject data, and even forge their own connection.

What / Who Is Affected?

The flaw is in the actual Wi-Fi protected access II (WPA2) security protocol i.e. in the standard itself. This means that there may be millions of routers in customers’ homes and businesses that are vulnerable to attack. Service providers and their customers, therefore, face significant risks because of the flaw.

What About Patching?

The flaw, which has prompted a warning by the US Computer Emergency Readiness Team (Cert), can reportedly be fixed using software patches. Industry body the Wi-Fi Alliance is reported to be working with service providers to help develop a patch, and Google has said that it will be patching any affected devices over the next few weeks.

What Does This Mean For Your Business?

This is reminiscent of the problem encountered back in June, when, after an investigative study by Which?, Virgin Media made the news when its (Netgear) Super Hub 2 and Super Hub 2 AC home routers were found to all have exactly the same private encryption key, thus making them more vulnerable to hacks. This prompted the need for a security patch to be rolled out in order to protect large numbers of customers.

The latest flaw in Wi-Fi connections discovered by the Belgian researchers is another example of how, despite taking their own Internet and data security measures, businesses (and home users) can suddenly find themselves unwittingly being vulnerable to attack because of the equipment and software supplied by service providers who they have to trust. Once again, it is outside security researchers who have discovered the flaw.

Thankfully, patching is generally a fast and effective way to shut down vulnerabilities. Keeping up with patching itself is an important part of any company’s ongoing security processes, and the Fortinet Global Threat Landscape Report (back in August) highlighted the fact that 9 out of 10 businesses are hacked through un-patched vulnerabilities, and that many of these vulnerabilities are 3 or more years old, and have patches already available for them.

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