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Archived News & Events 2017


Windows 10 Gmail users: These new Mail & Calendar features are coming your way!  Microsoft has started trialing an improved experience in Windows 10 Mail & Calendar apps for users with Gmail accounts.

Over the next few weeks, Mail and Calendar users in the Windows Insiders program will be prompted to update Gmail account settings when the new features are ready to go.

Image: Microsoft

Gmail users can expect to see a range of new features in the Windows 10 Mail and Calendar apps that were previously only available to Outlook and Office 365 users.

Microsoft has started to give some Windows Insiders the option to sync Google email, calendar, and contacts to the Microsoft Cloud, which will enable improvements that are currently exclusive to users with a Microsoft Outlook.com or Office 365 email address.

After syncing the account, Gmail users in Windows 10 Mail and Calendar will begin to see Microsoft's Focused Inbox smart filter, the ability to track travel dates and shipping deliveries, Twitter-style @mentions to grab someone's attention in an email, and themed calendars to keep track of sporting events.

"We're now excited to bring these features to our users with Gmail accounts, so you can enjoy the best of what Windows 10 Mail & Calendar have to offer," said Vivek Kumar, a product marketing manager for Windows 10 Mail & Calendar apps.

The new capabilities are only available within the Mail and Calendar apps and won't affect how users experience Gmail.com or other apps from Google on the web.

These features debuted in Mail and Calendar for Microsoft account holders in February and will eventually come to all Windows 10 users with Google accounts after initial testing with some Windows Insiders.

Microsoft said at the time it intended to roll out the new features to non-Microsoft accounts in the near future, so presumably after early testing with Insiders and fine-tuning, it will be available generally.

Over the next few weeks Mail and Calendar users in the Windows Insiders program will be prompted to update Gmail account settings when the new features are ready to go.

"To power these new features, we'll ask your permission to sync a copy of your email, calendar, and contacts to the Microsoft Cloud," said Kumar.

"This will allow new features to light up, and changes to update back and forth with Gmail, such as creation, edit or deletion of emails, calendar events and contacts. But your experience in Gmail.com or apps from Google will not change in any way."


Ransomware is now so awful it's actually making us take security seriously

'I've got nothing worth stealing' is no longer a good answer.

"They were looking purely to hold us to ransom and get as much money as they could."

Ransomware is a particularly nasty species of online crime. Unwisely clicking on one attachment can see all your documents, your family photos, or your company accounts encrypted by a crook who will then demand a hefty ransom to let you regain access.

It's rapidly become one of the most common threats on the internet as criminals have exploited this easy and low-risk way of making significant amounts of money.

But the rise of ransomware may have one unexpected positive side-effect. Companies are now worried enough about being hit by it that they are improving their broader cyber security as a result.

Until now, most companies that don't have a big online presence have tended to give cyber security a low priority, largely because they don't think they have much worth stealing.

But while a customer database or a set of invoices might have no resale value to a hacker if stolen, that data is of very real value to the company that needs access to it in order to stay in business. This means that ransomware can be a threat to nearly any business with electronic systems.

According to research by the UK government, this realisation has encouraged companies to raise their game.

The Cyber Security Breaches Survey 2017 report, published today, notes: "The prevalence of ransomware in particular has heightened awareness and made cyber security a more urgent issue for a wider range of businesses...businesses in sectors that may not expect to be targeted are falling victim to costly ransomware attacks."

"Such attacks also highlight the inherent value of the data that businesses hold, beyond personal or financial data -- with attacks on any kind of data potentially stopping businesses from carrying out day-to-day work and putting relationships with customers at risk."

The survey quoted one executive who said that the rise of ransomware had made it easier to show senior managers the scale of the threat if multiple devices could be incapacitated, "and to move business attitudes away from the stereotype of bedroom hackers, to focus more on criminal activity".

One IT manager at a civil engineering business said it would use the two ransomware attacks the company had faced to encourage the business to invest in new security software. Another company in construction said a disruptive ransomware attack caused its technology team to lose around two weeks of productivity and output.

The report said: "The ransomware attack opened their eyes to the fact that their business was not immune from cyber attacks."

Not everyone has got the message, of course, and the report does include the cautionary tale of two senior managers in "one large civil engineering firm" who thought they knew better than the IT department, which had warned staff not to map network drives to their local laptops to limit the potential impact of any malware.

"One department head and another senior manager had ignored this advice and had later inadvertently downloaded a ransomware virus to a local laptop with the mapped network drive. The attack was not aimed at getting any particular data, but was just done to extract money from the business. The mapping allowed the virus to spread across the whole server, rather than just being isolated to the single device."

The report quoted the company as saying of the crooks: "They were looking purely to hold us to ransom and get as much money as they could."

In this case the backup files were only restored after around one working week and the laptop had to be wiped and rebuilt from scratch. "Although no data was permanently lost, there was a loss in productivity, and this alerted the organisation's senior management to the need to have better systems in place, restricting direct access to network drives for staff who do not strictly need access," the report noted.

Other cyber threats

Still, for all its impact, ransomware is not the most common cyber threat faced by business. According to the survey, the most common types of breaches are related to staff receiving fraudulent emails (72%), followed by viruses, spyware and malware (33%) people impersonating the organisation in emails or online (27%) and ransomware (17%).

Just under half of UK businesses suffered one security breach in the last year, the report said, and four in ten of those said this lead to an outcome such as a temporary loss of files or network access (23%) or systems becoming corrupted (20%). Six in ten of those who identified breaches also said it adversely impacted their organisation, for example through being forced to implement new protective measures (38%) or having staff time taken up dealing with the breach (34%).

Among the 46 percent of businesses that detected breaches in the last 12 months, the survey finds that the average business faces costs of £1,570 as a result of these breaches, rising to £19,600 for the average large firm.


NSA's arsenal of Windows hacking tools have leaked

The NSA used the Windows hacking tools to target several banks.

According to several documents, the NSA used the Windows hacking tools to target several banks, including the SWIFT banking system.

The dump of Windows exploits -- arguably affecting the most people and organizations and likely to cause the most damage and embarrassment to the intelligence agency -- has been expected since the hacking group first emerged on the scene last year.

In case you missed it, hacking tools that were confirmed to belong to the NSA's so-called Equation Group were stolen last year in one of the biggest breaches of classified files since the Edward Snowden revelations. These tools, allowed NSA analysts to break into a range of systems, network equipment, and firewalls, and most recently tools to target the Linux operating system -- many of which were old and outdated. The group attempted to auction off the files but failed, and have been releasing portions of the stolen files in stages.

Researchers are currently poring over the cache of files.

Several of the files we've seen appear to be "top secret" in classification, such as JeepfleaMarket, which appears to utilize the Jeepflea program to collect data on servers at least nine international banks.

The document purports to show the infrastructure behind the system, along with another document, which shows that the NSA has deep access to some networks by exploiting VPN and firewall systems.

(Image: supplied, via Kevin Beaumont)

It appears that most of the exploits target older Windows versions, dating back as early as Windows XP and Windows Server 2003.

Among the more interesting exploits found in the cache include ExplodingCan, which exploits older versions of Windows' web server Internet Information Services with a remote backdoor. Security researcher Kevin Beaumont, who examined the exploit, said in a tweet that the tool was "very well" built.

Another exploit, dubbed EmeraldThread, is a remote Windows SMB exploit for Windows XP and 2003.

And while little is known about the so-called OddJob implant, it appears to have exploits for almost every version of Windows 2000 and later, including some server editions, some of which may still work.

Other tools point to several other remote exploits in every version of Windows, according to Hacker Fantastic, a security researcher who has been analyzing the files. (The researcher followed up in a tweet noting that not current all patches were applied at the time.)

The researcher was able to run many of the exploits found in the cache, according to a tweet.

It's not known how many of the exploits, if any, are unknown to the manufacturer. These so-called zero-day vulnerabilities are closely guarded secrets to allow analysts to carry out surveillance.

But Beaumont said that some of the tools he examined "may be" previously undisclosed, but they have yet "to be confirmed."

A Microsoft spokesperson said in a statement late Friday that it has "confirmed that the exploits disclosed by the Shadow Brokers have already been addressed by previous updates to our supported products," and gave a more detailed breakdown in a blog post.

A spokesperson for the NSA did not return a call Friday.

This post has been updated several times over the past few days, and some information relating to Windows 8 was removed after claims were proven incorrect.

US government subcontractor leaks confidential military personnel data


11 reasons why Samsung's Galaxy S8 is better than Apple's iPhone 7 for business

Next week the S8 and S8 Plus arrive into the hands of buyers.

Reports from Samsung indicate it has already pre-sold more than 728,000 units with a target of 1 million prior to the April 21 launch date.

I previously posted eight reasons the Galaxy S8 is good for business. As a supplement to that list, here are 10 reasons to consider the Samsung Galaxy S8 Plus instead of the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, which was selected in the second spot of my 10 best smartphones.

1. Display: The Galaxy S8 Plus has a 6.2-inch display with no side bezels and small top and bottom bezels. It is also narrower than the Apple iPhone 7 Plus, which has a 5.5-inch display. Independent testing also shows the Galaxy S8 has the highest rated display of all smartphones.

2. Fast charging and wireless charging: Actual battery life testing remains to be conducted for the Galaxy S8. However, if you do need to top off, it only takes a few minutes via USB Type-C or a wireless dock. It's a bit frustrating to charge up an iPhone 7 Plus, which explains why there is such a large market for slap on battery packs.

3. microSD expansion: The iPhone 7 Plus has three memory configurations available, with the largest capacity 256GB being more than enough for most people. The Galaxy S8 Plus offers 64GB internal memory with a microSD storage card slot so you can pop inexpensive storage cards in and out as you please.

4. Gorilla Glass 5: Apple has glass on the front and metal on the back while the Galaxy S8 has glass on the front and back. However, this glass is Gorilla Glass 5 that is designed for increased drop protection over previous glass panels, surviving 1.6 meter, shoulder height drops.

5. Multiple security options: With the Galaxy S8, you can set it up to unlock via facial recognition, iris scanning, fingerprint, pattern, PIN, or a password. The iPhone 7 Plus has a fast fingerprint scanner with options for a password or PIN, but Samsung's iris scanner may be a more convenient and secure option.

6. Samsung DeX: People use their smartphones for everything today and with Samsung DeX, users now have the option to leave the laptop behind, by connecting their smartphone to a monitor and using it in place of a desktop computer. I'll be testing this exact capability on two upcoming business trips. Apple has no ability to extend the iPhone to an external display.

7. Virtual reality: Samsung continues to improve its virtual reality experience with a handheld controller now included with the Gear VR. While VR can be used for games or media viewing, there are also enterprise reasons for VR. These include presenting virtual walkthroughs of engineering designs, medical procedure reviews, and interactive presentations.

8. Bixby: There is a ton of potential in Samsung Bixby as it looks to improve the efficiency and productivity of the user. Unfortunately, Bixby's voice assistant won't be ready at launch so we will only get a glimpse of the Bixby service with a home screen panel similar to Google Now. With a dedicated button on the Galaxy S8, Samsung is committed to making Bixby all it promises to be and I look forward to making regular tasks more convenient and intuitive.

9. Bluetooth 5.0: You may not have seen or heard that the Galaxy S8 and S8 Plus will be the first phones to launch with Bluetooth 5.0 support. Bluetooth 5.0 improves connectivity performance, extends the range of Bluetooth, and allows you to connect two Bluetooth headphones to one Galaxy S8 at the same time.

10. Samsung Pay: Apple Pay is popular, but nothing beats Samsung Pay when it comes to the number of retail locations that are supported. The technology allows you to replace your credit or debit card. I made a couple of purchases with my Gear S3 smartwatch using Samsung Pay at a location that stated it did not accept wireless payments. More banks are added regularly and Samsung also offers a ton of promotions to encourage Samsung Pay use.

11. Headphone jack: While Apple thinks it was courageous to take away the headphone jack, most people still use headphones with a standard 3.5mm connector. With Samsung's purchase of Harman last year, buyers receive a nice pair of wired headphones in the box. While I appreciate and use Bluetooth headphones quite often, a 3.5mm headphone jack is convenient and economical while not having to worry about charging up another device.

It's clear that Samsung continues to push smartphone technology forward and Apple is looking a bit dated with the iPhone 7. However, Apple still offers a compelling experience as well and not all of Samsung's ideas and technologies are vital to the daily usage needs of all users.


Choosing sides in the smartphone battle for the desktop

After Continuum and DeX, there's a good chance that a full desktop environment will soon lurk inside your next smartphone. In the latest showdown between Android and Windows, Microsoft must establish a broader smartphone footprint before Android apps adapt.

When Microsoft announced its partnership with Qualcomm that would allow ARM-based Windows to run x86 apps, it likely had more on its mind than thinner, lighter, and cheaper laptops. For years, the company had fought back the threat of a tablet market that stood to cannibalize laptops by embracing touch interfaces with Windows 8 and refining them with Windows 10. But it sought to get further in front of the threat that smartphones could provide by turning Windows Phone into a vessel for a desktop experience with Continuum for phones.

When connected to a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, Continuum makes a phone act like a PC on the surface. There's just one main problem: It can't run legacy Windows apps. In this regard, Continuum repeats the mistakes of Windows RT, Microsoft's ARM-based offshoot of Windows 8, which was a huge flop for Microsoft and its partners. But a Qualcomm-based phone running the new version of Windows would be able to run those apps and create a relatively complete PC experience.

Microsoft, of course, isn't the only company that has considered using a phone as a Trojan horse for a desktop experience. Some of these, like Motorola's Atrix 4G of 2011, which used Linux for its desktop mode, were tied to specific hardware. More recently, there's been a rash of Android apps that can host their own desktop experience. These include Remix Singularity from Jide, a company that has previously focused on making the Android experience more like Windows, Sentio (formerly Andronium), which markets its own companion laptop shell, Leena, and Auxens Oxi.

Of course, the biggest player to enter the Android desktop experience has been Samsung, which introduced its DeX experience with the S8. DeX, for which Samsung has developed a companion dock, has gone the extra mile in working with vendors. Microsoft and Adobe have modified their Android apps to support Windows-like user interface features such as fully resizable windows. In contrast, many Android apps in other environments can only toggle between two window sizes based on their tablet and phone resolutions.

That illustrates one of the weaknesses of Android on the desktop, which Google may be addressing via Android apps in Chrome or a new OS that merges the two or simply ignores. The challenge of trying to master the transition between mobile and desktop proved too much for Ubuntu, which recently threw in the towel on its mobile efforts.

That brings us back to Microsoft. Continuum plus broad Android support plus Windows on Snapdragon all seem to add up to a version of Windows Continuum that could be embedded inside of Android, launching forth onto the desktop from the guts of an Android phone like a chestburster from the movie Alien. Already Samsung has teamed up with virtualization companies such as Citrix and VMWare to allow access to hosted Windows desktops within DeX. The question is whether Microsoft could offer a local Windows experience the confines of Google's developer terms and how it might try to work around that if it could not.