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Did Kaspersky Hack NSA Staff

November 22, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Kaspersky has denied it played a role in hacking into the personal computer of a US National Security Agency (NSA) worker.

Kaspersky Lab has published a report detailing an internal investigation it launched examining allegations that its software was used to compromise an NSA employee’s home computer.

In early October, a report published in the Wall Street Journal claimed that the firm’s software was used to download confidential data from an American agent’s home computer.

However, later reports circulated accusing the firm of deliberately taking files from the PC. Following the incident, Kaspersky conducted a full investigation to gain additional evidence of the incident and explore how it happened.

Researchers at the company confirmed that Russian cybercrooks installed software on an NSA contractor’s computer to access and steal sensitive data.

The user, according to the company, was able to download and install pirated software on the machine. The researchers identified a compromised Microsoft Office ISO file, as well as an illegal Microsoft Office 2013 activation tool.

They were able to install the pirate copy of Office 2013 after disabling the Kaspersky security product. If the latter had been left on the PC, it would have identified the illegal activator tool.

This illegal tool was infected with malware, and this was left on the PC while the Kaspersky software was inactive. The malware meant other third-parties could access the user’s machine, causing major security concerns.

However, when the company’s antivirus software was re-enabled, it detected the software with the verdict Backdoor.Win32.Mokes.hvl and stopped it from contacting a dodgy command and control software.

This backdoor approach was first identified in October 2014, but it’s still being used by cybercriminals looking to steal important data. Kaspersky researchers said the antivirus software detected other variants of the Equation APT malware too.

Various variants of the malware, including a 7zip archive, was sent to the Kaspersky Virus Lab for analysis. Researchers found that it contained a number of source codes and classified documents.

At the request of the firm’s CEO, these files were removed from its servers.

“The reason Kaspersky Lab deleted those files and will delete similar ones in the future is two-fold: first, it needs only malware binaries to improve protection and, secondly, it has concerns regarding the handling of potentially classified material,” the firm wrote.   

“Because of this incident, a new policy was created for all malware analysts: they are now required to delete any potentially classified material that has been accidentally collected during anti-malware research.”

“To further support the objectivity of the internal investigation we ran it using multiple analysts including those of non-Russian origin and working outside of Russia to avoid even potential accusations of influence.”

Speaking about other findings, the firm said: “One of the major early discoveries of the investigation was that the PC in question was infected with the Mokes backdoor – a malware allowing malicious users remote access to a computer.

“As part of the investigation, Kaspersky Lab researchers took a deeper look at this backdoor and other non-Equation threat-related telemetry sent from the computer.

Courtesy-TheInq

Apple Mac Sales Slump

November 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Apple announced last week that it had sold a record number of Macs for a September quarter.

“The Mac…had its best year ever, with the highest annual Mac revenue in Apple’s history,” said CEO Tim Cook in prepared remarks during a Nov. 2 call with Wall Street analysts. Apple recorded revenue of $25.8 billion from Mac sales in its fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30.

Mac unit sales of nearly 5.4 million bested both industry and financial analysts’ expectations. Before Apple released its data, research firm IDC had pegged Apple’s number at 4.9 million, while rival Gartner offered an even lower estimate: 4.6 million. And according to Philip Elmer-DeWitt, who regularly polls Wall Street for quarterly forecasts, every analyst from a group of more than two dozen undershot Mac sales, some by over half a million machines.

Unit sales were up 10.2% over the same quarter in 2016, and the Mac’s ASP, or “average selling price,” jumped to $1,331, a year-over-year rise of $156, for an increase of 13.3%.

According to IDC, the 5.4 million Macs represented almost exactly 8% of the 67.2 million personal computers shipped worldwide in the September quarter.

Apple executives explained the bonanza in different ways when they spoke with financial experts last week.

“This performance was fueled primarily by great demand for MacBook Pro,” said Luca Maestri, Apple’s CFO. “[And] we are also seeing great traction for Mac in the enterprise market, with all-time record customer purchases in fiscal year 2017.”

“Mac revenue growth…was driven by notebook refreshes we launched in June and a strong back-to-school season,” asserted Cook.

When asked why the Mac beat outsiders’ sales predictions, IDC Research Director Linn Huang concurred with Cook that back-to-school sales had been strong. But he had another idea. “To understand 2017, you have to go back to 2016, which was a very poor year for Apple,” said Huang. “It ended a very long stretch where Apple consistently beat the [PC] market.”

HP Set To Offer New Cloud Service Called OneSphere

November 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

HPE is planning to announce a new product called OneSphere that could help companies track when employees use public clouds like Amazon Web Services.

HPE filed a trademark application late last month for OneSphere. The description of the product included with the application is wide ranging but has several references to hardware, and implies that OneSphere will help customers track and reduce the amount of money they’re spending on clouds like AWS.

The trademark application said that  OneSphere could move applications across computing environments – from AWS to a corporate data centre, for example.

The exploration of those areas is a rather a good idea but somewhat strange given that HPE chose to wind down its public cloud, which competed with the likes of AWS and Microsoft Azure in early 2016.

HPE is preparing to unveil OneSphere later this month.

HPE does use the term “cloud management” to market some of its software products. So the company isn’t looking to go in an entirely new direction. But HPE appears to be readying something that involves hardware, while most competing products for public cloud management have been software-only. Much of HPE’s revenue comes from hardware.

Since splitting off from HP,  HPE has offloaded a few of its previous properties, including its enterprise services business and non-core software holdings. Meanwhile, Microsoft has acquired a cloud cost management start-up called Adallom and incorporated the technology into Azure.

Courtesy-Fud

Linux Appears To Be The King In The Supercomputing Space

November 21, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Looking at the November 2017 TOP500 Supercomputer list one thing is particularly clear – the open saucy Linux is king.

In 1998, Linux first appeared on the TOP500 Supercomputer list and it was regarded as unusual – indeed many just said it was because it was really Unix in drag. But the November list showed that all 500 of the world’s fastest supercomputers are running Linux.

There had only been two non-Linux systems left on the list but the pair of Chinese IBM POWER computers running AIX were too slow to rate a mention any more.

Before Linux took the lead, Unix was everywhere but slowly, since 2003, the Linux was the TOP500 main OS of choice. By 2004, Linux had taken the lead for good.

The reason Linux did well in this arena and not the desktop is that most of the world’s top supercomputers are research machines built for specialised tasks, each machine is a standalone project with unique characteristics and optimisation requirements.

Linux means that research teams can easily modify and optimize open-source code to their one-off designs.

Courtesy-Fud

Apple Delays Launch of HomePod Smart Speaker

November 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Consumer Electronics

Apple Inc has delayed the launch of its HomePod smart speaker, pushing it to early next year from December, the company said, missing the holiday shopping season as the market for such devices becomes increasingly competitive.

“We can’t wait for people to experience HomePod … but we need a little more time before it’s ready for our customers. We’ll start shipping in the U.S., UK and Australia in early 2018,” an Apple spokeswoman said via email.

 Apple introduced the voice-controlled HomePod in June. The speaker, which can make music suggestions and adjust home temperatures, takes aim at Amazon.com Inc’s Alexa feature and Echo devices.

Apple has forecast between $84 billion and $87 billion in revenue for the holiday – mostly driven by sales of its $999 iPhone X – so it’s unlikely that missing a few weeks of sales of its $349 speaker will affect its financial results, Bob O‘Donnell, founder of Technalysis Research, said.

People use voice assistants more often on smart speakers than on phones, so even if owners of Amazon or Google speakers also have an iPhone, there’s a good chance that they’re talking to Alexa or Google Assistant as much or more than Siri.

“Last holiday season, smart speakers were huge, and this season they’re going to be huge,” O‘Donnell said. With Apple’s delay, “there will now be some people who make a different choice. The market’s getting more and more competitive.”

Apple is also counting on HomePod to boost subscriptions to Apple Music and block the rise of rival Spotify. Smart speakers from Google and Amazon let users give voice commands to play Spotify, but Apple Music does not work on the rival devices.

Apple’s main pitch for its HomePod smart speakers was superior audio quality, but that advantage appears to be slipping: Sonos, which also pitches its speakers’ audio quality for music lovers, now features support for the Alexa voice assistant.

Earlier this year, Amazon announced the Echo Plus, a smart speaker with better audio quality, and Google confirmed to Reuters that its Home Max speaker with improved speakers will ship in December, though it has not given a specific date.

 But Apple could still have a surprise or two in store. The company gave scant details about its speaker in June, leaving it room to announce exclusive music content or other unexpected features, said Brian Blau, an analyst with Gartner.

“When HomePod comes out, you’ll probably hear some great content from artists that are familiar and popular, and there’s probably going to be some other special aspects as well,” he said.

The ITC To Investigate Apple

November 20, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

The United States International Trade Commission today announced that it has launched an investigation into allegations that Apple infringed on patents owned by Aqua Connect.

Aqua Connect and its subsidiary Strategic Technology partners filed complaints against Apple with the United States International Trade Commission and the District Court for the Central District of California accusing Macs, iOS devices, and Apple TVs of infringing on two of its patents.

The two patents in question include U.S. Patent RE46,386, “Updating a User Session in a Mach-derived Computer System Environment” and U.S. Patent 8,924,502, “System, Method and Computer Program Product for Updating a User Session in a Mach-derived System Environment.”

According to Aqua Connect, the patents relate to screen sharing, remote desktop, and terminal server technology. Aqua Connect says that it built the first remote desktop solution for the Mac in 2008, which Apple later built into its iOS and macOS products in the form of AirPlay and other functionality without permission.

Ronnie Exley, CEO of Aqua Connect said his outfit invented and built the first fully functional remote desktop and terminal server solution for Mac in 2008.

“Initially, the product had Apple’s full support. But years later, Apple built our technology into its macOS and iOS operating systems without our permission. These lawsuits seek to stop Apple from continuing to use our technology in their macOS and iOS operating systems.”

Aqua Connect’s complaint with the International Trade Commission asks for an exclusion order and a cease and desist order that would bar Apple from importing its products into the United States.

The ITC says it will be investigating “certain Apple Mac computers, iPhones, iPads, iPods, and Apple TVs.”

Courtesy-Fud

OnePlus Phones Have Dangerous Hacking Backdoor

November 17, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Hackers who obtained OnePlus phones can obtain virtually unlimited access to files and software through use of a testing tool called EngineerMode that the company evidently left on the devices.

Robert Baptiste, a freelance security researcher who goes by the name Elliot Alderson on Twitter after the “Mr. Robot” TV show character, found the tool on a OnePlus phone and tweeted his findings Monday. Researchers at security firm SecureNow helped figure out the tool’s password, a step that means hackers can get unrestricted privileges on the phone as long as they have the device in their possession.

The EngineeerMode software functions as a backdoor, granting access to someone other than an authorized user. Escalating those privileges to full do-anything “root” access required a few lines of code, Baptiste said.

“It’s quite severe,” Baptiste said via a Twitter direct message.

OnePlus disagreed, though it said it’s decided to modify EngineerTool.

“EngineerMode is a diagnostic tool mainly used for factory production line functionality testing and after sales support,” the company said in a statement. Root access “is only accessible if USB debugging, which is off by default, is turned on, and any sort of root access would still require physical access to your device. While we don’t see this as a major security issue, we understand that users may still have concerns and therefore we will remove the adb [Android Debug Bridge command-line tool] root function from EngineerMode in an upcoming OTA.”

SecureNow found the tool on the OnePlus 3 and OnePlus 5. Android Police reported it’s also on the OnePlus 3T. And Baptiste said it’s also on the new OnePlus 5T.

Baptiste had spotted evidence that EngineerMode was written by mobile chipmaker Qualcomm. But Qualcomm said Wednesday that’s not the case.

“After an in-depth investigation, we have determined that the EngineerMode app in question was not authored by Qualcomm,” the company said in a statement. “Although remnants of some Qualcomm source code is evident, we believe that others built upon a past, similarly named Qualcomm testing app that was limited to displaying device information. EngineerMode no longer resembles the original code we provided.”

Apple’s Latest iOS Update Increases Wireless Charging Rate

November 16, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Apple’s latest iOS update has enhanced wireless charging on the iPhone 8iPhone 8 Plus and iPhone X making it 50 percent faster.

Currently, the three iPhones wirelessly charge at a rate of 5 watts, but the iOS 11.2 update allows them to charge at a rate of 7.5w, which is a 50 percent increase. The charging update was spotted and tested out by MacRumors.

Although wireless charging is new to the iPhone, it’s been around on Android devices for several years. iPhones use the Qi wireless charging standard, which maxes out at a rate of 15w. Samsung’s Galaxy Note 8, for example, supports 15-watt fast wireless charging.

You won’t need to buy a new charger to take advantage of faster speeds. The Mophie and Belkin wireless chargers that Apple sells are already capable of delivering 7.5w of power. Apple has said on the chargers’ listings since their releases that it will enable “fast wireless charging” with a later software update — it’s likely that iOS 11.2 is that update.

Apple is also planning on releasing its own wireless charging mat, AirPower, that’s designed to charge multiple Apple products at once. It isn’t clear if AirPower would use the faster charging speeds.

To push those charging speeds, the iPhone X, 8 and 8 Plus will charge even faster with a USB-C to Lightning cable setup. The configuration requires buying a handful of accessories, but it can reach top charging speeds if you don’t mind the wires. If you want to stay wireless, you’re stuck at 7.5w for now.

Apple didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story.

Mozilla Revamps Firefox For iOS Devices

November 13, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

Mozilla has rolled out a revamped Firefox for Apple’s iPhone and iPad, debuting the new look that will also grace the more popular desktop version of the browser next week.

Firefox for iOS version 10, which is available in the App Store, features the same user interface (UI) and user experience (UX) that will also mark Firefox 57 for Windows, macOS and Linux, when it ships Tuesday, Nov. 14.

Derived from an ongoing project tapped as “Photon,” the Firefox UI/UX mimics the minimalism of other browsers, notably Google’s Chrome and Microsoft’s Edge, with reduced clutter at the top of the window that includes combined address and search bars.

Firefox for iOS 10’s other changes range from a revamped menu under the three-lined “hamburger” icon at the upper right to a recast new tab display, with the latter replicating the desktop browser’s design.

But most of the drum-thumping that Mozilla has done for what it has billed as “Firefox Quantum” – the alternate name for the upcoming Firefox 57 – is simply moot, and muted, on iOS.

That’s because, like all browsers allowed into the App Store, Firefox for iOS is, at root, Safari, because Apple mandates that rivals rely on the same WebKit rendering and Nitro JavaScript engines used by its own Safari. Firefox on iOS, as is Chrome on the iPhone and iPad, is little more than a different UI wrapper around iOS’s default browser.

That leaves competitors able to credibly compete only on a UI basis, and on the argument that it’s more productive to use the same browser on both mobile and desktop.

So, Firefox on iOS cannot boast the same speed improvements that mark Firefox Quantum on personal computers – Mozilla said Quantum is twice as fast as Firefox of a year earlier – nor will the iPhone and iPad browser be able to offer the future additions Mozilla envisions for its desktop browser, among them a graphics processor-enhanced renderer.

Apple’s long-standing rule conceivably has multiple fathers, but the most important to Apple, certainly, is that it precludes anyone gaining a performance edge over Safari, which Firefox might if Mozilla were allowed to use its own under-the-hood technologies. Minus performance differences, there are few reasons for switching.

Apple’s position has paid off.

While Microsoft has seen its browsers’ share tank on the far-more-open Windows – in October, Internet Explorer and Edge accounted for 19.7% of all Windows browsers, down from 52% just two years earlier – Apple has kept its users close, and on Safari. According to Irish analytics vendor StatCounter, 92% of all browsing activity on iOS in October was via Safari. In the U.S., Safari’s percentage on iOS was a slightly higher 95.3%.

Another metrics vendor, U.S-based Net Applications, pegged Safari’s worldwide user share on iOS at 89.2%. (Those percentages from StatCounter and Net Applications were only possible to calculate because Safari runs only on iOS.)

 

AVAST To Seek An IPO In 2018

November 10, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

AV outfit Avast has hired Rothschild to prepare the business for an initial public offering (IPO) which could value the firm at as much as $4 billion.

CVC Capital Partners, which took control of the Prague-based company in 2014, could seek a London listing for Avast in the first half of next year if market conditions allow.

If successful, Avast’s float would represent the largest ever UK technology IPO. However it would have to navigate a tough market, which has seen a number of planned London listings pulled in recent weeks.

CVC hired Rothschild after talking to a series of banks as part of a contest in October, the sources said, adding Rothschild will carry out the preliminary work for the deal which includes the selection of global coordinators and bookrunners.

Avast, which previously attempted to float on Nasdaq in 2012, has Summit Partners among its minority investors alongside Czech entrepreneurs Pavel Baudiš and Eduard Kuera who founded the company in 1991.

Courtesy-Fud

Is The Linux Desktop Gaining In Popularity

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Linux fanboys were dancing in the streets when NetMarketShare’s desktop operating system analysis, which showed Linux leaping from 2.5 percent in July, to almost five percent in September.

The news was seen as living proof that 2017 was the year of the Linux desktop and that things would only get better for next year.

Sadly, though, it was all a terrible mistake Vince Vizzaccaro, NetMarketShare’s executive marketing share of marketing has said that the reported Linux share was incorrect.

“We are aware of the issue and are currently looking into it”, he said.

According to the US federal government’s Digital Analytics Program (DAP) that shows desktop Linux, as usual, hanging out in “other” at 1.5 percent.

Windows, as always, is on top with 45.9 percent, followed by Apple iOS, at 25.5 percent, Android at 18.6 percent, and macOS at 8.5 percent.

The figures are US-based so they over emphasis Apple. Linux tends to do better in poorer parts of the world where people must justify spending money on more important functions such as power, stability rather than just the logo on the case.

The article does, however, acknowledge that Linux’s real market share is probably a little higher this month.

Courtesy-Fud

Will Ransomware Reach Epidemic Levels In 2018

November 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Sophos expects that ransomware will become a fully fledged epidemic in 2018.

While 2017 has already seen some major outbreaks, Sophos believes that ransomware will continue to grow in 2018, affecting more companies and platforms. Cybercrooks, it said, are becoming more sophisticated.

Throughout 2017, there have been a string of global IT security crises, from WannaCry to NotPetya. According to Sophos, attackers have been able to perfect their ransomware delivery techniques to cause such outbreaks.

While most ransomware hits Windows users, the report found that other platforms aren’t immune. Attackers have also been targeting mobile devices, particularly Android.

Ransomware, the firm says, is a “vexing problem” for businesses. Generated in May 2017, WannaCry was the biggest ransomware to affect customers – beating previous leader Cerber, which appeared in early 2016.

WannaCry made up 45.3 per cent of the ransomware tracked by Sophas, with Cerber accounting for 44.2 per cent.

Dorka Palotay, a researcher at the firm, said cybercriminals will likely launch more complex ransomware attacks in the future.

“For the first time, we saw ransomware with worm-like characteristics, which contributed to the rapid expansion of WannaCry,” he said.

“This ransomware took advantage of an old Windows vulnerability to infect and spread to computers, making it hard to control,” he added.

“Even though WannaCry has tapered off and Sophos has defenses for it, we still see the threat because of its inherent nature to keep scanning and attacking computers.

“We’re expecting cyber criminals to build upon WannaCry and NotPetya and their ability to replicate, and this is already evident with Bad Rabbit ransomware, which shows many similarities to NotPetya.”

The report also explored the rise and fall of NotPetya, which made headlines in June 2017. Sophos said this attack was far less damaging than WannaCry, and it suspects cybercriminals were merely “experimenting”.

“NotPetya spiked fast and furiously before taking a nose dive, but did ultimately hurt businesses. This is because NotPetya permanently destroyed data on the computers it hit. Luckily, NotPetya stopped almost as fast as it started,” said Palotay. “

“We suspect the cybercriminals were experimenting or their goal was not ransomware, but something more destructive like a data wiper.

“Regardless of intention, Sophos strongly advises against paying for ransomware and recommends best practices instead, including backing up data.

Android ransomware is also on the rise, according to the research. The report has revealed that the number of attacks on users using Google’s mobile platform grew month-on-month during 2017.

The firm said that by the end of the year, its systems will have identified an estimated 10 million suspicious Android apps. In comparison, 8.5 million were processed in 2016.

Rowland Yu, a SophosLabs security researcher focusing on mobile malware, said: “In September alone, 30.37 per cent of malicious Android malware processed by SophosLabs was ransomware.

“One reason we believe ransomware on Android is taking off is because it’s an easy way for cybercriminals to make money instead of stealing contacts and SMS, popping ups ads or even bank phishing which requires sophisticated hacking techniques.

It’s important to note that Android ransomware is mainly discovered in non-Google Play markets – another reason for users to be very cautious about where and what kinds of apps they download.” 

Courtesy-TheInq

Did Google Rush The Pixel 2XL

November 8, 2017 by  
Filed under Mobile

By now we must all be thinking that there can’t be anything more that could go wrong for the troubled Google Pixel 2 XL.

We’ve had screen burn, black smears, blue screens, failed quality control failed, missing earbuds, wrong colour handsets in the box, and now (drum roll)…the entire operating system is missing.

A Reddit forum has several reports of people who have ignored the naysayers (seriously, that screen is really, really blue), only to discover that when they switch on, they are greeted with “Can’t find valid operating system. The device will not start.”

Because, in common with most phones, the Pixel ships with a locked bootloader, there is no easy way to flash the image yourself, it’s certainly out of reach of the man in the street. So the phone has to go back and be replaced by one that has been properly quality controlled.

There is an error code and a web address for people to go to within the error screen. Trouble is, there’s no error code on the page that matches. This simply wasn’t supposed to happen.

The Pixel 2 XL was made for Google by LG instead of their usual sparring buddies, HTC, but the whole point of the Pixel line is to give Google an identity as a hardware vendor. As such, if it’s Google on the box, it’s Google that will be recognised as having cocked up a major phone release. Totes awkward.

But with a major partnership between HTC and Google now embedded, expect to see the slightly less troublesome HTC designs come to the forefront of future Pixel phones.

Google has told Android Police that the problem has “already been fixed” but we’re not entirely sure what that means, and we could see a few more reports in the coming days until LG successfully rounds up all the affected units.

If you want to see how the HTC version could have been, no problem, just take a look at the HTC U11 Plus, launched yesterday. That’s apparently the design you could have had if Google hadn’t decided to go with LG.

Courtesy-TheInq

Windows 7 Still Microsoft’s Most Popular OS

November 7, 2017 by  
Filed under Computing

Windows 7 lost a few more users last month as its share of the overall Windows universe slipped a bit closer to 50%.

But if the veteran operating system were a person, it would be that party guest who stayed well past welcome, lingering long after everyone else has left, after the hosts have, in fact, gone to bed. And there Windows 7 would sit, talking without a listener, making itself at home, feet up on the coffee table.

According to metrics vendor Net Applications, Windows 7’s user share in October was 46.6%, a decline of six-tenths of a percentage point. More notable during these times of migration, the operating system ran 51.4% of all Windows machines during the same stretch, a month-to-month drop of seventh-tenths of a point. (The second percentage is larger because Windows was detected on 90.8% of the world’s PCs, not 100%; the remainder ran macOS or a Linux flavor.)

October’s decline was only half that of September, but was still the third largest of 2017.

The continued weakening of Windows 7’s user share – five months of declines and counting – is a promising sign, as the operating systems faces a deadline: Microsoft has set Windows 7’s retirement for Jan. 14, 2020, now little more than 26 months away. The faster Windows 7 relinquishes its user share, the less the chance that businesses will find themselves running unpatched, and thus, vulnerable, machines. No one wants a repeat of the panicky last few months of Windows XP’s lifespan, when companies blew through IT budgets scrambling to purge the obsolete OS.

Yet Windows 7 remains behind the pace set by XP . With 26 months to go before its April 2014 retirement, XP accounted for 49.4% of all Windows PCs, or two points lower than Windows 7’s share in October. Things could be worse: In August, Windows 7 was three points behind XP’s tempo. But the lack of progress in matching XP’s slide toward irrelevance must be disheartening to Microsoft, which continues to sing Windows 10’s praises, and even assert that Windows 7 is not only old and tired, but simply not up to the tasks required of it.

Meanwhile, Windows 10 did see a bump in user share last month of two-tenths of a point, ending October at 29.3%. When only Windows systems are counted, its share of that pool was 32.8%, within shouting distance of the one-in-three milestone. Computerworld calculated that, with the 12-month trend in Net Applications’ data, Windows 10 should pass the 33.3% line during December.

Cisco Adds Voice Assistant To Videoconferencing

November 6, 2017 by  
Filed under Around The Net

Virtual assistants are popping up everywhere as Alexa, Siri, Cortana and Google Assistant get better at quickly retrieving information and helping to organize things. Joining them in the office are smart assistant chatbots, which are being integrated into a variety of enterprise applications.

Now, Cisco wants to bring the power of voice-activated A.I. smarts to conference rooms with its Spark Assistant.

The idea is for Spark Assistant to take some of the pain out of setting up meetings by allowing voice commands to be used to call colleagues or start, join and leave meetings without interacting with physical devices. The A.I. assistant is activated with a simple, “Hey, Spark.”

The service is the result of Cisco’s $125 million acquisition of MindMeld earlier this year. With Spark Assistant, the startup’s conversational A.I. tools will be incorporated into Cisco’s Spark Room Series video conference displays.

Cisco plans to add features in the future, interacting with users both inside and outside of the meeting room. This includes the ability to find and book available rooms, suggest relevant documents ahead of time, enable screen sharing, record discussions and take meeting notes.

“User interfaces continue to evolve from command line, menus and touch to voice and gestures,” said IDC research director Wayne Kurtzman. “Cisco Spark Assistant signals the inevitable, that intelligent voice should be adapted to the workplace.”

The smart assistant will initially be rolled out to a small group of Spark Room Series early next year. A phased rollout will provide Cisco with feedback, and help to improve accuracy and usability, the company said in a blog post.

The capabilities of Spark Assistant bear similarities to Microsoft’s plans to bring cognitive capabilities to its Teams group messaging platform. Along with announcing plans to merge its Skype for Business platform with Teams, Microsoft stated that improved A.I. capabilities will highlight relevant documents prior to meetings, record and transcribe conversations, and subsequently add notes and transcriptions to Teams channels.

More widely, virtual assistant chatbots are making their into a range of business uses outside of the collaboration space, such as in the CRM market with Salesforce’s Einstein platform,

Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research, said that A.I.  assistants are increasingly being tailored to specific use cases.

“We’ve seen voice-enabled assistants specific to devices and operating systems, but now we’re starting to see application-specific helpers,” said Alan Lepofsky, vice president and principal analyst at Constellation Research. “These in-app-assistants have more specific domain expertise than their general A.I. counterparts. This is analogous to the medical world, where you have general physicians and then more specialized experts.”

The advantage of A.I. assistants designed for more targeted use cases is they can be better trained to perform specific tasks. Business meetings, which employees tend to find laborious and ineffective, are one such example.

“Ideally, digital assistants will be able to automate the mundane components of a meeting and let people focus on the agenda and relationships,” Lepofsky said.

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