May 22 marks the 30th anniversary of Microsoft Solitaire, which has come a long way since it debuted as Windows Solitaire on Windows 3.0 in 1990.
Today, the game is played on computers, laptops, tablets and phones in every corner of the globe, arguably by one of the most diverse gaming audiences in the world, says Paul Jensen, studio head, Microsoft Casual Games.
“With a worldwide appeal, Microsoft Solitaire Collection, as it is known today, hosts over 35 million players each month, from more than 200+ countries and territories, in 65 different languages,” Jenson says. “And after 30 years, Microsoft Solitaire is still one of the most played games on the planet every day, with more than 100 million hands played daily around the globe.”
Microsoft is celebrating the anniversary by inviting players to join an online event aiming to reach the most games of Microsoft Solitaire completed in one day. Join by downloading Microsoft Solitaire Collection for free on Windows, iOS or Android, or play through your browser. Visit the Xbox Wire post for details, to watch Major Nelson’s interview with a pair of Solitaire experts discussing the coveted winnability rate of the game, and check out Microsoft Solitaire T-shirts and mugs available now for the first time ever.
Global digital marketing firm Wunderman Thompson launched its Risk, Readiness and Recovery map, an interactive platform that helps enterprises and governments make market-level decisions, amid the coronavirus pandemic.
The idea for the Risk, Readiness and Recovery map, a free version of which is available on Wunderman Thompson’s website, originated two months ago as the global pandemic accelerated, said Adam Woods, CTO at Wunderman Thompson Data.
“We were looking at some of the visualizations that were coming in around COVID-19, and we were inspired to really say, let’s look at the insight that we have and see if that can make a difference,” Woods said.
A global marketing subsidiary of British multinational communications firm WPP plc, Wunderman Thompson has collected thousands of data elements on 270 million people in the U.S, including transaction, demographic and health data. That data, which is anonymized, led the company to understand the potential economic impact of the coronavirus quickly.
“We’ve seen the economic damage that this has caused, and we see that because we have access into really deep transactional data,” Woods said. “We were able to watch the ball drop almost in real time.”
We’re focusing on “how do we help brands that we work with really understand the right response and the way they should reopen their operations,” he said.
Wunderman Thompson Data, the technology arm of the company, developed the interactive Risk, Readiness and Recovery platform using that data.
Machine learning technology from IBM Watson proved to be an integral part of the platform.
Two data-centered companies
Wunderman Thompson Data started working with IBM Watson about a year ago. Wunderman Thompson Data had a data lake and consolidated data did not have modern tools to build machine learning models, Woods said.
So, the firm looked at the products from several different data science and AI vendors before settling on IBM.
Adam WoodsCTO of Wunderman Thompson Data
IBM provided a scalable system to help with Wunderman Thompson’s data science problem using Watson Studio, a machine learning-as-a-service platform with tools for data preparation, drag-and-drop machine learning model building and data visualization.
“They are very confident in their ability to work a problem at this scale,” Woods said, adding that Wunderman Thompson Data has about 20,000 different features it can bring into a machine learning model.
“We can do really fast, high-quality model understanding with those tools,” he said.
“Organically, we knew these were the right things to do, but we just didn’t have a way to get the project done,” Woods said.
The IBM and Wunderman Thompson partnership eventually powered the Risk, Readiness and Recovery platform, which uses Wunderman Thompson’s data and machine learning models built with IBM Watson Studio.
Risk, Readiness and Recovery
The platform, as the name suggests, focuses on three areas:
Risk. Health conditions, COVID-19 and census.
Readiness. Health support within communities.
Recovery. The impact of COVID-19 on the economy.
Risk identifies how much a given local government organization or zip code area in the U.S. is at risk from COVID-19. Readiness, meanwhile, identifies how prepared an area is by looking at its hospital and intensive care unit availability, and Recovery identifies how economically affected local areas are, how fast they might recover and when they might return to normal.
Wunderman Thompson Data is selling the tool to state and local governments, as well as to enterprise customers.
“We’ve been able to really quickly look at this [data] and bring it to a position …to help brands in a highly localized way,” Woods said.
As the economic fallout and, in some places, recovery from the worst of the pandemic continues, it’s going to be on a “vastly different county and county basis, and we can see that in the data,” Woods said.
Threat actors developed a new type of ransomware attack that uses virtual machines, Sophos revealed Thursday in a blog post.
Sophos researchers recently detected a Ragnar Locker ransomware attack that “takes defense evasion to a new level.” According to the post, the ransomware variant was deployed inside a Windows XP virtual machine in order to hide the malicious code from antimalware detection. The virtual machine includes an old version of the Sun xVM VirtualBox, which is a free, open source hypervisor that was acquired by Oracle when it acquired Sun Microsystems in 2010.
“In the detected attack, the Ragnar Locker actors used a GPO task to execute Microsoft Installer (msiexec.exe), passing parameters to download and silently install a 122 MB crafted, unsigned MSI package from a remote web server,” Mark Loman, Sophos’ director of engineering for threat mitigation, wrote in the post.
The MSI package contained Sun xVM VirtualBox version 3.0.4, which was released August of 2009, and “an image of a stripped-down version of the Windows XP SP3 operating system, called MicroXP v0.82.” In that image is a 49 KB Ragnar Locker executable file.
“Since the vrun.exe ransomware application runs inside the virtual guest machine, its process and behaviors can run unhindered, because they’re out of reach for security software on the physical host machine,” Loman wrote.
This was the first time Sophos has seen virtual machines used for ransomware attacks, Loman said.
It’s unclear how many organizations were affected by this recent attack and how widespread it was. Sophos was unavailable for comment at press time. In the past, the Ragnar Locker ransomware group has targeted managed service providers and used their remote access to clients to infect more organizations.
In other Sophos news, the company published an update Thursday regarding the attacks on Sophos XG Firewalls. Threat actors used a customized Trojan Sophos calls “Asnarök” to exploit a zero-day SQL vulnerability in the firewalls, which the vendor quickly patched through a hotfix. Sophos researchers said the Asnarök attackers tried to bypass the hotfix and deploy ransomware in customer environments. However, Sophos said it took other steps to mitigate the threat beyond the hotfix, which prevented the modified attacks.
In recent years, organizations of all sizes have increasingly come to rely on open source database technologies, including Apache Cassandra.
The complexity of deploying and managingCassandraat scale has led to a rise in database-as-a-service (DBaaS) providers offering managed Cassandra services in the cloud. Among the vendors that provide managed Cassandra today areDataStax,Amazonand Instaclustr.
Instaclustr, based in Redwood City, Calif., got its start in 2013 and has grown over the past eight years to offer managed services for a number of different open source data layer projects, including Kafka event streaming, Redis database and data caching as well as Elasticsearch data query and visualization.
In this Q&A, Ben Bromhead,co-founder and CTOof Instaclustr, discusses the intersection of open source and enterprise software and why database as a service is a phenomenon that is here to stay.
How has Instaclustr changed over the last eight years?
Ben Bromhead:Our original vision was wildly different and, like all good startups, we had a pretty decent pivot. When the original team got together, we were working on a marketplace for high value data sets. We took adata warehouseapproach for the different data sets we provided and the access model was pure SQL. It was kind of interesting from a computer science perspective, but we probably weren’t as savvy as we needed to be to take that kind of business to market.
But one of the things we learned along the way was there was a real need for Apache Cassandra database services. We had to spend a lot of time getting our Cassandra database ready and managing it. We quickly realized that there was a market for that, so we built a web interface for a service with credit card billing, wrote a few blog posts and within a few months we had our first production customers. That’s how we kind of pivoted and got into the Cassandra database-as-a-service space.
Originally, when we built Instaclustr the idea was very much around the idea of democratizing Cassandra for smaller users and smaller use cases. Over the years, we very clearly started to move into medium and large enterprises because they tend to have bigger deployments. They also tend to have more money and are less likely to go out of business.
There are a few Cassandra DBaaS vendors now (including Amazon). How do you see the expansion of the market?
Bromhead: We’re very much of the view that having more players in the market validates the market. But sure, it does make our jobs a little bit harder.
Our take on it [managed Cassandra as a service] is also a little bit different from some of the other vendors in that we really take a multi-technology approach. So you know, not only are we engaging with our customers around their Cassandra cluster, but we’re also helping them with the Kafka cluster,Elasticsearchand Redis.
So what ends up happening is we end up becoming a trusted partner for a customer’s data layer and that’s our goal. We certainly got our start with Cassandra, that’s our bread and butter and what we’re known for, but in terms of the business vision, we want to be there as a data layer supporting different use cases.
You know, it’s great to see more Cassandra services come in. They’ve got a particular take on it and we’ve got a particular take on it. I’m very much a believer that a rising tide lifts all boats.
How does Instaclustr select and determine which open source data layer technologies you will support and turn into a managed service?
Bromhead:We’re kind of 100 percent driven by customers. So you know, when they asked us for something, they’re like, ‘Hey, you do a great job with our Elasticsearch cluster, can you look after our Redis or a Mongo?’ That’s probably the major signal that we pay most attention to. We also look at the market and certainly look at what other technologies are getting deployed side by side.
Ben BromheadCo-founder and CTO, Instaclustr
We very clearly look for and prefer technologies where the core IP or the majority of the IP is owned by an open source foundation. So whether that’s Apache or theCloud Native Computing Foundation, whatever they may be. It’s one thing to have an open source license. It’s another thing to have strong governance and strong IP and copyright protection.
What are the challenges for Instaclustr in taking an open source project and turning into an enterprise grade DBaaS?
Bromhead:The open source versus enterprise grade production argument is starting to become a little bit of a false dichotomy to some degree. One thing we’ve been super focused on in the open source space around Cassandra is getting it to be more enterprise-grade and doing it in an open source way.
So a great example of that is: We have released a bunch of authentication improvements to Apache Cassandra that typically you only see in the enterprise distributions. We’ve also released backup and audit capabilities as well.
It’s one thing to have the features and to be able to tick the feature box as you kind of go down the list. It’s another thing to run a technology in a production-grade way. We take a lot of the pain out of that, in an easily reproducible, repeatable manner so that our support team can make sure that we’re delivering on our core support promises. Some of the challenges of getting stuff set up in a production-grade manner is going to get a little bit easier, particularly with the rise of Kubernetes.
The core challenge, however, for a lot of companies is actually just the expertise of being skilled in particular technologies.
We don’t live in a world where everything just lives on an Oracle or aMySQLdatabase. You know, more and more teams are dealing with two or three or four different databases.
What impact has the COVID-19 pandemic had on Instaclustr?
Bromhead:On the business side of things it has been a mixed bag. As a DBaaS, we’re exposed to many different industries. Some of the people we work with have travel booking websites or event-based business and those have either had to pack up shop or go into hibernation.
On the flip side, we work with a ton of digital entertainment companies, including video game platforms, and that traffic has gone through the roof. We’re also seeing some people turn to Instaclustr as a way to reduce costs, to get out of expensive, unnecessarylicensing agreementsthat they have.
We’re still in a pretty good path for growth for this year, so I think that speaks volumes to the resilient nature of the business and the diversity that we have in the customer base.
Editor’s note:This interview has been edited for clarity and conciseness.