Tag Archives: Services

How does AD DS differ from Microsoft Azure Active Directory?

While Active Directory Domain Services and Microsoft Azure Active Directory appear similar, they are not interchangeable.

Administrators exploring whether to move to Azure Active Directory for enterprise authentication and authorization should understand how the cloud-based platform differs from the traditional on-premises Active Directory.

Distinguish on-premises AD from Azure AD

Active Directory (AD) is a combination of services to help manage users and systems, including Active Directory Domain Services (AD DS) and Active Directory Federation Services (AD FS). AD DS is the database that provides the directory service, which is essentially the foundation of AD.

AD uses an X.500-based hierarchical framework and traditional tools such as domain name systems to locate assets, lightweight directory access protocol (LDAP) to work with directories both on premises and on the internet, and Kerberos and NT LAN Manager (NTLM) for secure authentication. AD also supports the use of organizational units (OUs) and group policy objects (GPOs) to organize and present assets.

Microsoft Azure Active Directory is a directory service from Microsoft’s cloud that handles identity management across the internet using the HTTP and HTTPS protocols. Azure AD’s flat structure does not use OUs and GPOs, which prevents the use of the organizational structure of on-premises AD.

Instead of Kerberos, Azure AD uses authentication and security protocols such as Security Assertion Markup Language and Open Authorization. In addition, the AD Graph API queries Azure AD rather than LDAP.

Structural differences between Azure AD and AD DS

Microsoft Azure Active Directory cannot create domains, trees and forests like AD DS. Instead, Azure AD treats each organization like a tenant that accesses Azure AD via the Azure portal to manage the organization’s users, passwords and permissions.

Administrators can use AD DS and Microsoft Azure Active Directory separately or use both for a single AD entity.

Organizations that subscribe to a Microsoft cloud service, such as Office 365 or Exchange Online, are Azure AD tenants. Azure AD supports single sign-on to give users access to multiple services after logging in.

Microsoft Azure Active Directory is different from Azure Active Directory Domain Services. Where Azure AD provides fewer features than on-premises AD, Azure AD DS serves as a more full-featured domain controller that uses LDAP, domain joining, Kerberos and NTLM authentication. Azure AD DS is a complete version of AD in the Azure cloud.

When to consider a combination of AD DS and Azure AD

Administrators can use AD DS and Microsoft Azure Active Directory separately or use both for a single AD entity. For example, an application hosted in the cloud could use on-premises AD, but it might suffer from latency from authentication requests that bounce from Azure to the on-premises AD DS.

Organizations have several options to implement AD in Azure. For example, an organization can build an AD domain in Azure that integrates with the local AD domain via Azure AD Connect. This creates a trust relationship between the domains.

Alternatively, an organization can extend its on-premises AD DS to Azure by running AD DS as a domain controller in an Azure VM. This is a common method for enterprises that have local and Azure resources connected via a virtual private network or dedicated connectivity, such as an ExpressRoute connection.

There are several other ways to use a combination of the cloud and on-premises directory services. Admins can create a domain in Azure and join it to the local AD forest. A company can build a separate forest in Azure that is trusted by the on-premises AD forest. Admins can use AD FS to replicate a local AD DS deployment to Azure.

Panzura tackles multi-cloud data management

Panzura is expanding beyond cloud file services to multi-cloud data management with its new Vizion.ai option, which is designed to enable customers to search, analyze and control data on premises and off premises.

The Campbell, Calif., company’s CEO, Patrick Harr, said the vendor built its Vizion.ai software-as-a-service (SaaS) offering on a new hyperscale multi-cloud data engine orchestrated by Kubernetes. Vizion.ai embeds machine learning and policy functionality for data analytics and control. It features an open API for third-party developers to use the Panzura technology with their own applications, such as internet of things and security monitoring.

Panzura initially focused on helping enterprises shift from legacy file-based NAS systems to object storage in public and private clouds. The vendor sells Freedom NAS filer appliances that cache active data in flash drives for fast access, while shifting colder data to object storage. Users can also run the software in virtual machines (VMs) on their own hardware or on public cloud servers.

With the new Vizion.ai SaaS option, Panzura consolidates and centralizes metadata to facilitate fast indexing in its Freedom NAS products, third-party NAS filers, SaaS applications and public cloud storage. The company integrated open source Elasticsearch technology to enable the distributed search capability.

“We’ve had a lot of requests in the past for how to search data in a multi-cloud fashion. And when I say multi-cloud, I’m not only talking Amazon, Azure and Google. I’m also talking about private cloud,” Harr said.

Visibility into third-party storage

Harr said the Vizion.ai multi-cloud data management service gains visibility into third-party storage through connector technology the company is offering to the open source community. Users download a small VM and plug the software into their Dell EMC, NetApp or Windows filers. The software crawls the NAS systems, takes a snapshot of the metadata and uploads the indices into the Vizion.ai service, Harr said.

Panzura plans to support a private managed option for customers to use the Vizion.ai index, search and analytics capabilities on premises in secure environments, the CEO added. That support is expected by the end of 2018.

Panzura built algorithms for machine learning to examine data access patterns to let the software recommend the most cost-effective storage location, Harr said. Users can look at heat maps of hot, warm and cold data. And they can use the technology for audit purposes, because they can see who has accessed the data at specific times, he said.

The Vizion.ai capabilities extend to restoring data from snapshots and cloning data for test and development. A customer might want to move a select workload’s data to the optimal cloud, such as Google for machine learning, Harr said.

Panzura’s multi-cloud data management effort

Harr said Panzura started designing its new hyperscale multi-cloud data management platform two years ago to be able to service billions of files and objects across multiple clouds. So far, more than 100 customers tested a private beta version of the Vizion.ai service.

Panzura opened its Vizion.ai beta to the public this week. When the service goes live in October, Vizion.ai multi-cloud data management will be priced based on gigabytes of data indexed and managed, Harr said. The company will have a free version for customers to index and search 1 GB of metadata.

Beta tester Prosper Funding, a San Francisco-based peer-to-peer lending company, started using Panzura’s hybrid cloud technology in 2016. Fabian Duarte, a senior storage engineer working out of Prosper’s Phoenix office, said the company deploys Panzura to make content available for collaboration from any data center and for long-term archiving on AWS.

Prosper tested Vizion.ai by uploading streams of content from AWS tiers, where it stores 3 PB of data, Duarte said. Prosper asked Panzura for access to hotter data in the local cache through a URL-enabled link that a user could click to open the file. The system downloads and rehydrates the file into the Panzura platform’s retrieval folder, Duarte said.

The Vizion.ai service looks promising, Duarte said, and Prosper will likely purchase it. He said its index and search could benefit customer service representatives who need to access call logs for training, playback or other purposes. The Vizion.ai service could also assist departments that deal with access log and audit information for compliance and risk management. Duarte said Prosper has been testing the uploading and manipulation of content inside the file system to track usage patterns.

“We’ve already gone through the route of using tools like Active Directory for multifactor authentication,” he said. “But now, to have the visibility to see who’s working on files, moving files, trying to access files allows us a greater level of granularity to bring an additional level of security.”

The usage-tracking info collected by Vizion.ai could show the cost to rehydrate archived content and determine which content is a good candidate to move to cheaper cloud storage, Duarte said.

Panzura Vizion.ai architectural diagram
Where Panzura Vizion.ai fits in.

Hybrid cloud data management

“With Vizion.ai, Panzura has the potential to evolve from the traditional cloud storage gateway use case toward global hybrid cloud data management,” Gartner research director Julia Palmer wrote in an email.

Legacy gateways and other hybrid storage products, until recently, have focused on backup, archiving and tiering data to the cloud, Palmer said. They wrote data in a proprietary format that other vendors’ technology couldn’t use.

Steven Hill, a senior analyst at 451 Research, said Panzura’s traditional competitors include cloud NAS and gateway companies such as Actifio, Ctera Networks, Microsoft’s Avere Systems, Nasuni and SoftNAS, along with Dell EMC, Hewlett Packard Enterprise and IBM.

“Today, there are dozens of vendors in the secondary storage market that are merging file and object as part of a more advanced storage architecture that focuses on the problems of information management, security and protection, rather than providing traditional ‘dumb’ storage,” Hill wrote in an email.

Amazon Chime app adds dial-out, single sign-on features

Amazon Web Services has been gradually building out the features of Amazon Chime, as the tech giant struggles to attract corporate interest in the online messaging and meetings platform.

AWS added a dial-out function to the Amazon Chime app this week so that users can program the app to call a phone number at the start of a meeting. The feature will simplify the process of connecting to meeting audio for attendees who are away from their desks. 

AWS also recently announced it would integrate the Amazon Chime app with the software of Okta, a leading single sign-on vendor. Okta’s platform consolidates the username and password information of an organization’s apps so that users only have to remember one set of sign-on credentials.

Last month, AWS made it possible to conduct a Chime video meeting in Google Chrome. While all major browsers support messaging and most non-video meeting features, Chrome is the only internet client that supports Chime video conferencing. (Users can also install a desktop app.)

“I see these largely as incremental improvements that allow Amazon to better compete with the likes of Zoom, BlueJeans, GoToMeeting, Cisco Webex, etc.,” said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research, based in Mokena, Ill.

Businesses expect all online meetings platforms to support in-browser video conferencing at this point, while single sign-on is a must-have feature for many large organizations, Lazar said.

Amazon Chime app trails rivals as AWS seeks greater share of collaboration market

Launched in February 2017, Amazon Chime is still playing catch-up with more established online meetings platforms. Amazon has stepped up efforts to penetrate the enterprise market in recent years, including with the release of the contact center platform Amazon Connect.

Alexa for Business, an enterprise version of the vendor’s popular AI voice assistant, has the potential to gain traction in the enterprise market, said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. The Amazon Chime app, however, is not yet on the radar of many companies, he said.

“While Alexa for Business will gain traction over time, mostly integrated with other products, Amazon has to prove that Chime will be here for the long haul, be better than competitors and be a trusted part of a custom, cloud-based IT stack,” Kurtzman said.

Amazon is not the only consumer tech giant making a play at the enterprise collaboration market. Google also recently released a team collaboration app, Hangouts Chat, and an online meetings platform, Hangouts Meet.

AWS, a $17.5 billion division of Amazon, has sought to use low and flexible pricing to attract businesses to Amazon Chime.

When Chime first launched, AWS gave customers the ability to prorate the subscription fees of individual users by activating and deactivating their licenses on demand. Later, the vendor implemented a usage-based pricing system that costs $3 every time a user hosts a meeting, for a maximum of $15 per user, per month.

In announcing usage-based pricing in March, AWS said it expected the new scheme would reduce the bills of virtually all premium customers of Amazon Chime. Nevertheless, aggressive pricing hasn’t been enough to draw attention from tech buyers.

“I rarely hear about Chime,” said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research, based in Cupertino, Calif. “I think Chime could have an interesting differentiation if Amazon made it very easy for developers to add voice and video features to custom applications. That would make Chime more of a competitor to Twilio than to Webex.”

SIEM evaluation criteria: Choosing the right SIEM products

Security information and event management products and services collect, analyze and report on security log data from a large number of enterprise security controls, host operating systems, enterprise applications and other software used by an organization. Some SIEMs also attempt to stop attacks in progress that they detect, potentially preventing compromises or limiting the damage that successful compromises could cause.

There are many SIEM systems available today, including light SIEM products designed for organizations that cannot afford or do not feel they need a fully featured SIEM added to their current security operations.

Because light SIEM products offer few capabilities and are much easier to evaluate, they are out of the scope of this article. Instead, this feature points out the capabilities of regular SIEMs and can serve as a guide for creating SIEM evaluation criteria, which merit particularly close attention compared to other security technologies.

It can be quite a challenge to figure out which products to evaluate, let alone to choose the one that’s best for a particular organization or team. Part of the evaluation process involves creating a list of SIEM evaluation criteria potential buyers can use to highlight important capabilities.

1. How much native support does the SIEM provide for relevant log sources?

A SIEM’s value is diminished if it cannot receive and understand log data from all of the log-generating sources in the organization. Most obvious is the organization’s enterprise security controls, such as firewalls, virtual private networks, intrusion prevention systems, email and web security gateways, and antimalware products.

It is reasonable to expect a SIEM to natively understand log files created by any major product or cloud-based service in these categories. If the tool does not, it should have no role in your security operations.

There are many SIEM systems available today, including light SIEM products designed for organizations that cannot afford or do not feel they need a fully featured SIEM added to their current security operations.

In addition, a SIEM should provide native support for log files from the organization’s operating systems. An exception is mobile device operating systems, which often do not provide any security logging capabilities.

SIEMs should also natively support the organization’s major database platforms, as well as any enterprise applications that enable users to interact with sensitive data. Native SIEM support for other software is generally nice to have, but it is not mandatory.

If a SIEM does not natively support a log source, then the organization can either develop customized code to provide the necessary support or use the SIEM without the log source’s data.

2. Can the SIEM supplement existing logging capabilities?

An organization’s particular applications and software may lack robust logging capabilities. Some SIEM systems and services can supplement these by performing their own monitoring in addition to their regular job of log management.

In essence, this extends the SIEM from being strictly a centralized log collection, analysis and reporting tool to also generating raw log data on behalf of other hosts.

3. How effectively can the SIEM make use of threat intelligence?

Most SIEMs are capable of ingesting threat intelligence feeds. These feeds, which are often acquired from separate subscriptions, contain up-to-date information on threat activity observed all over the world, including which hosts are being used to stage or launch attacks and what the characteristics of these attacks are. The greatest value in using these feeds is enabling the SIEM to identify attacks more accurately and to make more informed decisions, often automatically, about which attacks need to be stopped and what the best method is to stop them.

Of course, the quality of threat intelligence varies between vendors. Factors to consider when evaluating threat intelligence should include how often the threat intelligence updates and how the threat intelligence vendor indicates its confidence in the malicious nature of each threat.

4. What forensic capabilities can SIEM products provide?

Forensics capabilities are an evolving SIEM evaluation criteria. Traditionally, SIEMs have only collected data provided by other log sources.

However, recently some SIEM systems have added various forensic capabilities that can collect their own data regarding suspicious activity. A common example is the ability to do full packet captures for a network connection associated with malicious activity. Assuming that these packets are unencrypted, a SIEM analyst can then review their contents more closely to better understand the nature of the packets.

Another aspect of forensics is host activity logging; the SIEM product can perform such logging at all times, or the logging could be triggered when the SIEM tool suspects suspicious activity involving a particular host.

5. What features do SIEM products provide to assist with performing data analysis?

SIEM products that are used for incident detection and handling should provide features that help users to review and analyze the log data for themselves, as well as the SIEM’s own alerts and other findings. One reason for this is that even a highly accurate SIEM will occasionally misinterpret events and generate false positives, so people need to have a way to validate the SIEM’s results.

Another reason for this is that the users involved in security analytics need helpful interfaces to facilitate their investigations. Examples of such interfaces include sophisticated search capabilities and data visualization capabilities.

6. How timely, secure and effective are the SIEM’s automated response capabilities?

Another SIEM evaluation criteria is the product’s automated response capabilities. This is often an organization-specific endeavor because it is highly dependent on the organization’s network architecture, network security controls and other aspects of security management.

For example, a particular SIEM product may not have the ability to direct an organization’s firewall or other network security controls to terminate a malicious connection.

Besides ensuring the SIEM product can communicate its needs to the organization’s other major security controls, it is also important to consider the following characteristics:

  • How long does it take the SIEM to detect an attack and direct the appropriate security controls to stop it?
  • How are the communications between the SIEM and the other security controls protected so as to prevent eavesdropping and alteration?
  • How effective is the SIEM product at stopping attacks before damage occurs?

7. Which security compliance initiatives does the SIEM support with built-in reporting?

Most SIEMs offer highly customizable reporting capabilities. Many of these products also offer built-in support to generate reports that meet the requirements of various security compliance initiatives. Each organization should identify which initiatives are applicable and then ensure that the SIEM product supports as many of these initiatives as possible.

For any initiatives that the SIEM does not support, make sure that the SIEM product supports the proper customizable reporting options to meet your requirements.

Do your homework and evaluate

SIEMs are complex technologies that require extensive integration with enterprise security controls and numerous hosts throughout an organization. To evaluate which tool is best for your organization, it may be helpful to define basic SIEM evaluation criteria. There is not a single SIEM product that is the best system for all organizations; every environment has its own combination of IT characteristics and security needs.

Even the main reason for having a SIEM, such as meeting compliance reporting requirements or aiding in incident detection and handling, may vary widely between organizations. Therefore, each organization should do its own evaluation before acquiring a SIEM product or service. Examine the offerings from several SIEM vendors before even considering deployment.

This article presents several SIEM evaluation criteria that organizations should consider, but other criteria may also be necessary. Think of these as a starting point for the organization to customize and build upon to develop its own list of SIEM evaluation criteria. This will help ensure the organization chooses the best possible SIEM product.

Box AI, workflow automation strategies about to unfold

Box AI and workflow automation advancements that users are waiting for, and which are instrumental to the content services platform vendor’s future, will come into clearer focus this month, according to CEO Aaron Levie.

With Box AI tools at the hub of Box Skills, the company’s still-in-beta system for customizing Box applications with machine learning technology from Google, Microsoft or IBM, AI will permeate Box’s content management systems, Levie said.

“We want to make sure we continue to automate and bring intelligence to your digital business processes,” Levie said in an interview.

New Box AI tools

Levie said the company will make announcements around Box AI and workflow automation, and generally, about how Box plans to “advance the state of the digital workplace,” at the BoxWorks 2018 conference in San Francisco Aug. 29 to 30.

“We’re going to talk a lot about AI and the power of machine learning,” Levie said. “And you’re going to see more of a roadmap around workflow in Box as well, which we’re really excited about.”

Indeed, workflow and digital process automation have been a perennial question for Box in recent years, said Cheryl McKinnon, a Forrester analyst scheduled to speak at BoxWorks.

Workflow automation progress

McKinnon noted that Box, which started out as an enterprise file sync-and-share company, has tried to remedy the gap through a partnership with IBM on the Box Relay workflow automation tool and other deals (with companies like Nintex and Pegasystems). Box also recently acquired startup Progressly to improve workflow automation.

We want to make sure we continue to automate and bring intelligence to your digital business processes.
Aaron LevieCEO, Box

“I do expect to see deeper investment in Box’s own automation capabilities as it puts some of the expertise from recent acquisitions, such as Progressly, to work,” McKinnon said.

“Content doesn’t get created in a vacuum — embedding the content creation, collaboration and sharing lifecycle into key business processes is important to keep Box a sticky and integral part of its clients’ internal and external work activities,” she said.

In addition to Box AI and workflow automation, Levie said Box is putting a lot of emphasis on its native-cloud architecture and persuading potential customers to move from on-premises content management systems to the cloud-based content services platform model that has distinguished Box.

Box CEO Aaron Levie
Box CEO Aaron Levie speaking at the BoxWorks 2017 conference.

“We’re really trying to help them move their legacy information systems, their technology infrastructure, to the cloud,” Levie said.

Box wants “to show a better path forward for managing, securing, governing and working content and not just using the same legacy systems, not having a fragmented content management architecture that we think is not going to enable a modern digital workplace,” Levie said.

Box vs. Dropbox and bigger foes

Meanwhile, its similarly named competitor, DropBox, completed a successful IPO this year and is angling for the enterprise market, where Box holds the lead. Dropbox’s stock price took a hit recently, but Levie said he takes the competition seriously. Box, too, sustained a decline in its stock price earlier this year, though the stock’s value has stabilized.

“I would not dismiss them as a player in this space,” Levie said of Dropbox. “But we think we serve more or less different segments of the market. They are more consumer and SMB leaning and we are much more SMB and enterprise leaning.”

Actually, Box’s most dangerous competitive threats are from cloud giants like Microsoft and Google, McKinnon said.

They are “investing significantly in their own content and collaboration platforms, and while Box partners with both of them for integration with office productivity tools and as optional cloud storage back ends, the desire to be the single source of truth for corporate content in the cloud will put them head to head in many accounts,” she said.

The evolution of music: how the cloud helps reward artists and record labels

From vinyl records to cassette tapes, CDs, MP3 players and streaming services, the way we listen to music has rapidly evolved over the years.

As more and more people turn to the conveniences of streaming music, it’s easy to forget the challenges faced when making sure that artists and labels are fairly compensated.

Everyone talks about digital transformation providing companies with a competitive edge. For music rights organisations, however, adopting a digital culture isn’t a choice. It’s a matter of survival.

This was the situation facing the Canadian Musical Reproduction Rights Agency (CMRRA), a music licensing organisation which represents the majority of music publishers and music copyright owners in Canada.

In 2011, the CMRRA along with the rest of the music copyright industry faced drastic changes to its business model. Streaming services such as Spotify and Apple Music were dramatically increasing the number of transactions from tens of thousands to hundreds of millions, while the revenue per transaction decreased to small fractions of a cent.

In this new digital-first world, a file containing hundreds of millions of transactions can generate royalty payments of €100,000. In the pre-digital world, for comparison, this would have generated millions of Euros instead.

To help its transformation, CMRRA needed a robust and secure solution which would help with the increased number of transactions in a cost-effective way, while allowing it to continue to distribute royalties to artists and other rights holders. The company began its journey by turning to Spanish Point – a Microsoft Gold Partner in Ireland.

Hitting play on transformation
Spanish Point had already digitised the process for the Irish Music Rights Organisation (IMRO), but it wasn’t just a case of dealing with increased transaction volumes, as Spanish Point CEO Donal Cullen explains: “There is also the problem of matching millions of music streaming transactions with poor metadata against a database of millions of songs,” he states.

“Many copyright organisations have failed to cope with this increase in data volumes, meaning the songs and recordings have not been licensed or correctly identified. The license income that should have been paid to songwriters and music publishers has remained with streaming companies. The streaming services and other entertainment platforms do want to pay the artists, it’s just a question of finding a practical way of doing it.”

The solution developed by Spanish Point saw CMRRA move its operations to the cloud, enabling it to successfully cope with these challenges and generate more income for its members. Using Microsoft’s advanced features, Spanish Point provided a more agile and responsive service at a lower cost than a traditional on-premise or hosted provider.

“In the past, if a song was played on a radio station it was broadcast to thousands of listeners,” Cullen explains. “Now you have people using their smartphone in cars to stream music. Services like Spotify and YouTube are sending data to rights organisations on each individual stream. That has increased the volume of data by three or four orders of magnitude.”

“It is not unusual for files to contain 200 million transactions. The rights organisations now must identify each song from quite poor metadata and find the artists to pay royalties to. There is simply no way they could do that without a cloud solution. Even four or five years ago it would have been beyond our reach. It has enabled us to help customers like CMRRA improve their data processing performance by a factor of 40.”

Moving to the cloud solved the problems of scale, flexibility and financial viability. “Before the cloud, organisations would invest in computing power to meet peak demand,” Cullen notes. “That meant the payroll system had to be able to meet very high demand on one or two days each month while it would be barely used for the rest of the time. In the cloud you pay for what you use as you need it. Also, Microsoft’s cloud autoscales to meet the size of files and that’s directly related to how much we and our customers are going to get paid.”

Microsoft Ireland commercial director Aisling Curtis believes the challenge faced by the music rights industry demonstrates the enormous power of digital culture. “This is a great example of digital disruption and how a digital transformation approach can be used to solve issues across an entire industry”, she says.

“It’s not just something for large companies or enterprise-sized organisations to be concerned about. Organisations of every size can adopt a digital culture to innovate and gain competitive advantage. Spanish Point has done a fantastic job for CMRRA using the Microsoft platform and has created a new solution which is applicable to the whole music rights industry.”

Cloud with benefits
As a result of its transformation, CMRRA has dramatically increased its revenue and reduced its members’ annual subscription fees from 10.5 per cent to six per cent. It has also opened up new numerous new opportunities for the company.

“They are now going to licence mechanical works in the US,” says Cullen. “They were restricted to Canada up until now, but they have become a lot cheaper than their US competitors because of the Microsoft cloud solution.”

For the future, Spanish Point is planning to use Microsoft’s AI technology to further enhance its solution. Currently, the company is moving into the US market and is also working with customers in Spain and Turkey with this solution.

“Microsoft has worked closely with Spanish Point on a number of digital transformation projects over the years,” says Aisling Curtis. “Spanish Point is a very innovative firm. It explores new frontiers with Microsoft products and platforms which enables its customers to access new business opportunities and gain competitive advantage. This is a very tangible example of how digital culture and transformation is allowing an Irish company to solve a worldwide issue for customers. It is a defining example of the impact of digital culture.”

Intelligent Search that can save you money: hotel booking, home services price ranges, and more

The Internet has put thousands of stores and service providers at our fingertips, allowing us to buy goods and services with the click of a button. This convenience comes with a set of challenges, especially when it comes to deciding which product to buy, which provider to hire, and how to get the most value for our money. Consumers cite anxiety and the fear of buyer’s remorse as their major pain points.

Today Bing is happy to announce the launch of new intelligent features designed to allow you to estimate and compare prices across multiple providers, give you insights to make the right trade-offs around price, and get more savings on products through a new deals experience – all built to help you save money.
 

Hotel booking

Typical users go through multiple sites before they make a choice on which hotel to book, and even then they often don’t feel confident they made the best choice. In May we released a hotel booking experience with aggregated pricing from third party booking sites. These features get even more powerful with what we’re announcing today: intelligent tips, a price trends view, and a comparison view.

First, Bing displays booking tips when you’re looking at hotels for which there are competing options you may not have considered. For example, if there are higher-rated hotels near the one you’re looking at with the same rate, or hotels that are closer to the airport and cheaper, we will let you know of the alternatives and tradeoffs for the options you’re looking at.


 
Second, Bing provides historical price trends for the date range you’re exploring to help make price-based trade-offs. Many sites only let you see the rate after you’ve already selected a date, so users end up clicking through many times to check the rates throughout the date range they’re interested in. Our price trend feature allows users to browse price trends over time in a single view.


 

Third, our new comparison view provides a comprehensive overview of pricing by hotel option. No more digging through multiple sites and reviews to find out what amenities are offered and if there are hidden fees! You’ll simply be able to see the detailed breakdowns side-by-side so you can feel assured you’re making the best choice for your needs and budget.


 

Home services pricing and scheduling

 

Hotel-booking unfortunately isn’t the only painful purchase experience for many users. We also heard that users are often frustrated when it comes to choosing a home service provider, as quotes can vary substantially from one service to another, and many people aren’t confident in how much they should expect to pay.

That’s why we built cost ranges to provide transparency for home services like sink installation costs and toilet repairs. These ranges show a visual distribution of prices, specific to your zip code so they’re tied to your location. We want you to feel empowered to plan your budget and even negotiate a quote with a specific provider!

This price data comes via our partnership with Porch, so you can feel confident you’re getting a comprehensive view.


 
After you’ve gotten a view of what to expect for pricing, Bing helps you collect quotes from multiple providers with just a few clicks. For example, if you search for “plumbers Bellevue”, you’ll get a listing of plumbers in that area with a ‘Get Quote’ for supported providers. Click that button and you’re taken to a pre-populated form on Yelp, where you can select up to 10 similar providers and send out a bulk request for quotes instead of having to contact each provider individually.
 

 

Coupons and deals

Finally, we realized that trying to find deals can be a time-consuming. Between the fine print, expiration dates, and confusing language, it’s easy to be unsure if you’re really getting a good deal or not.

Bing now aggregates deals across first- and third-party listings then displays them when you search for retailers or coupons. We surface relevant insights like ‘expiring soon’, whether the offers are online or in-store only, and more.


 

We hope you’re as excited by these money-saving features as we are — you can try them for yourself with our feature tour! All of them are available in the US, and apart from the home services price ranges these features are currently on desktop only. We will continue rolling out these features to mobile platforms and international markets in coming months.

While you’re trying out these new experiences, please also remember to sign in to Microsoft Rewards – you’ll earn points for your Bing searches and can redeem them towards gift cards and save even more!

Thanks,

The Bing Team
 

Cisco bolsters cloud security with Duo acquisition

Cisco has announced the $2.35 billion acquisition of Duo Security, adding two-step authentication services to the networking company’s cloud-based security portfolio.

Cisco said this week it expects to close the cash deal by the end of October. Following the Duo acquisition, Cisco will make Duo part of its security business under its general manager and executive vice president, David Goeckeler. Duo, which has 700 employees, will remain at its Ann Arbor, Mich., headquarters, and CEO Dug Song will continue to lead the company.

Under Cisco, Duo could grow much faster than it could on its own by gaining access to Cisco’s 800,000 customers. Duo, which was founded in 2009, has 12,000 customers.

Cisco wants to buy Duo to strengthen its cloud-based security services. Duo offers two-factor authentication that companies can integrate into websites, VPNs and cloud services. Duo services can also determine whether the user device trying to access the corporate asset poses a security risk.

The Duo acquistion adds another set of capabilities to those provided by Cisco’s other cloud-based security products, including OpenDNS and Stealthwatch Cloud. OpenDNS blocks malware, phishing attacks and botnets at the domain name system layer. Stealthwatch Cloud searches for threats by aggregating and analyzing telemetry drawn from public cloud infrastructures, such as AWS, Microsoft Azure and Google Cloud Platform.

Cisco’s plans following Duo acquisition

During a conference call with reporters and analysts, Goeckeler said Cisco will sell Duo as a stand-alone product, while also integrating its services into some of Cisco’s other cloud-based services. He did not provide details or a timeline, but noted other cloud-based products that Cisco has combined with each other include OpenDNS, the Viptela SD-WAN and the cloud-managed Meraki wireless LAN.

“We think we can drive [more] integrations here,” Goeckeler said of Duo. He later added Duo could bring more value to Cisco Umbrella, a cloud-based service that searches for threats in internet activity.

“Duo is another asset we can combine together with Umbrella to just increase the value of that solution to our customers,” Goeckeler said.

Cisco has been growing its security business through acquisition since at least 2013, when it bought firewall provider Sourcefire for $2.7 billion. In 2015, Cisco acquired OpenDNS for $635 million, and it bought CloudLock a year later for $293 million. CloudLock provides secure access to cloud applications, including those running on platform-as-a-service and infrastructure-as-a-service providers.

“All of these pieces are part of the larger strategy to build that integrated networking, security and identity cloud-delivered platform,” Goeckeler said.

Cisco’s acquisitions have fueled much of the growth in its security business. In the quarter ended in April, Cisco reported an 11% increase in security revenue to $583 million.

Adventist Health System is enhancing healthcare delivery using Microsoft 365 – Microsoft 365 Blog

Today’s post was written by Tony Qualls, director of enterprise technical services at Adventist Health System in Altamonte Springs, Florida.

Over the years, healthcare has changed from hospital-based care to preventive and continuous care that happens throughout an individual’s life—outside of hospital walls and inside patient homes and neighborhood clinics. Consequently, Adventist Health System is in the midst of a big transformation to a more consumer-centric organization to meet the needs of patients and families at every stage of health.

Our more than 80,000 employees are embracing this new care delivery model, and as many of them are frequently on the go, they need secure, quick access to information from anywhere.

With Microsoft 365, we’re able to give them access to the information they need in a secure, compliant environment. We’ve been a longtime user of Microsoft Office 365 to deliver the latest productivity innovations to our clinical and non-clinical employees. We migrated to Microsoft 365 to gain more flexibility with our licensing for Office 365 and for the Windows 10 operating system and Microsoft Enterprise Mobility + Security (EMS).

We have 28,000 Microsoft 365 E3 licenses for our office staff and 41,000 Office 365 F1 licenses for our Firstline team members—nurses, doctors, and other employees. These individuals carry laptops and tablets with them throughout the day or access shared devices using badge-tapping technology. With Microsoft 365, we can cost-effectively license the specific applications that employees need to accomplish various tasks throughout their workdays.

For example, our clinical staff uses Skype for Business Online to improve patient flow and connect physicians with remote patients. Now, we’re taking it to the next level with Microsoft Teams—probably the fastest-growing Office 365 application we have deployed. Everything’s in one place—SharePoint Online sites, files, chat, meetings, and Microsoft Planner. It’s so easy to use, and we find that after people get invited to one Teams channel, they turn around and create channels of their own to support other projects. With Teams, we have persistent conversations, documents, and other resources about a topic in one place, which helps groups focus and move faster. In addition, it’s a highly secure environment that we trust, and we can remain completely compliant with HIPAA and other healthcare regulations.

At Adventist Health System, we strive for excellence in all that we do. Our IT employees strive to be recognized as an industry leader. Utilizing Teams is just one way we are supporting our organization’s vision to be wholistic, exceptional, connected, affordable, and viable.

Communication is crucial to the success of any organization, and Adventist Health System is no different. The quicker we can share information, updates, and plans, the faster we gain buy-in from our team members. The clinical workspace thrives on rapid communication and collaboration around patient care. This, in turn, helps foster better outcomes and patient satisfaction.

It’s exciting to see the Teams roadmap incorporating artificial intelligence capabilities by offering speech-to-text and meeting transcription services. As we gather takeaways and valuable information from meetings, I am happy that Teams allows me to focus on listening to my staff and peers while it captures and transcribes meeting notes for later review.

There’s an abundance of innovation coming from Microsoft, and we’ve taken the approach of releasing new Office 365 applications directly to employees and letting user communities provide guidance, tips, and support on Yammer channels. This has been a great adoption model that has empowered employees to put these tools to work in ways that make sense for them.

Because Microsoft matches productivity innovation with security innovation, we can confidently utilize new technologies on tens of thousands of mobile devices. We’ve standardized on Windows 10 Enterprise, chiefly for security features such as default encryption. But EMS also includes a great bundle of security tools and licensing options that have significantly decreased our licensing costs while giving us enhanced security capabilities.

From a support perspective, Microsoft Intune and mobile email with Exchange Online have been tremendous timesavers. Employees had to unenroll and re-enroll devices in a previous email security program, and our infrastructure support team was inundated with support tickets around the need to resync mobile email accounts. But with Intune, employees download the Microsoft Outlook mobile app, we apply the correct policies, and they’re off and running.

With Microsoft 365, our clinical, support, and IT staffs are all better equipped to help Adventist Health System transform its business in a secure, compliant manner to meet the needs of today’s changing healthcare landscape.

—Tony Qualls

ComplyRight data breach affects 662,000, gets lawsuit

A data breach at ComplyRight, a firm that provides HR and tax services to businesses, may have affected 662,000 people, according to a state agency. It has also prompted a lawsuit, which was filed in federal court by a person who was notified that their personal data was breached. The lawsuit seeks class-action status.

The ComplyRight data breach included names, addresses, phone numbers, email addresses and Social Security numbers, some of which came from tax and W-2 forms.

ComplyRight’s services include a range of HR products, such as recruitment, time and attendance, as well as an online app for storing essential employee data. This particular attack was directed at its tax-form-preparation website. Hackers go after customer and employee data. The Identity Theft Resource Center 2018 midyear report, for instance, lists every known breach so far this year. It said the compromised data is a shopping list of HR managed data.

Company: No more than 10% of customers affected

The breach occurred between April 20 and May 22, and the company notified affected parties by mail.

ComplyRight, in a posted statement, said “a portion (less than 10%)” of people who have their tax forms prepared on its web platform were affected by a cyberattack, but it did not say how many customers were affected by its breach. The company knows the data was accessed or viewed, but it was unable to determine if the data was downloaded, according to the firm’s statement.

But the state of Wisconsin, which publishes data breach reports, has shed some light on the scale of the impact. It reported the ComplyRight data breach affected 662,000 people — including 12,155 Wisconsin residents. A spokesman for Wisconsin Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection said this figure was provided verbally to the state by an attorney for ComplyRight.

Rick Roddis, president of ComplyRight, based in Pompano Beach, Fla., said in an email that the firm won’t be commenting, for now, beyond what it has posted on the site.

Among the steps ComplyRight said it took was the hiring of a third-party security expert who conducted a forensic investigation. The firm is also offering credit-monitoring services to affected parties.

Security expert Nikolai Vargas, who looked at the firm’s statement, said ComplyRight “is doing the bare minimum in terms of transparency and informing their clients of the details of the security incident.”

“In cases of a data breach, it is important to disclose how long the exposure occurred and the scope of the exposure,” said Vargas, who is CTO of Switchfast, an IT consulting and managed service provider based in Chicago. ComplyRight stating that “less than 10%” of individuals were affected “doesn’t really explain how many people were impacted,” he added.

“Technical details are nice to have, but they’re not always necessary and may need to be withheld until protections are put in place,” Vargas said.

Federal suit alleges poor protection

[ComplyRight] is doing the bare minimum in terms of transparency and informing their clients of the details of the security incident.
Nikolai VargasCTO at Switchfast

The ComplyRight data breach was first reported by Krebs on Security, which had heard from customers who had received breach notification letters.

Susan Winstead, an Illinois resident, received the notification from ComplyRight on July 17, outlining what happened. She is the plaintiff in the lawsuit filed July 20 in the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of Illinois.

The lawsuit faults ComplyRight for allegedly not properly protecting its data and not immediately notifying affected individuals, and the suit seeks damages for the improper disclosure of personal information, including the time and effort to remediate the data beach. 

Company faced difficult detective work

Another independent expert who looked at ComplyRight’s notice, Avani Desai, said the company “followed best practice for incident response.”

With a cyberattack, one of the most difficult processes initially is identifying that there was an actual attack and the true extent of it, said Desai, president of Schellman & Company, a security and privacy compliance assessor in Tampa, Fla. It’s important to ask the following questions early: Was there sensitive information that was involved? Which systems were exploited? The firm quickly hired a third-party forensic group, she noted.

“ComplyRight locked down the system prior to announcing the breach, which is important, because when organizations announce too quickly, we see copycat attacks hit the already vulnerable situation,” Desai said.

Mike Sanchez, chief information security officer of United Data Technologies, an IT technology and services firm in Doral, Fla., said the things the firm did right are “they disabled the platform and performed a forensic investigation to understand the cause of the breach, as well as the breadth of the malicious actor’s actions.”

But Sanchez said the firm’s statement, which he described as a “very high-level summary,” lacked many specifics, including the exact flaw that was used to gain access to the data.

The Identity Theft Resource Center reported that as of the first six months of this year, there were 668 breaches exposing nearly 22.5 million records.