Tag Archives: technology

Accessibility tools support Hamlin Robinson students learning from home | | Microsoft EDU

More than ever, educators are relying on technology to create inclusive learning environments that support all learners. As we recognize Global Accessibility Awareness Day, we’re pleased to mark the occasion with a spotlight on an innovative school that is committed to digital access and success for all.

Seattle-based Hamlin Robinson School, an independent school serving students with dyslexia and other language-based learning differences, didn’t set a specific approach to delivering instruction immediately after transitioning to remote learning. “Our thought was to send home packets of schoolwork and support the students in learning, and we quickly realized that was not going to work,” Stacy Turner, Head of School, explained in a recent discussion with the Microsoft Education Team.

After about a week into distance learning, the school quickly went to more robust online instruction. The school serves grades 1-8 and students in fourth-grade and up are utilizing Office 365 Education tools, including Microsoft Teams. So, leveraging those same resources for distance learning was natural.

Built-in accessibility features

Stacy said the school was drawn to Microsoft resources for schoolwide use because of built-in accessibility features, such as dictation (speech-to-text), and the Immersive Reader, which relies on evidence-based techniques to help students improve at reading and writing.

“What first drew us to Office 365 and OneNote were some of the assistive technologies in the toolbar,” Stacy said. Learning and accessibility tools are embedded in Office 365 and can support students with visual impairments, hearing loss, cognitive disabilities, and more.

Josh Phillips, Head of Middle School, says for students at Hamlin Robinson, finding the right tools to support their learning is vital. “When we graduate our students, knowing that they have these specific language-processing needs, we want them to have fundamental skills within themselves and strategies that they know how to use. But we also want them to know what tools are available to them that they can bring in,” he said.

For example, for students who have trouble typing, a popular tool is the Dictate, or speech-to-text, function of Office 365. Josh said that a former student took advantage of this function to write a graduation speech at the end of eighth grade. “He dictated it through Teams, and then he was able to use the skills we were practicing in class to edit it,” Josh said. “You just see so many amazing ideas get unlocked and be able to be expressed when the right tools come along.”

Supporting teachers and students

Providing teachers with expertise around tech tools also is a focus at Hamlin Robinson. Charlotte Gjedsted, Technology Director, said the school introduced its teachers to Teams last year after searching for a platform that could serve as a digital hub for teaching and learning. “We started with a couple of teachers being the experts and helping out their teams, and then when we shifted into this remote learning scenario, we expanded that use,” Charlotte said.

“Teams seems to be easiest platform for our students to use in terms of the way it’s organized and its user interface,” added Josh.

He said it was clear in the first days of distance learning that using Teams would be far better than relying on packets of schoolwork and the use of email or other tools. “The fact that a student could have an assignment issued to them, could use the accessibility tools, complete the assignment, and then return the assignment all within Teams is what made it clear that this was going to be the right app for our students,” he said. 

A student’s view

Will Lavine, a seventh-grade student at the school says he appreciates the stepped-up emphasis on Teams and tech tools during remote learning and says those are helping meet his learning needs. “I don’t have to write that much on paper. I can use technology, which I’m way faster at,” he said.

“Will has been using the ease of typing to his benefit,” added Will’s tutor, Elisa Huntley. “Normally when he is faced with a hand written assignment, he would spend quite a bit of time to refine his work using only a pencil and eraser. But when he interfaces with Microsoft Teams, Will doesn’t feeling the same pressure to do it right the first time. It’s much easier for him to re-type something. His ideas are flowing in ways that I have never seen before.”

Will added that he misses in-person school, but likes the collaborative nature of Teams, particularly the ability to chat with teachers and friends.

With the technology sorted out, Josh said educators have been very focused on ensuring students are progressing as expected. He says that teachers are closely monitoring whether students are joining online classes, engaging in discussions, accessing and completing assignments, and communicating with their teachers.

Connect, explore our tools

We love hearing from our educator community and students and families. If you’re using accessibility tools to create more inclusive learning environments and help all learners thrive, we want to hear from you! One great way to stay in touch is through Twitter by tagging @MicrosoftEDU.

And if you want to check out some of the resources Hamlin Robinson uses, remember that students and educators at eligible institutions can sign up for Office 365 Education for free, including Word, Excel, PowerPoint, OneNote, and Microsoft Teams.

In honor of Global Accessibility Awareness Day, Microsoft is sharing some exciting updates from across the company. To learn more visit the links below:

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Author: Microsoft News Center

How one man is using tech to change the lives of children with learning disabilities – Microsoft News Center India

Technology for all abilities

For the first few years, the school relied on traditional teaching methods and computers were only available for office administrative services. But in 2009, the school acquired a few affordable laptops to see how technology could be integrated with the teaching curriculum.

“Once we acquired the laptops, there has been no looking back,” says Kishore Kumar, an alumnus of the school, who returned after finishing his bachelor’s in computer science to serve the school as its IT head. Since then, the school has implemented Microsoft Learning Tools on OneNote to teach and engage with students with different learning disabilities.

For students with dyslexia, who suffer from difficulties in reading, writing, and poor memory, teachers use Immersive Reader widely to enhance their reading skills. For young students, many of whom are first-generation learners in their families, teachers also include picture dictionary to help with memory retention.

“I can see the difference in confidence in children when they start using technology. For older children with dyslexia, who are learning to write, the Dictate feature helps them write simple sentences without worrying about making spelling mistakes,” says Vidhya, a remedial teacher at the school.

Similarly, for students with ADHD, teachers use OneNote to teach vocabulary by encouraging them to create mind maps, linear and web charts to increase their attention span and memory retention. Meanwhile tools like Sway help them learn visually while Kahoot quizzes at the end of every class are handy to test their retention.

It is students with autism, however, who need the most attention. The teachers at Helikx Open School and Learning Center have found the Flipgrid to be an engaging tool for students like Sam (name changed).

“Sam loves to tell stories. When I tell a story in class, he takes some characters from it and creates a whole new story. His imagination comes to full play when creates a new story on Flipgrid,” says Vidhya.

Today, the school has deployed Microsoft Teams for every teacher and student. Kumar has created separate channels as per their grade, which allows them to learn even when they are away from the school, like in the current COVID-19 situation.

An online math lesson in progress for children in the 15-17 age group
A mathematics class in progress for children in the 15-17 age group.

“Most of our students don’t have laptops at home, but they are still able to attend the classes on their phones,” says Kumar.

Moving to Teams has also provided teachers new tools to engage with their students remotely. While some teachers are using Kahoot quizzes at the end of their classes, others are encouraging students to create and share content using Sway, Buncee, and Paint 3D. To replicate the test environment, teachers are also sharing Microsoft Forms on Teams, which they need to fill and send back.

“Considering the students are currently not in school, we are also creating PowerPoint presentations with audio clips and OneNote pages with immersive reader and picture dictionary, which they can download and learn whenever they can,” adds Pradha Senthil, another teacher at the school.

Dreams do come true

When Dr. Senthilkumar returned to his hometown in 2000, he’d never imagined how impactful his vision would turn out to be. Many of his students have managed to make it to the regular workforce.

“One student of mine completed his engineering, worked for some of the biggest IT companies in the country and now runs a startup in Bengaluru,” he says with pride.

So what’s next for Dr Senthilkumar and his team at Helikx?

“We have seen the productive outcome of technology over the past couple of years. We have even established an innovation lab and are keen to expand and upgrade ourselves with tools over the next few years to see our children fly high,” he says.

Top photo: Sam (name changed), a student with autism, uses Immersive Reader on OneNote with picture dictionary to read a story. All images courtesy Helikx Open School and Learning Center.

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Author: Microsoft News Center

Critical SaltStack vulnerabilities exploited in several data breaches

Several technology organizations have reported data breaches stemming from two critical SaltStack vulnerabilities that were first disclosed last week.

SaltStack’s infrastructure automation and configuration management software, which used to maintain cloud servers and data centers, is built on the company’s open source Salt framework. Last Thursday, F-Secure publicly disclosed two critical remote code execution vulnerabilities in the Salt framework — CVE-2020-11651, an authentication bypass flaw, and CVE-2020-11652, a directory traversal bug; both flaws were patched in release 3000.2 of the framework, which SaltStack released the day before the disclosure.

The SaltStack vulnerabilities, which were first discovered by F-Secure researchers in March, allow an unauthorized individual who can connect to a Salt installation’s “request server” port to circumvent any authorization requirements or access controls. As a result, an attacker can gain root control of both the “Master” Salt installation and the “minions” or agents that connect to it, according to F-Secure.

“A scan revealed over 6,000 instances of this service exposed to the public internet,” F-Secure said in its advisory. “Getting all of these installs updated may prove a challenge as we expect that not all have been configured to automatically update the salt software packages.”

F-Secure did not publish any proof-of-concept exploit code for the SaltStack vulnerabilities because of the “reliability and simplicity of exploitation.” The cybersecurity vendor also warned that attacks were imminent. “We expect that any competent hacker will be able to create 100% reliable exploits for these issues in under 24 hours,” the advisory said.

Exploitation in the wild didn’t occur quite that quickly, but it was close.

The data breaches

Several technology organizations were breached over the weekend in attacks that exploited the SaltStack vulnerabilities.

On May 2, LineageOS, an open source Android distribution, was breached. The organization announced on Twitter that “an attacker used a CVE in our saltstack master to gain access to our infrastructure” but that signing keys, builds and source code were unaffected. A timeline of the attack with additional details was documented on the LineageOS status page.

Also, on May 2, certificate authority DigiCert was breached. According to a public post in the Mozilla security group forum by Jeremy Rowley, executive vice president of product at DigiCert, a key used for signed certificate timestamps (SCTs) on the company’s Certificate Transparency (CT) 2 log server was exposed in the breach. “The remaining logs remain uncompromised and run on separate infrastructure,” Rowley wrote in a post on Sunday.

Update: In a statement to SearchSecurity, Rowley said CT2 log server was separated from the rest of DigiCert’s network, and therefore no CA systems or other log servers were affected by the intrusion. “The Salt environment was not actually tied to DigiCert’s corporate environment. It was its own segmented environment,” he said.

DigiCert announced Monday that it was deactivating the CT2 log server, though it didn’t believe the exposed key was used to sign SCTs outside of the CT2 log server. However, as a precaution the company advised other certificate authorities that received DigiCert SCTs after 5 p.m. MDT on May 2 to obtain alternative SCTs.

Software maker Xen Orchestra was also breached over the weekend, according to a company blog post. The company documented the attack timeline, which began at 1:18 a.m. on May 3 when it discovered some parts of its infrastructure were unreachable. After launching a full investigation, Xen Orchestra identified the culprit as a “rogue” Salt minion process for cryptocurrency mining, which was found to be running on some of its VMs, according to the blog.

Xen Orchestra said it was fortunate in that no RPMs or GNU Privacy Guard (GPG) signing keys were affected in the breach, and there was no evidence that customer data or other sensitive information was compromised.

The company admitted it was caught off guard and underestimated the risk of having Salt Masters exposed to the public internet. “Luckily, the initial attack payload was really dumb and not dangerous,” Xen Orchestra said in the post. “We are aware it might have been far more dangerous and we take it seriously as a big warning.”

Open source blogging platform Ghost became yet another victim, suffering an attack that began at 1:30 a.m. on May 3, according to report on their status page. The organization determined an attacker used the CVEs to gain access to its infrastructure, which affected both Ghost(Pro) sites and Ghost.org billing services. Like Xen-Orchestra, Ghost determined the attackers deployed cryptomining malware on its infrastructure.

“The mining attempt spiked CPUs and quickly overloaded most of our systems, which alerted us to the issue immediately,” the company wrote in its update, adding that fixes for the vulnerabilities were implemented. “At this time there is no evidence of any attempts to access any of our systems or data.”

Ghost verified that no customer payment card data was affected in the breach, but that all sessions, passwords and keys were being reset and all servers were being reprovisioned as a precaution. In an updated status post on Monday, Ghost said all traces of the cryptomining malware had been eliminated.

The attacks continued after the weekend. Code 42, an IT services firm based in Nantes, France, (not to be confused with Code42, a U.S.-based backup and data protection vendor), took to Twitter Monday to announce its infrastructure was under attack through a “zeroday” in SaltStack. [Editor’s note: The SaltStack vulnerabilities were not zero days as they had been patched prior to public disclosure and exploitation in the wild.]

SaltStack issued a statement confirming that attacks had occurred and urging customers to update their software to prevent further breaches and follow best practices to harden their Salt environments.

“Upon learning of the CVE, SaltStack took immediate action to develop and publish patches, and to communicate update instructions to our customers and users,” Moe Abdula, senior vice president of engineering at SaltStack, wrote in a blog post. “Although there was no initial evidence the CVE had been exploited, we have confirmed that some vulnerable, unpatched systems have been accessed by unauthorized users since the release of the patches.”

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Trilio’s Kubernetes data protection enters early access

A global pandemic sidelined the drive for backup for containers, but at least one vendor expects the technology will make a complete recovery.

Trilio launched early access for its TrilioVault for Kubernetes, a platform that enables simple snapshotting, backup and recovery for applications and their associated data and metadata within Kubernetes containers. In beta since November 2019, TrilioVault for Kubernetes is now offered as a 30-day free trial, a free basic edition for up to ten nodes or an enterprise edition that charges on a per-node basis. General availability is planned for the end of May, and Trilio will add features such as advanced retention policies and backup script injection.

TrilioVault for Kubernetes is agentless, packaged as an Operator and deployed as a Custom Resource Definition in Kubernetes. It enables Kubernetes to natively perform snapshotting and recovery for use cases such as backup, disaster recovery and migration of backup data between clouds and test/dev environments. The platform is compatible with any storage, whether NFS, CSI or S3, and users can point to AWS, Azure, Google Cloud, IBM Cloud or a private cloud as the backup target. It backs up applications provisioned by Labels, Helm or Operator within Kubernetes or Red Hat OpenShift. The product is OpenShift Operator certified and can be installed from OperatorHub.

There has been a growing number of organizations developing and deploying applications in the cloud, said Trilio CEO David Safaii. Trilio’s first offering, TrilioVault for OpenStack, went after the cloud-native data protection market, and Safaii said there’s now rising demand for a similar product for Kubernetes applications.

A report recently published by GigaOm found that Kubernetes adoption is on the rise, as enterprises are developing and testing applications in containers. This has led to more stateful applications living in containers, and a need to back them up.

Safaii said there are generally two ways companies protect Kubernetes environments, and both have flaws. Custom scripting can achieve backup and recovery, but requires a lot of maintenance and updates as cloud-native applications continually change. Legacy backup vendors deploy agents and focus on their own proprietary tools and storage. Both methods are missing what Safaii considers the two essential components of cloud data protection: an open, universal backup schema and infinite scalability.

“People are not happy with what’s out there now,” Safaii said.

Vendors such as Asigra, Storware, Cohesity and Storidge have products that can perform agentless backups for Kubernetes.

Data protection vendors had been getting into container backup before the COVID-19 pandemic forced them to switch focus to endpoint and remote backup. Marc Staimer, president of Dragon Slayer Consulting, said there’s been movement on containers, both increased company adoption of containers and rising demand for protecting them, but nobody cares now because of COVID-19.

screenshot of TrilioVault for Kubernetesin OpenShift OperatorHub
TrilioVault for Kubernetes is OpenShift certified and can be installed from OperatorHub.

Staimer said before the pandemic, he would’ve seen this as Trilio going to market at the right time and addressing a market need just as momentum for it was picking up. Now, he’s not so sure. While he believes containers and container backup will see greater adoption in the future, everyone is more concerned about backing up their laptops right now.

“Containers have sort of taken a backseat for now,” Staimer said. “They would’ve been riding the beginning of the wave, but the wave’s been detoured.”

Christophe Bertrand, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, similarly said there was a bright future for containers. Containers are part of a trend toward agile development, and products that understand and protect container environments will be critical. Containers and Kubernetes will displace or replace some of the workloads virtualization and VMware do right now. However, Bertrand conceded that future may be delayed.

“It’s definitely a hot topic that’s been eclipsed right now,” Bertrand said.

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ConnectWise threat intelligence sharing platform changes hands

Nonprofit IT trade organization CompTIA said it will assume management and operations of the Technology Solution Provider Information Sharing and Analysis Organization established by ConnectWise in August 2019.

Consultant and long-time CompTIA member MJ Shoer will remain as the TSP-ISAO’s executive director under the new arrangement. The TSP-ISAO retains its primary mission of fostering real-time threat intelligence sharing among channel partners, CompTIA said.

MJ ShoerMJ Shoer

Nancy Hammervik, CompTIA’s executive vice president of industry relations, discussed CompTIA’s TSP-ISAO leadership role with Shoer during the CompTIA Communities and Councils Forum event this week. CompTIA conducted the event virtually after cancelling its Chicago in-person event due to the coronavirus pandemic.

Shoer said CompTIA is uniquely positioned to enhance the TSP-ISAO. “If you look at all the educational opportunities and resources that CompTIA brings to the table … those are going to be integral to this in terms of helping to further educate the world of TSPs … about the cyber threats and how to respond,” he said.

He added that CompTIA’s involvement in government policy work will contribute to the success of the threat intelligence sharing platform, as “the government is going to be key.” ISAOs were chartered by the Department of Homeland Security as a result of an executive order by former president Barack Obama in 2015.

Hammervik and Shoer also underscored that CompTIA’s commitment to vendor neutrality will help the TSP-ISAO bring together competitive companies in pursuit of a collective benefit. “We all face these threats. We have all seen some of the reports about MSPs being used as threat vectors against their clients. If we don’t … stop that, it can harm the industry from the largest member to the smallest,” Shoer said.

About 650 organizations have joined the TSP-ISAO, according to Hammervik. Membership in the organization in 2020 is free for TSP companies.

Shoer said his goal for the TSP-ISAO is to develop a collaborative platform that can share qualified, real-time and actionable threat intelligence with TSPs so they can secure their own and customers’ businesses. He said ultimately, the organization would like to automate elements of the threat intelligence sharing, but it may be a long-term goal as AI and other technologies mature.

Wipro launches Microsoft technology unit

Wipro Ltd., a consulting and business process services company based in Bangalore, India, launched a business unit dedicated to Microsoft technology.

Wipro said its Microsoft Business Unit will focus on developing offerings that use Microsoft’s enterprise cloud services. Those Wipro offerings will include:

  • Cloud Studio, which provides migration services for workloads on such platforms as Azure and Dynamics 365.
  • Live Workspace, which uses Microsoft’s Modern Workplace, Azure’s Language Understanding Intelligent Service, Microsoft 365 and Microsoft’s Power Platform.
  • Data Discovery Platform, which incorporates Wipro’s Holmes AI system and Azure.

Wipro’s move follows HCL Technologies’ launch in January 2020 of its Microsoft Business Unit and Tata Consultancy Services’ rollout in November 2019 of a Microsoft Business Unit focusing on Azure’s cloud and edge capabilities. Other large IT service providers with Microsoft business units include Accenture/Avenade and Infosys.

Other news

  • 2nd Watch, a professional services and managed cloud company based in Seattle, unveiled a managed DevOps service, which the company said lets clients take advantage of DevOps culture without having to deploy the model on their own. The 2nd Watch Managed DevOps offering includes an assessment and strategy phase, DevOps training, tool implementation based on the GitLab platform, and ongoing management. 2nd Watch is partnering with GitLab to provide the managed DevOps service.
  • MSPs can now bundle Kaseya Compliance Manager with a cyber insurance policy from Cysurance. The combination stems from a partnership between Kaseya and Cysurance, a cyber insurance agency. Cysurance’s cyber policy is underwritten by Chubb.
  • Onepath, a managed technology services provider based in Atlanta, rolled out Onepath Analytics, a cloud-based business intelligence offering for finance professionals in the SMB market. The analytics offering includes plug-and-play extract, transform and load, data visualization and financial business metrics such as EBITDA, profit margin and revenue as a percentage of sales, according to the company. Other metrics maybe included, the company said, if the necessary data is accessible.
  • Avaya and master agent Telarus have teamed up to provide Avaya Cloud Office by Ring Central. Telarus will offer the unified communications as a service product to its network of 4,000 technology brokers, Avaya said.
  • Adaptive Networks, a provider of SD-WAN as a service, said it has partnered with master agent Telecom Consulting Group.
  • Spinnaker Support, an enterprise software support services provider, introduced Salesforce application management and consulting services. The company also provides Oracle and SAP application support services.
  • Avanan, a New York company that provides a security offering for cloud-based email and collaboration suites, has hired Mike Lyons as global MSP/MSSP sales director.
  • Managed security service provider High Wire Networks named Dave Barton as its CTO. Barton will oversee and technology solutions and channel sales engineering for the company’s Overwatch Managed Security Platform, which is sold through channel partners, the company said.

Market Share is a news roundup published every Friday.

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Deepfakes: Security experts undecided on the threat level

Deepfake technology has advanced at a rapid pace, but the infosec community is still undecided about how much of a threat deepfakes represent.

Many are familiar with deepfakes in their video and image form, where machine learning technology generates a celebrity saying something they didn’t say or putting a different celebrity in their place. However, deepfakes can also appear in audio and even text-based forms. Several sessions at RSA Conference 2020 examined how convincing these fakes can be, as well as technical approaches to refute them. But so far, threat researchers are unsure if deepfakes have been used for cyberattacks in the wild.

In order to explore the potential risk of deepfakes, SearchSecurity asked a number of experts about the threat deepfakes pose to society. In other words, should we be worried about deepfakes?

There was a clear divide in the responses between those who see deepfakes as a real threat and those who were more lukewarm on the idea.

Concern about deepfakes

Some security experts at RSA Conference 2020 feared that deepfakes would be used as part of disinformation campaigns in U.S. elections. McAfee senior principal engineer and chief data scientist Celeste Fralick said that with the political climate being the way it is around the world, deepfakes are absolutely something that we should be worried about.”

Fralick cited a demonstration of deepfake technology during an RSAC session presented by Sherin Mathews, senior data scientist at McAfee, and Amanda House, data scientist at McAfee.

“We have a number of examples, like Bill Hader morphing into Tom Cruise and morphing back. I never realized they looked alike, but when you see the video you can see them morph. So certainly in this political climate I think that it’s something to be worried about. Are we looking at the real thing?”

Jake Olcott, BitSight’s vice president of communications and government affairs, agreed, saying that deepfakes are “a huge threat to democracy.” He notes that the platforms that own the distribution of content, like social media sites, are doing very little to stop the spread of misinformation.

“I’m concerned that because the fakes are so good, people are either not interested in distinguishing between what’s true and what’s not, but also that the malicious actors, they recognize that there’s sort of just like a weak spot and they want to just continue to pump this stuff out.”

CrowdStrike CTO Mike Sentonas made the point that they’re getting harder to spot and easier to create.

“I think it’s something we’ll more and more have to deal with as a community.”

Deepfake threats aren’t pressing

Other security experts such as Patrick Sullivan, Akamai CTO of security strategy, weren’t as concerned about the potential use of deepfakes in cyberattacks.

“I don’t know if we should be worrying. I think people should be educated. We live in a democracy, and part of that is you have to educate yourself on things that can influence you as someone who lives in a democracy,” Sullivan said. “I think people are much smarter about the ways someone may try to divide online, how bots are able to amplify a message, and I think the next thing people need to get their arms around is video, which has always been an unquestionable point of data, which you may have to be more skeptical about.”

Malwarebytes Labs director Adam Kujawa said that while he’s not so worried about the ever-publicized deepfake videos, he does show concern with deepfake text and systems that automatically predict or create text based on a user’s input.

“I see as being pretty dangerous because if you utilize that with limited input derived from social media accounts, anything you want to create a pretty convincing spear phishing email, almost on the fly.”

That said, he echoed Sullivan’s point that people are generally able to spot when something is obviously not real.

“They are getting better [however], and we need to develop technology that can identify these things you and I won’t be able to, because eventually that’s going to happen,” Kujawa said.

Greg Young, Trend Micro’s vice president of cybersecurity, went as far as to call deepfakes “not a big deal.”

However, he added, ” I think where it’s going to be used is business email compromise where you try to get a CEO or CFO to send you a Western Union payment. So if I can imitate that person’s voice, deepfake for voice alone would be very useful because I can tell the CFO to do this thing if I’m the person pretending to be the CEO, and they’re going to do it. We don’t leave video messages today, so the video side I’m less concerned about. I think deepfakes will be used more in disinformation campaigns. We’ve already seen some of that today.”

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Coronavirus impact: Businesses forced to rely on video conferencing

In January, life sciences technology vendor Veeva held a new year kickoff for its North American employees in Orlando, Fla. A few weeks later, the company held a similar event for its Asia-based employees — except instead of everyone meeting in Tokyo as planned, the coronavirus outbreak forced workers to dial into Zoom.

The differences between the two events were stark.

The would-be Tokyo attendees sat alone on their computers. In Orlando, colleagues shared meals and dance floors. They visited an amusement park one evening. And by gathering more than 1,000 people in the same place, the company generated a palpable enthusiasm for its vision and goals.

“There is a little bit lost, for sure, in a remote meeting compared to a face-to-face meeting,” said Paul Shawah, Veeva’s senior vice president for commercial cloud strategy.

Businesses like Veeva are increasingly turning to video conferencing services like Zoom and Cisco Webex to avoid travel in response to the growing threat of the new coronavirus, COVID-19. The disease had sickened nearly 100,000 people worldwide as of March 5, including more than 200 people in the United States, where 14 have died.

Video conferencing apps are providing a convenient alternative to face-to-face meetings during the outbreak. But companies are also missing chances to connect on a more personal level with customers, partners and employees.

Theory Studios, a boutique entertainment company, generates most of its business by attending conferences. The studio scrambled to schedule Zoom meetings after the last-minute cancellation of Google I/O and the postponement of the Game Developers Conference.

“At the end of the day, nothing beats in-person [meetings],” said David Andrade, co-founder of Theory Studios. “It’s the joy of sharing a meal — or maybe the client wanting to tour you around their office — that turns a regular meeting into a personal, long-lasting connection.” At the same time, Andrade has used Zoom to build meaningful relationships long before meeting in person, he said.

Similarly, salespeople for electronics manufacturer ViewSonic are watching closely as premier sponsors begin to withdraw from Enterprise Connect, a trade show scheduled for late March. Some of ViewSonic’s customers have also temporarily banned salespeople from their campuses.

“As a sales leader … I would always like to think that travel is essential to business,” said Chris Graefe, ViewSonic’s director of enterprise sales. “A face-to-face meeting is preferred, obviously.” Video conferencing, however, will help maintain relationships amid the travel restrictions, he said.

For Veeva, holding its Asia kickoff on Zoom was “the next best thing,” Shawah said. The format even brought some benefits. For example, everything was recorded, allowing those who missed the meeting to catch up. Also, Zoom’s chat feature facilitated a robust Q&A session, Shawah said.


Tech vendors capitalize on coronavirus outbreak

Video conferencing providers have responded to the increased need for their services by extending the capabilities of their free offerings.

Cisco is now allowing meetings of unlimited length for up to 100 participants on the free version of Webex. Microsoft is giving out six-month licenses to Office 365 that provide access to a more robust version of Microsoft Teams than is usually available for free. Zoom has lifted the 40-minute cap on free meetings in China.

The vendors hope the uptick in usage will continue even after fears about the virus subside. Free offerings can be an effective way to generate paying customers.

In a conference call with investors Wednesday, Zoom CEO Eric Yuan predicted the outbreak would demonstrate the benefits of Zoom and lead to higher usage among companies. “This will dramatically change the landscape.”

Zoom’s stock is up more than 50% since late January. Video conferencing vendors, including hardware makers, are expected to rake in $13.8 billion in revenue by 2023, up from $7.8 billion in 2018, according to Frost & Sullivan.

Because so many employees are temporarily working from home, cybersecurity firm Trend Micro has begun hosting company-wide Zoom calls twice a week. Some hope the practice will continue even after people return to the company’s offices around the world.

“With this concern happening, and people increasing their use of collaboration tools, I do think it’s going to have a lasting effect,” said Leah MacMillan, Trend Micro’s chief marketing officer.

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COVID-19 depresses 5G smartphone shipments

Technology research firm Omdia lowered by 20% its forecast for global shipments of 5G smartphones. The latest estimate reflects the disruption to component manufacturing caused by the Chinese government’s efforts to contain COVID-19, the disease caused by a new strain of the coronavirus.

Production delays for smartphone screens and, to a lesser extent, 5G antenna modules, will likely push back the availability of some new phones to the first quarter of 2021, Omdia reported. As a result, the research firm revised its forecast for 5G phone shipments in 2020 from 250 million to 200 million.

COVID-19 has spread to at least 86 countries since government health officials first identified the potentially deadly coronavirus strain in Wuhan, China, in late December. At its peak in China, the virus was infecting more than 3,000 people a day.

China’s aggressive tactics for containment has reduced the number of daily infections to 200. However, shutting down factories, imposing strict quarantines, and isolating areas of the disease has halted the production of active-matrix OLED (AMOLED) smartphone displays. A significant portion of display assembly takes place in the Wuhan area.

Display production dropped by 40% to 50% in the first quarter and will likely be down in the second quarter, Omdia senior analyst Kevin Anderson said. “And, it remains to be seen how quickly they can ramp back up going into Q3, which is a major production quarter.”

Impact on 5G antenna production

Slowing the spread of COVID-19 has also led to lower inventories of 5G antennas. However, the production drop in China was offset somewhat by manufacturers in Taiwan, where factories remained open, according to Omdia.

The component shortages could delay new 5G models from Chinese smartphone makers Huawei, Oppo and Xiaomi, Anderson said.

“They were rolling out 5G quite aggressively,” he said. “They have quite aggressive plans for the year.”

Samsung, which has the largest share of the global smartphone market, was not affected by the problems in China because most of the production of its phones is in Vietnam.

Whether manufacturing slowdowns in China will affect Apple remains to be seen, Anderson said. Analysts expect the company to release a 5G iPhone this year, but Apple has not made an official announcement. Apple makes most of its iPhones in China.

Typically, smartphone manufacturers introduce models late in the third quarter, which drives the highest sales of the year in the fourth quarter. If they delay the unveiling of new phones, the sales cycle will likely extend into the first quarter of 2021.

Omdia, a unit of Informa Tech, is the latest market research firm to revise 5G smartphone predictions because of COVID-19. In late February, Strategy Analytics lowered its 2020 forecast to 199 million phones.

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What’s new with PowerShell error handling?

Hitting errors — and resolving them — is an inevitable part of working with technology, and PowerShell is no exception.

No one writes perfect code. Your scripts might have a bug or will need to account for when a resource gets disconnected, a service hits a problem, or an input file is badly formatted. Learning how to interpret an error message, discover the root cause and handle the error gracefully is an important part of working with PowerShell. The development team behind the open source version of PowerShell 7 has improved PowerShell error handling both when you run a script and when you enter commands in a shell.

This article walks you through PowerShell error handling in a simple script and introduces several new features in PowerShell 7 that make the process more user-friendly.

How to find PowerShell 7

To start, be sure you have PowerShell 7 installed. This is the latest major release for the tool that had been called PowerShell Core up until the release of version 7. Microsoft still supports the Windows PowerShell 5.1 version but does not plan to give it the new features that the project team develops for open source PowerShell.

PowerShell 7 is available for Windows, Mac and Linux. The latest version can be installed from the PowerShell GitHub page.

On Windows, you can also use PowerShell 7 in the new Windows Terminal application, which offers improvements over the old Windows console host.

Error messages in previous PowerShell versions

A common problem for newcomers to Windows PowerShell 5.1 and the earlier PowerShell Core releases is that when something goes wrong, it’s not clear why.

For example, imagine you want to export a list of local users to a CSV file, but your script contains a typo:

Get-LocalUser |= Export-Csv local_users.csv

This is what you would see when you run the script:

PowerShell error message
Before the PowerShell 7 release, this is the type of error message that would display if there was a typo in a command.

The error code contains critical information — there’s an equals symbol that doesn’t belong — but it can be difficult to find in the wall of red text.

A longtime variable gets new purpose

Did you know that PowerShell has a preference variable called $ErrorView? Perhaps not because until now, it hasn’t been very useful.

The $ErrorView variable determines what information gets sent to the console and how it is formatted when an error occurs. The message can vary if you’re running a script file as opposed to entering a command in the shell.

In previous versions of PowerShell, $ErrorView defaulted to NormalView — this is the source of the wall of red text seen in the previous screenshot.

That all changes with PowerShell 7. There’s a new option for $ErrorView that is now the default called ConciseView.

Errors get clearer formatting in PowerShell 7

When we run the same command with the error in PowerShell 7 with the new default ConciseView, the error message is easier to understand.

ConciseView option
The new ConciseView option reduces the clutter and highlights the error location with a different color.

The new PowerShell error handling highlights the problem area in the command with a different color and does not overload you with too much information.

Let’s fix the typo and continue testing.

Shorter errors in the shell

Another error you might encounter when writing to a CSV is that the target file is locked. For example, it’s possible the file is open in Excel.

If you’re using PowerShell as a shell, the new default ErrorView will now give you just the error message with no extraneous information. You can see the length of the error from Windows PowerShell 5.1 and its NormalView below.

Windows PowerShell error message
The default error message in Windows PowerShell 5.1 provides a lot of information but not in a useful manner.

In contrast, PowerShell error handling in the newest version of the automation tool provides a more succinct message when a problem occurs due to the ConciseView option.

PowerShell 7 error message
The ConciseView option provides a more straightforward error message when a problem with a command occurs.

You can much more easily see that the file is locked and start thinking about fixing the problem.

Learning how to explore error records

We’ve seen how PowerShell 7 improves error messages by providing just the information you need in a more structured manner. But what should you do if you need to dig deeper? Let’s find out by continuing to use this error as an example: “The process cannot access the file … because it is being used by another process.”

Taking the terror out of $Error

Every time PowerShell encounters an error, it’s written to the $Error automatic variable. $Error is an array and the most recent error is $Error[0].

To learn more about the your most recent error in previous versions of PowerShell, you would explore $Error[0] with cmdlets such as Select-Object and Format-List. This type of examination is laborious: You can only expand one property at a time, and it’s easy to miss vital nested information contained in a handful of properties.

For example, look at the output from the command below.

$Error[0] | Select-Object *
$Error automatic variable
The $Error automatic variable in PowerShell before version 7 stored errors but was not flexible enough to give a deeper look at the properties involved.

There’s no way of knowing that a wealth of valuable data lives under the properties Exception and InvocationInfo. The next section shows how to get at this information.

Learning to explore with Get-Error

PowerShell 7 comes with a new cmdlet called Get-Error that gives you a way to survey all the information held within a PowerShell error record.

Run without any arguments, Get-Error simply shows the most recent error, as you can see in the screenshot below.

Get-Error cmdlet output
The new Get-Error cmdlet in PowerShell 7 gives you an easier way to get more information about errors.

You are immediately shown the hierarchy of useful objects and properties nested inside the error record. For example, you can see the Exception property isn’t a dump of information; it contains child properties, some of which have their own children.

If you want to reuse the error message in your code to write it to a log file or the Event Viewer, then you can use the following command to store the message:

$Error[0].Exception.Message

Use ErrorVariable to store error records

The Get-Error cmdlet also accepts error records from the pipeline. This is particularly handy if you use the -ErrorVariable common parameter to store errors for later inspection, which you can do with the following code:

# +myErrors means "add error to $myErrors variable"
Get-LocalUser | Export-Csv local_users.csv -ErrorVariable +myErrors
# Inspect the errors with Get-Error
$myErrors | Get-Error

By using Get-Error, you can see that an ErrorVariable holds information somewhat differently than the $Error variable. The error message is present in several places, most simply in a property named Message, as shown in the following screenshot.

ErrorVariable parameter
Using the ErrorVariable parameter gives a more flexible way to log errors rather than using the $Error variable, which saves every error in a session.

Bringing it all together

You’ve now used Get-Error to inspect error records, both from your shell history and from an ErrorVariable, and you’ve seen how to access a property of the error.

The final step is to tie everything together by reusing the property in your script. This example stores errors in $myErrors and writes any error messages out to a file:

Get-LocalUser | Export-Csv local_users.csv -ErrorVariable +myErrors
if ($myErrors) {
$myErrors.Message | Out-File errors.log -Append
}

If you want to get serious about scripting and automation, then it’s worth investigating the PowerShell error handling now that it got a significant boost in version 7. It’s particularly helpful to store errors to a variable for later investigation or to share with a colleague.

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