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Dreamforce brings Salesforce products upgrades

Users can anticipate more Einstein AI features to be integrated with Salesforce products and more news about the CRM vendor’s recent acquisitions and how they will play pivotal roles in the Salesforce platform.

Salesforce is expected to unveil the Einstein and acquisition developments at Dreamforce, the company’s annual customer conference in San Francisco that attracts nearly 150,000 attendees.

Analysts said they expect substantial upgrades to core Salesforce systems and more use cases for Einstein and how recent acquisitions of CloudCraze and MuleSoft fit into the Salesforce ecosystem.

“Salesforce is trying to tell the story that they are the customer success platform for all companies, B2B, B2C and companies that operate in both industries,” said John Bruno, an analyst at Forrester.

Bruno added that he expects more keynotes than usual from companies like Adidas that show how Salesforce products allow companies to work with a variety of customers, from both the business and consumer sectors.

“I think you’ll hear a tight story around exactly how Salesforce and CloudCraze and Commerce Cloud fit for B2B and B2C companies,” Bruno said. “Is it going to be prime time ready? No, but they will target that story because Salesforce hasn’t told that story great.”

Attendees at Dreamforce 2017 in San Francisco
Users can learn about new upgrades and features for all Salesforce products at Dreamforce conference.

New Quip Slides system

Meanwhile, Salesforce said Sept. 17, a week before Dreamforce, that it will be showing at the conference PowerPoint-esque upgrade to its content collaboration platform, Quip, called Quip Slides.

Quip Slides is an AI-assisted platform to help workgroups create interactive presentations mainly for internal meetings and training. It features real-time collaboration, charting, live data, feedback prompts and engagement insights.

Another feature in Quip is Salesforce partner-built Live Apps, which enable work teams to embed Box and Dropbox files into Quip.

Integrating the Integration Cloud

The CloudCraze acquisition was just one of several the San Francisco-based CRM giant made to improve its suite of products. Salesforce spent $6.5 billion to acquire MuleSoft and build out what it’s calling the Integration Cloud.

What Salesforce is recognizing is there’s a whole different set of roles for how you manage customers now.
John Brunoanalyst, Forrester

Paul Greenberg, founder and analyst at The 56 Group, said he sees the name “Integration Cloud” as a misnomer, but that he thinks the MuleSoft purchase is a pivotal acquisition to bolster Salesforce.

“Despite its silly name as Integration Cloud, MuleSoft was a smart acquisition as it gives Salesforce access to all these different layers of service and does a lot of things Salesforce couldn’t previously do,” Greenberg said. “For integrations to succeed, it’s not just about building on the Salesforce platform. Without MuleSoft it was harder to build out integrations.”

With many organizations working to upgrade legacy systems and update their processes and provide  customers with a modern experience, the ability to connect legacy systems to current platforms is often laborious. Salesforce hopes its Integration Cloud will help ease that transition.

“We’ve ended up in a hybrid world,” said Michael Fauscette, chief research officer at G2 Crowd. “We’ve created so many data silo issues and it’s incumbent on the platform players to provide the ability to get past that.”

Continuing with business transformation

In addition to the expected unveiling of Integration Cloud and B2B commerce use cases, Salesforce is anticipated to continue its strategy of bringing together different customer-facing departments to help curate better customer experiences.

“I don’t think it’s a fully mature or fully conscious Salesforce strategy, but Salesforce is drilling down toward more personalization,” Greenberg said. “Salesforce’s Connections conference was the first step to that public story where we saw Marketing Cloud, Sales Cloud and Service Cloud becoming cross clouds in more significant ways than ever before.”

Bruno, from Forrester, agreed that organizational transformation and how Salesforce products can help is a major theme for Salesforce.

“What Salesforce is recognizing is there’s a whole different set of roles for how you manage customers now,” Bruno said. “I can see themes where [Salesforce] recognizes businesses have changed, customer engagement has changed and they are trying to provide solutions to account for that.”

More than just Salesforce products

Beyond the larger topics around its new acquisitions and customer empowerment, all of the core Salesforce products are expected to receive upgrades and users will be able to attend sessions with roadmaps outlining the future for Salesforce products.

“A core part of Dreamforce is about unveiling new innovations and it’s what customers have come to expect,” said Brigitte Donner, VP and conference chair for Dreamforce, at Salesforce. “We have more product keynotes planned than ever before.”

Donner added that the theme for Dreamforce is “change,” extending beyond just Salesforce products to larger social issues, with the first climate summit planned at Dreamforce this year, as well as Salesforce bringing back an equality summit.

Dreamforce takes place Sept. 25 to 28. Check SearchSalesforce.com for daily conference coverage.

A Microsoft apprenticeship helped a former gang member escape the streets

“Our main users were women and they said the guys at their gym were pervs or muscly and intimidating; or it was a scary concept – what should be like going to a doctor is more like trying to work out in front of the strongest guy in class,” Uwadiae says.

Three people turned up to WeGym’s first group session, which was led by a friend of Uwadiae, and two went to the next one. His new business was up and running.

In the months that followed, Uwadiae taught himself to code so he could improve the website during the day. At night he would sneak around London in a hoodie to put up posters advertising WeGym, which would get ripped down again the next morning.

“I would put up posters for three or four hours until 2am or 3am, go home, sleep, get up at 8am and take bookings. We got five or six customers the first time I did it, then 10 after the next one.

“We have the opportunity to change the narrative around who can access a personal trainer and what the product of a personal trainer is. We’ve democratised it in a small way, for a small subset of people.

Watch For, Hackathon 2017 winner, powers Mixer’s massively successful HypeZone

HypeZone, released in December 2017, rapidly gained millions of new users to livestream community Mixer. HypeZone’s secret weapon? The 2017 Hackathon Grand Prize Winner, Watch For, a Microsoft Garage project.

Last month, Microsoft’s fifth annual One Week Hackathon wrapped up with astounding numbers. This year, during the largest private hackathon on the planet, over 23,000 employees registered to hack, and ultimately created 5,800 projects. As judging for this year’s projects begins and eager hackers await the winner announcements, it’s the perfect time to reconnect with last year’s Grand Prize Winner.

Originally called Lookout, the project team now known as Watch For has made tremendous strides in both personal growth and Microsoft business growth. Over the past year, team members Lenin Ravindranath Sivalingam, Matthai Philipose and Peter Bodik have been working as an incubation startup within Microsoft Research with autonomy and ownership to steer their project in a direction they desire.

The team’s original idea, which won the 2017 Hackathon, was an app to monitor live video streams on behalf of a user and notify him or her when specified events occur. Such a seemingly simple idea can be very powerful using artificial intelligence with many different applications.

2017 Hackathon winning team: Hackathon 2017 winning team: Matthai Philipose, Lenin Sivalingam, Yifan Wu, Peter Bodik and Victor Bahl. (Photo by Elizabeth Ong)
Hackathon 2017 winning team: Matthai Philipose, Lenin Sivalingam, Yifan Wu, Peter Bodik and Victor Bahl. (Photo by Elizabeth Ong)

As part of Microsoft Research, the project team members previously worked on video analytics for enterprise scenarios in their day jobs. One of their biggest partners was working with the city to monitor and analyze traffic cameras for a better understanding of how pedestrians, bikes, and vehicles crossed intersections.

Not surprisingly, livestreams are big in enterprise settings, and that translates as well to consumer settings. For Lenin, Matthai, and Peter, the most interesting part of working on a hack project was experimenting with how best to apply video analysis to consumer scenarios.

“What attracted me to this hackathon project was the chance to apply AI in large scale and at low-cost to the consumer setting. Our project really pushes the envelope on how efficient the AI systems would need to be, and it’s also meaningful in that my kids and mother can understand it and use it.” Matthai explained, adding, “And I love the idea of working with Lenin and Peter.”

The team took what they learned over the years about video analytics and traffic cams, and created such a compelling project that not only did Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella put his influence behind them, but the senior leadership team took notice and became excited about the possibilities. Ed Essey, principal program manager of Microsoft Garage, helped prepare the team to think and work like a lean startup.

Over the course of several months, they fine-tuned a business strategy for their product – including the team’s special blend of expertise, knowledge, experience, and idea-leadership – that led the team to work on Watch For full time.
In September 2017, a few weeks after the team’s Hackathon win, the Mixer group reached out to the team, having seen their project video. Mixer, acquired by Microsoft in 2016 as Beam, is a next-generation, interactive live streaming platform with a large gaming audience.

Taking a community-first focus on features, Matt Salsamendi, principal software engineering lead, Mixer and Chad Gibson, general manager, Mixer saw huge opportunity to accelerate Mixer’s vision in the computer vision space and were excited to partner with other Microsoft teams working in this area.

HypeZone Fortnite

The more popular games on Mixer tend to be multiplayer battle-royale style competitions where the last person standing wins. “Games like PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds (PUBG) and Fortnite are pretty new. For these games, a very simple thing works very well to light up Mixer scenarios.” Peter explained.

The scenario that Matt and Chad of Mixer wanted to execute on was how best to surface the most interesting parts of streams to a bigger audience. There are thousands of streams at any given time, of which only a couple hundred get viewed by most people. How do the rest of the streamers get any visibility and how do you avoid wasting those assets? How do Mixer fans discover those hidden gems? “The game streaming ecosystem has lots of undiscovered content, people wanting to be discovered, and viewers wanting to discover more compelling moments.”

“The game streaming ecosystem has lots of undiscovered content, people wanting to be discovered, and viewers wanting to discover more compelling moments.”

Lenin, Matthai, and Peter started to work closely with the Mixer team last September, and an ambitious goal organically formed, of launching new channels in winter of 2017 tailored with content discovered by AI models trained to “Watch For” specific events in streams. The timing coincided with PUBG’s release on Xbox One, which was fast becoming one of the most popular games on Mixer.

Mixer already had a front-end design where a single channel could host many different people’s streams continuously – they took advantage of that, and queried Watch For’s backend to determine when to switch between streams for the most interesting content. Thus, HypeZone was born – channels on Mixer using Watch For algorithms to highlight the final, nail-biting rounds of last-person standing games like PUBG that viewers found so engaging to watch.

“Matt already had the idea of HypeZone itself, to switch from stream to stream within a channel – but the experience of HypeZone evolved very quickly during our collaboration.” Lenin recalled. “We met with Matt and Chad early September. Two weeks later we had a prototype that we showed them. Then we kept improving its accuracy. By mid-October we had another prototype that they could use to run their HypeZone experience. We tested it for another 3 weeks. Then, 2 days before release, PUBG changed their UI. 1 day before release, we had to completely change all our models.”

Despite the whirlwind of activity, the Watch For team appreciated Mixer’s style of working fast and friendly. “As a business group, Mixer is very agile and easy to work with. We work close and we work well together.”

VictoryRoyale

“The choice of content for HypeZone is determined by all the analysis Watch For does. Which is one of the reasons why we were able to move so fast,” Peter explained. Peter and team had to tailor their AI models for HypeZone by building core video analytics skills specific to each game.

Over the last several months, HypeZone channels were among the most popular channels on Mixer. “It’s a win-win product. Viewers love it because it shows only the most exciting content, and streamers love it because they get featured on Mixer’s front page and get new followers. They start streaming more because they want to be featured on HypeZone and gain followers.” Game producers can also be counted among the many fans as HypeZone provides more exposure for their games.

The biggest challenge – and the team’s biggest accomplishment – was how to get HypeZone to scale, and at low-cost.

“HypeZone is driven by Watch For’s large-scale video analysis of every stream that’s coming into Mixer. Every stream we try to understand what’s on the screen. We look for various metadata that tell us the game is exciting. Text on the screen, icons that tell you state of the game, player stats and score. Over time we have evolved to understand more and more.” Lenin explained.

The secret sauce is very much a combination of Matthai’s AI expertise and Lenin and Peter’s end-to-end distributive systems knowledge that allows them to deeply and efficiently analyze and understand each stream’s content in real-time.

“This is one of the advantages of being in a company like Microsoft. The Garage and Hackathon gave us visibility, but there was a product group (Mixer) out there looking around who had a great understanding of their customers, and that Watch For might light up their market.” Matthai recalled how it all came together. “There was an element of luck that battle royale type games came into vogue around the same time. It’s a combination of all of these things that made this partnership work so well.”

“It’s one thing to have cool demos and enthusiasm from senior leadership, but it’s another thing to see our customers enjoying, laughing and crying , wanting to see more. That’s what really lit a fire under the whole project, that connection.”

A game-changer for streaming content platforms and how content can be surfaced and consumed – Watch For is a stellar example of using artificial intelligence for consumer scenarios. What’s next for Watch For? The team continues to work with Mixer, and other groups, to create awesome experiences yet to come using the power of AI.

Story by Meixia Huang

Check out HypeZone on Mixer https://mixer.com/
Get videos on the Mixer Channel One on YouTube
Follow Mixer on Twitter: https://twitter.com/WatchMixer
Read more about this Hackathon team:
Artificial intelligence eclipses cloud and mobile projects to win the day at Microsoft 2017 Hackathon

HubSpot Conversations adds chatbots, collaborative inbox

In an effort to become a platform its users rarely leave, HubSpot has released HubSpot Conversations, a tool that helps users keep track of customer interactions regardless of the channel.

The new module comes a few months after HubSpot introduced Service Hub, HubSpot’s new service product, and adds communication capabilities to the Cambridge, Mass., martech vendor’s marketing and service systems.

HubSpot Conversations has three main components: a collaborative inbox tool, chatbot capabilities and lead routing.

All of these capabilities were a welcome addition to the HubSpot tech stack for customer Frame My TV, a Haverhill, Mass., manufacturing company that builds custom frames for wall-mounted televisions.

“It allowed us, as a small business, to bring all of our remote employees under one umbrella,” said Kevin Hancock, principal at Frame My TV.

Hancock has a small core staff of about six employees, with roughly a dozen more freelance workers in sales and other departments. Having most of his technology all within HubSpot has made marketing and selling easier and more efficient — due to fewer integrations with third-party tools.

It allows me to focus on running the business and not having to focus on the technology.
Kevin Hancockprincipal, Frame My TV

“It allows me to focus on running the business and not having to focus on the technology,” Hancock said. “The top benefit of HubSpot Conversations is it puts the prospect information into the CRM for us and can trigger certain functionality.”

Previously, Hancock’s sales reps would have to toggle in-between different UI and input information in HubSpot on particular inbound prospects. With those interactions being recorded by HubSpot Conversations, the system is able to update the customer information automatically. Conversations also integrate with Slack, which Hancock and his team use more than email to communicate.

Separating spam from leads

While Hancock said HubSpot Conversations has improved efficiency for Frame My TV, he expressed some uneasiness about some aspects of the product. When working within inbound marketing, a common problem that arises is an abundance of irrelevant material — something HubSpot is still trying to work through with the collaborative inbox feature of Conversations.

“The number one hurdle with Conversations is figuring out how to handle the flurry of junk mail,” Hancock said. “Conceptually it makes sense to bring them into one place, but spam is a problem. I don’t want those emails to end up as contacts and muddying up the inbox.”

Hancock said that while he has turned off the feature, HubSpot is trying to fix the problem.

“It needs to have an option that when a message comes in to add that email as a contact,” he said.

HubSpot recently released Conversations, a new feature that brings all prospect interactions into one place.
The user interface for HubSpot Conversations shows how the tool brings all conversations and interactions into one place.

Chatbots come to HubSpot

Another feature of HubSpot Conversations that Frame My TV had deployed is building out chatbots, helping to gather initial information on inquiries and working to find the ideal number of questions to ask before moving over to live chat.

“One challenge we have is we sell a product to the top 5% — people aren’t buying it because of the cost, it’s a desire to finish off a room,” Hancock said. “So we have to qualify people a little bit and a lot of that can be sifted through using a bot.”

Building a chatbot for HubSpot was made possible by HubSpot’s acquisition of Motion AI in 2017.

HubSpot is seeking to build a platform-wide product — similar to what Salesforce has done over the years — with the goal of getting its users to stay on the HubSpot platform for all their needs, according to the company.

“With Conversations, what we’re trying to do is give teams that full clear picture of that customer relationship,” said Elise Beck, product marketing manager for Conversations. “As teams engage and work with prospects through their journey, they can keep things tied to CRM and keep tabs on what has happened.”

Beck added that HubSpot Conversations is available now within all existing HubSpot products as a drop-down item at no additional charge.

HubSpot’s annual user conference, Inbound 2018, is in Boston Sept. 4 to 7. Check back to SearchCRM.com for coverage of the conference.

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.

SAP Concur creates Slack bot for booking flights

SAP Concur has created a Slack bot that lets users book travel and submit expenses within the team collaboration app. It’s the type of advanced business integration that Slack has embraced as a way to differentiate its platform from Microsoft Teams and Cisco Spark.

The SAP Concur Slack bot lets workers search and book flights within a Slack messaging channel. The integration makes it possible to share a flight itinerary with other Slack team members, who can then schedule the same travel arrangements with a couple of clicks. After travelers book a flight, they can direct the bot to create an expense report.

The travel bot is SAP Concur’s latest partnership with Slack. In March, the two vendors released a Slack bot that lets a user file, approve and manage expense reports. A worker could create an expense report, for example, by messaging the bot, “Expense $15 for lunch.”

SAP Concur has not released any bots that are compatible with Slack competitors Microsoft Teams or Cisco Webex Teams, although it does have integrations with Microsoft Outlook 365 and the AI voice assistant platform Alexa for Business.

SAP Concur’s Slack bot for travel uses technology from the consumer flight search tool Hello Hipmunk, which SAP Concur acquired in 2016. The business-grade application of the software syncs with the travel policies enterprises set within SAP Concur.

“I can see significant potential for this to cut down on email back and forth that typically occurs when a travel department sends a list of options to an employee, and then they respond, and then there’s some back and forth before everyone agrees on a travel plan,” said Irwin Lazar, analyst at Nemertes Research based in Mokena, Ill.

Slack builds on integration advantage

Slack has a better track record than its rivals for being able to accommodate and take advantage of deep integrations with third-party business software like SAP Concur, said Wayne Kurtzman, analyst at IDC. Slack has more than 1,500 apps in its directory, far exceeding the inventory of other leading team collaboration platforms.

“Microsoft and Cisco have to make pushes — and they will — to leverage AI in new and different ways that make work easier, but it really has to be easier,” Kurtzman said. “Slack appears ready for the competition, and the team collaboration market will retain double-digit growth rates for most of the next 10 years.”

Slack has recently taken steps to make integrations more useful, and easier to create. Last month, the vendor acquired Missions, a division of the startup Robots & Pencils, to incorporate its technology for helping nondevelopers build workflows and integrations within Slack. The company also introduced a new paradigm for using third-party apps, letting users export contextual information from Slack into those business tools.

Businesses are looking for ways to streamline workflows so that employees can get work done faster, and with easier access to the context they need to make decisions. As a result, the integration of business apps with team collaboration platforms like Slack has become one of the hottest new trends in collaboration.

But those integrations need to balance convenience, complexity and confidentiality, said Alan Lepofsky, analyst at Constellation Research. The industry is still in the early stages of determining which tasks are best done in separate apps rather than within a platform like Slack — as well as which types of apps to trust with confidential data, he said.

“That said, I think the creation of these ‘work-related’ bots is a step in the right direction, as our future will certainly be filled with digital assistants. The question is when and to what level of granularity,” Lepofsky said.

Coinhive malware infects tens of thousands of MikroTik routers

Poor patching practices by vendors and users are once again coming back to bite users around the world, as a researcher discovered a cryptominer being spread to unpatched MikroTik routers.

The Coinhive malware was first found spreading through routers in Brazil. Simon Kenin, security researcher for Trustwave, based in Chicago, discovered the Coinhive malware infection originating from Brazil and first assumed it was a more common website compromise attack to inject the cryptomining code. But more digging revealed the infection was spreading through MikroTik routers.

Kenin said malicious actors were exploiting a vulnerability in the routers that MikroTik had patched in April — just one day after the flaw was first discovered.

“The exploit targets Winbox and allows the attacker to read files from the device … but the bottom line is that using this exploit you can get unauthenticated remote admin access to any vulnerable MikroTik router,” Kenin wrote in his analysis. “Initial investigation indicates that instead of running a malicious executable on the router itself, which is how the exploit was being used when it was first discovered, the attacker used the device’s functionality in order to inject the CoinHive script into every web page that a user visited.”

Mounir Hahad, head of Juniper Threat Labs at Juniper Networks, based in Sunnyvale, Calif., noted that MicroTik has deployed approximately 1.7 million units around the world — “mostly in Brazil, China, Russia and Indonesia” — and explained why the victims may not have patched.

“Most routers, unfortunately, lack the ability to auto-update, and very few users, especially home users, know how or when to patch the firmware on their router,” Hahad wrote via email. “One of the biggest failures of security vendors that provide small-office [or] home-office routers is not including an auto-update feature by default, regardless of the technical difficulties lying around potentially taking the router offline during the update process.”

Chris Olson, founder and CEO of The Media Trust, based in McLean, Va., agreed infections like the Coinhive malware could prey on poor patching habits.

“The average user will likely plug in their router and forget about it until something goes awry,” Olson wrote via email. “Routers are like electricity and water: Unless service is disrupted, they receive little to no attention. Because they are often ignored, they make the perfect attack vector.”

Coinhive malware infections

Routers are like electricity and water: Unless service is disrupted, they receive little to no attention. Because they are often ignored, they make the perfect attack vector.
Chris OlsonCEO, The Media Trust

Kenin said the Coinhive malware creates and injects a custom error page for every webpage visited by a user through an infected router.

“So if a user receives an error page of any kind while web browsing, they will get this custom error page which will mine CoinHive for the attacker,” Kenin wrote. “The backend Apache server is connected to the router as well, and somewhere along the way there was an error and it was displayed to me, miner included. What this means is that this also impacts users who are not directly connected to the infected router’s network, but also users who visit websites behind these infected routers. In other words, the attack works in both directions.”

Experts noted that this method of spreading the Coinhive malware to every site visited was unusual.

Sean Newman, director product management at Corero Network Security, based in Marlborough, Mass., said the Coinhive malware “is not something we’ve specifically seen before.”

“However, it does combine well-known exploit mechanisms, though in a novel way that is well-suited to the practice of cryptojacking,” Newman wrote via email. And, in this case, we’re not talking about cheap IoT devices with vulnerabilities which are never addressed by the vendor. In this case, the routers were exploited to deliver a cryptomining payload, but the same approach could have just as easily leveraged them for other objectives.”

Olson agreed this method of spreading malware would be more common with the creation of a botnet, and Hahad noted the Coinhive malware might not be the most efficient way of cryptomining.

“Every browser tends to have several open tabs that connect to several sites at once. Duplicating the Coinhive mining script so heavily would bring any computer to its knees in seconds, defeating the very purpose of the attack,” Hahad wrote. “Once tweaked to only inject error pages, the issue was mitigated. But, again, the effectiveness is now dramatically reduced, because people do not hit error pages very often. In my opinion, this shows it is the work of a script kiddie with not much hacking experience.”

BigQuery ML moves machine learning into Google BigQuery

Google has released a beta version of BigQuery ML, new software that lets users build some machine learning models inside the Google BigQuery cloud data warehouse with standard SQL commands.

BigQuery ML eliminates the need to move data sets from Google BigQuery to a separate tool to develop and train analytical models. Its SQL support also opens the machine learning process to SQL-savvy data analysts who might not be versed in more-advanced languages like R, Python and Scala that data scientists typically use to build machine learning models.

However, the new technology is limited in what it can do. Google said BigQuery ML initially supports only two types of models: linear regression ones that predict numerical values, such as sales forecasts, and binary logistic regression models that can be used to do two-group customer segmentation, identify email as spam and do other relatively simple classifications in data sets.

In addition, BigQuery ML is based on the standard batch variant of the gradiant descent methodology that drives machine learning algorithms instead of the so-called stochastic version.

The stochastic approach “is far more common in today’s large-scale machine learning systems,” Google acknowledged in a blog post about BigQuery ML. The company added, though, that the batch variant “has numerous practical advantages” on the performance, stability and tuning of machine learning models.

Broadening the machine learning user base

BigQuery ML likely won’t convince many data scientists who analyze data stored in BigQuery to change how they build models, said Daniel Mintz, chief data evangelist at software vendor Looker Data Sciences Inc., which has teamed up with Google to enable its data modeling and analytics platform to function as a front-end tool for BigQuery ML users.

“Professional data scientists, the people who do this all the time, are going to continue to use the tools they’re most comfortable with,” Mintz said.

But, Mintz added, BigQuery ML makes it feasible for the hordes of data analysts “who know SQL but haven’t done much with machine learning yet” to start developing models without having to learn new languages or deploy additional analytics tools.

We have a lean team of data scientists, and it can get a bit challenging to support all of the [marketing] campaigns in all possible cases.
Miguel Angel Campo-Rembadosenior vice president of data science and analytics, 20th Century Fox

And, in some cases, busy data scientists may be able to speed up the model-building process to better support business needs for information by using BigQuery ML.

For example, film studio 20th Century Fox is an early user of the technology. In a keynote session at the Google Cloud Next ’18 conference in San Francisco that was streamed online, Miguel Angel Campo-Rembado, the studio’s senior vice president of data science and analytics, said its marketing team needs analytics input on a continual basis to assess advertising and promotional campaigns for movies.

“But we have a lean team of data scientists, and it can get a bit challenging to support all of the campaigns in all possible cases,” Campo-Rembado said.

Less of a machine learning maze to run

With BigQuery ML, Campo-Rembado added, his team was able to build a linear regression model in just 30 seconds to analyze movie trailers to help pinpoint audiences that should be targeted in promoting the latest Maze Runner movie released in January. All it took was adding a CREATE MODEL statement in BigQuery ML to an existing SQL query for audience analysis, he said.

That, and the ability to keep the entire process inside Google BigQuery, enabled the analytics team to quickly run the model and deliver the results to the Los Angeles-based studio’s marketers “within minutes,” according to Campo-Rembado.

At its core, BigQuery ML is a set of SQL extensions designed to support machine learning and predictive analytics. Google, which announced the technology at Google Cloud Next, said users can build machine learning models in BigQuery ML with simple SQL statements like this:

CREATE MODEL dataset.model_name
  OPTIONS(model_type=’linear_reg’, input_label_cols=[‘input_label’])
AS SELECT * FROM input_table;

More work to do on BigQuery ML

Google didn’t say how long the beta-testing cycle will last or when it expects to make BigQuery ML generally available.

In its blog post, the company said that it plans to do more to boost the technology’s performance and that it will explore adding support for other types of machine learning algorithms to broaden BigQuery ML’s potential uses.

Looker, based in Santa Cruz, Calif., said its integration with BigQuery ML lets analytics teams use its namesake platform to prepare data for analysis, build and run their analytical models in a Google BigQuery data warehouse, and then disseminate the resulting information to business executives and workers.

“From a user’s perspective, it’s all a Looker front end,” Mintz said. “BigQuery ML is running under the hood, but it looks like one tool to users.” He added that BigQuery ML is the first tool Looker has seen that directly integrates machine learning capabilities into a data warehouse’s SQL interface.

Google Cloud security adds data regions and Titan security keys

Multiple improvements for Google Cloud security aim to help users protect data through better access management, more data security options

and
greater transparency.

More than half of the security features announced are either in beta or part of the G Suite Early Adopter Program, but in total the additions should offer better control and transparency for users.

The biggest improvement in Google Cloud security comes in identity and access management. Google has developed its own Titan multi-factor physical security key — similar to a YubiKey — to protect users against phishing attacks. Google previously reported that there have been no confirmed account takeovers in more than one year since requiring all employees to use physical security keys, and according to a Google spokesperson, Titan keys have already been one such key available to employees.

The Titan security keys are FIDO keys that include “firmware developed by Google to verify its integrity.” Google announced it is offering two models of Titan keys for Cloud users: one based on USB and NFC and one that uses Bluetooth in order to support iOS devices as well. The keys are available now to Cloud customers and will come to the Google Store soon. Pricing details have not been released.

“The Titan security key provides a phishing-resistant second factor of authentication. Typically, our customers will place it in front of

high value
users or content administrators and root users, the compromise of those would be much more damaging to an enterprise customer … or specific applications which contain sensitive data, or sort of the crown jewels of corporate environments,” Jess Leroy, director of product management for Google Cloud, told reporters in a briefing. “It’s built with a secure element, which includes firmware that we built ourselves, and it provides a ton of security with very little interaction and effort on the part of

user
.”

However, Stina Ehrensvard, CEO

and
founder of Yubico, the manufacturer of Yubikey two factor authentication keys, headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif., noted in a blog post that her company does not see Bluetooth as a good option for a physical security key.

“Google’s offering includes a Bluetooth (BLE) capable key. While Yubico previously initiated development of a BLE security

key,
and contributed to the BLE U2F standards work, we decided not to launch the product as it does not meet our standards for security, usability

and
durability,” Ehrensvard wrote. “BLE does not provide the security assurance levels of NFC and USB, and requires batteries and pairing that offer a poor user experience.”

In addition to the Titan keys, Google Cloud security will have improved access management with the implementation of the context-aware access approach Google used in its BeyondCorp network setups.

“Context-aware access allows organizations to define and enforce granular access to [Google Cloud Platform] APIs, resources, G Suite, and third-party SaaS apps based on a user’s identity, location, and the context of their request. This increases your security posture while decreasing complexity for your users, giving them the ability to seamlessly log on to apps from anywhere and any device,” Jennifer Lin, director of product management for Google Cloud, wrote in the Google Cloud security announcement post. “Context-aware access capabilities are available for select customers using VPC Service Controls, and are coming soon for customers using Cloud Identity and Access Management (IAM), Cloud Identity-Aware Proxy (IAP), and Cloud Identity.”

Data transparency and control

New features also aim to improve Google Cloud security visibility and control over data. Access Transparency will offer users a “near real-time log” of the actions taken by administrators, including Google engineers.

“Inability to audit cloud provider accesses is often a barrier to moving to

cloud
. Without visibility into the actions of cloud provider administrators, traditional security processes cannot be replicated,” Google wrote in

documentation
. “Access Transparency enables that verification, bringing your audit controls closer to what you can expect

on premise
.”

In terms of Google Cloud security and control over data, Google will also now allow customers to decide in what region data will be stored. Google described this feature as allowing multinational organizations to protect their data with

geo redundancy
, but in a way that organizations can follow any requirements regarding where in the

world
data is stored.

A Google spokesperson noted via email that the onus for ensuring that regional data storage complies with local laws would be on the individual organizations.

Other Google Cloud security improvements

Google announced several features that are still in beta, including Shielded Virtual Machines (VM, which will allow users to monitor and react to changes in the VM to protect against tampering; Binary Authorization, which will force signature validation when deploying container images; Container Registry Vulnerability Scanning, which will automatically scan Ubuntu, Debian and Alpine images to prevent deploying images that contain any vulnerable packages; geo-based access control for Cloud Armor, which helps defend users against DDoS attacks; and Cloud HSM, a managed cloud-hosted hardware security module (HSM) service.

Rackspace colocation program hosts users’ legacy servers

Rackspace’s latest service welcomes users’ legacy gear into Rackspace data centers and once in place, gives the vendor a golden opportunity to sell these customers additional services.

The Rackspace Colocation program primarily targets midsize and larger IT shops that want to launch their first cloud initiative, or sidestep the rising costs to operate their own internal data centers. Many of these IT shops have just begun to grapple with the realities of their first digital transformation projects. They must choose where to position key applications from private clouds to microservices that run on Azure and Google Cloud.

Some Rackspace users run applications on customized hardware and operating systems that are not supported by public clouds, while others have heavily invested in hardware and want to hold onto those systems for another five years to get the full value out of those systems, said Henry Tran, general manager of Rackspace’s managed hosting and colocation business.

Customers that move existing servers into Rackspace’s data centers gain better system performance from closer proximity to Rackspace’s infrastructure. This gives Rackspace a chance to upsell those customers add-on interconnectivity and other higher-margin services.

“[The Rackspace Colocation services program] is a way to get you in the door by handling all the mundane stuff, but longer term they are trying to get you to migrate to their cloud,” said Cassandra Mooshian, senior analyst at Technology Business Research Inc. in Hampton, N.H.

Green light for greenfield colocation services

There are still many enterprise workloads that run in corporate data centers, so there are a lot of greenfield opportunities to pursue in colocation services. Roughly 60% of enterprises don’t use colos today, and the colocation market should grow around 8% annually through 2021, said Dan Thompson, a senior analyst at 451 Research. “There is still a lot of headroom for companies to migrate to colocation and/or cloud,” he said.

This speaks loudly to the multi-cloud and hybrid cloud world we are living in.
Dan Thompsonanalyst, 451 Research

Other colocation service providers have expanded with various higher-margin cloud and other managed services, but Rackspace has chosen a different path.

“They’ve had hosting and cloud services for a while but are now moving in the direction of colocation,” 451 Research’s Thompson said. “This speaks loudly to the multi-cloud and hybrid cloud world we are living in.”

Rackspace’s acquisition of Datapipe in late 2017 initiated its march into colocation, with the ability to offer capabilities and services to Datapipe customers through Microsoft’s Azure Stack, VMware’s Cloud on AWS and managed services on Google’s Cloud platform. In return, Rackspace gained access to Datapipe’s colocation services and data centers to gain a market presence in the U.S. West Coast, Brazil, China and Russia.

Rackspace itself was acquired in late 2016 by private equity firm Apollo Global Management LLC, which gave the company some financial backing and freedom to expand its business.