Microsoft and Facial Recognition: An Attempt to Parry Amazon?

December 7, 2018

Image recognition is widely used in many products, applications, and software systems. Most people don’t think too much about how a camera can read a license plate, figure out who has entered a building, or what “sign” indicates a potential problem like a gang attack.

Why would the average bear?

Microsoft is becoming more vocal about facial recognition. On the surface, the concern seems reasonable, almost a public service.

I read “Microsoft Sounds an Alarm over Facial Recognition Technology.” The write up seems okay, almost a good Samaritan effort. I noted this statement:

The AI Now researchers are particularly concerned about what’s called “affect recognition” — and attempt to identify people’s emotions, and possibly manipulate them, using machine learning.

Emotion analysis is interesting. But is the concern over facial recognition more of a business initiative, not a push to create awareness for a technology which has been around for decades. Sure facial recognition is getting better, faster, and cheaper. Like other technologies, facial recognition diffuses into other products, including those used by Ecuador, ZTE, and US analysts trying to make sense of imagery from a warzone.

Microsoft used the AI Now information to express concern for a race to the bottom. That’s interesting. A company which has facial recognition technology and a penchant for creating problems via a routine update to individual users’ computers is looking out for me. Yeah, right.

Imagine. The USSS wants to use facial recognition near the White House. Why not just hire another 200 agents to walk around or sit in surveillance suites looking for potential problems? Advanced technology is often useful to law enforcement and intelligence professionals. Expanding the use of that technology to safeguard those who work in certain US government facilities makes sense to me.

What’s really pushing Microsoft to become the champion for facial recognition controls?

In my view, Amazon is. Check out Amazon’s patents for facial recognition. These are examples of what I call “policeware” and the innovations have other applications as well. A good place to begin is with US9465994B1.

My view is that Microsoft’s concern about facial recognition has more to do with adding friction to Amazon’s progress than it does with a concern for me and my beloved Beyond Search goose here in Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky. For more about Amazon’s policeware technologies, navigate to and search for DarkCyber Amazon.

Stephen E Arnold, December 7, 2018

Microsoft and Credibility: Updates and Amazon

December 4, 2018

Perhaps you are like the millions of others who are unhappy with Windows and its updates lately. And if you are like many of those folks, you have recently discovered Microsoft is trying to fix its problems in a strange new way, as we discovered in a recent OnMSFT story, “Microsoft is Now Inviting Select Windows Insiders to Share Their Feedback Via Skype Interviews.”

According to the story:

“Following the botched release of the Windows 10 October 2018 Update, Microsoft promised that it would pay more attention to user feedback going forward. Last month, the company added new impact and severity indicators for new Feedback Hub items, hoping to better surface critical bugs like the deleted files issue that initially shipped with the October 2018 Update.”

Their solution: listen to customers more…via Skype. Sorry, Microsoft, but that’s a case of too little too late. Perhaps, you could have avoided this catastrophe by, we don’t know, talking to users before the launch of these disastrous updates?

Plus as Amazon was rolling out enhancement after enhancement to its cloud services, Microsoft announced new icons. That’s the way to demonstrate technical excellence and strategic thinking to give Amazon pause.

Patrick Roland, December 4, 2018

Amazon Opens a New Front in the Cloud Wars

November 30, 2018

A Microsoft “expert” has explained why Azure, the Microsoft cloud service, why the Azure cloud failed Thanksgiving week. Like the explanation for the neutralizing of some customers’ Windows 10 machines, three problems arose. You can work through the explanation at this link, but you may, like me, remain skeptical about Microsoft’s ability to keep its cloud sunny. Key point: Microsoft apologizes for its mistakes. Yada yada yada.

At about the same time, Amazon announced that its cloud service uses its own custom designed Arm server processors. How will Microsoft compete with a service that is not without flaws but promises lower costs? The GeekWire write up states:

Vice president of infrastructure Peter DeSantis introduced the AWS Graviton Processor Monday night, adding a third chip option for cloud customers alongside instances that use processors from Intel and AMD. The company did not provide a lot of details about the processor itself, but DeSantis said that it was designed for scale-out workloads that benefit from a lot of servers chipping away at a problem.

From our vantage point in Harrod’s Creek, the Amazon approach seems useful for certain types of data mining and data analytics tasks. Could these be the type of tasks which are common when using systems like Palantir Gotham’s?

The key point, however, is “low cost.”

But the important strategic move is that Amazon is now in the chip business. What other hardware are the folks at the ecommerce site exploring? Amazon network hardware?

Microsoft makes fuzzy tablet-laptops, right?

Stephen E Arnold, November 30, 2018

Amazon: Making the Fuzzy Laptop Maker Look Silly

November 29, 2018

In an upcoming DarkCyber and in my new series of lectures for LE and intel professionals, I will be exploring the implications of Amazon’s public admissions that the company is the beastie in the policeware kennel. The “few words are better” Jeff Barr  has summarized some of the more public announcements in “AWS launches, Previews, and Pre-Announcements” which is a useful, if incomplete, checklist of what’s happening at the Zon. (Where is that policeware info by the way?)

But for Beyond Search and its handful of very gentle readers I want to point out that Microsoft’s furry laptop, Azure outages, and the ineptitude of updating Windows 10 looks bad.

Consider what Amazon has been doing for the past five years or so: Developing not one but two different custom chips, building a range of machine learning tools including free for now training programs, and rolling out features and function to keep the often creaky Amazon Web Services engine chugging along.

Microsoft has the furry laptop thing. Oh, I almost forgot. Microsoft brought back the Microsoft “IntelliMouse Explorer.” Plus Microsoft continues to play more nicely with Amazon Alexa as it tries to make sure it can be Number Two in the big cloud game. Google, HP, IBM, and a number of companies whose names I struggle to remember want to knock of the big dog. The breed is a Bezos I believe.

Net net: Amazon seems to be taking bits and pieces from the Google, Palantir, and IBM playbook. Chef Bezos mixes the ingredients and rolls out a mind boggling array of new stuff.

But which company looks a little behind the times? Here in Harrod’s Creek we see Microsoft and its fuzzy laptop tablet thing. By the way, how does one keep fuzzy stuff free from dirt, bacteria, and burrito juice?

Amazon probably sells some type of cleaner. Why not do a product search on Amazon. Product searches account for a hefty chuck of online search action. Perhaps there is an Amazon Basics to clean the furry gizmo? Better yet, there are ads on Amazon. Ads which once were the exclusive domain of the Google.

Google. That’s another story one can research on a furry Microsoft device using an “old is new mouse” too.

Stephen E Arnold, November 29, 2018

Dongles, Security, and Keys: A New but Familiar Tune

November 22, 2018

Part of Google’s new product lineup is the Titan Security Key, selling for only $50. The Hacker News shares more information on the Titan Security Key in the article, “Google ‘Titan Security Key’ Is Now On Sale For $50.” Google first announced the security key at the Google Cloud Next 2018 convention.

The Titan Security Key is similar to Yubico’s YubiKey. It offers hardware-based two factor authentication for online accounts with the highest level of protection from phishing. The full kit offers a USB security key, Bluetooth security key, USB-C to USB-A adapter, and USB-C to USB-A connecting cable. The Titan Security Key is based on the FIDO (Fast IDentity Online) Alliance, U2F protocol and uses Google developed secure element and firmware. It adds another security level on top of passwords, an idea similar to the Tor browser. It is compliant with many popular browsers, email services, social media, and cloud services.

As more aspects of people’s lives migrate online, security is more important than ever. Tools like the Titan Security Key provide an extra level of security at a nominal price:

“According to Google, the FIDO-compatible hardware-based security keys are thought to be more safe and efficient at preventing phishing, man-in-the-middle (MITM) and other types of account-takeover attacks than other 2FA methods requiring SMS, for example. This is because even if an attacker manages to compromise your online account credentials, log into your account is impossible without the physical key. Last month, Google said it started requiring its 85,000 employees to use Titan Security Keys internally for months last year, and the company said since then none of them had fallen victim to any phishing attack.”

The Google Titan Security Key appears to be a simple and cheap way to ensure more security for individuals. One of the problems people face with online security is the lack of understanding, cost, and finding an effective product. Google appears to have created a great solution, but the one problem is that China made the Titan Security Key. China has all the schematics for the device and China is a hotbed for phishing attacks.

Microsoft, another me too outfit, has jumped on the bandwagon for dongles. Microsoft now offers native FIDO key login for Windows 10. What about losing a dongle?

Back to square one?

Whitney Grace, November 22, 2018

Microsoft: Nibbling at Crime Fighting

November 20, 2018

Every year cyber crime is one the rise and digital security experts are always trying to stay one click ahead of their assailants. Microsoft is not the world’s leading expert in cyber security, but the company is investing in it. Fortune’s article, “Microsoft Pours Millions Into Startup That Nails Cybercriminals” explains more about the investment.

Microsoft invested $6.2 million in Hyas, a startup that specializes in identifying and taking down cybercriminals. Hyas’s CEO described his company’s mission as tracking down bad actors to their exact location so law enforcement can arrest them.

“In 2014, Davis founded Hyas, his third startup, out of his basement on Vancouver Island, Canada. The firm sells subscriptions to digital forensics software—called “Comox” after a town in the company’s home region of British Columbia—that helps security analysts investigate breaches.

We noted this statement:

‘Hyas is going beyond threat detection and providing the attribution tools required to actually identify and prosecute cybercriminals,’ said Matthew Goldstein, a partner at Microsoft’s M12, in a statement. He said that Hyas’s tech ‘will help take bad actors off the Internet, and lead to an overall decrease in cybercrime globally.’”

Hyas works based on its relationships with infrastructure providers and combining the insights it receives from the infrastructure providers with malware analysis, threat intelligence, and mobile data. Davis plans to use Microsoft’s investment to increase its new products and offer Hyas services to a more diverse clientele.

Whitney Grace, November 20, 2018

Microsoft: Is the Master of Windows 10 Updates Really Beating Amazon in the Cloud?

November 7, 2018

How about that October 2018 Windows update? Does that give you confidence in Microsoft’s technical acumen? What? You are telling me that it is apples and oranges. Okay. Everyone is entitled to an opinion.

After reading a former Oracle executive’s analysis of Microsoft and Amazon cloud revenue, I suppose one could make that argument. I am not sure I buy the Forbes argument in “#1 Microsoft Beats Amazon In 12-Month Cloud Revenue, $26.7 Billion To $23.4 Billion; IBM Third.” The write up makes clear that the analyst is an award winning PR type at SAP and then a “communications officer” at Oracle before finding his true calling at Evans Strategic Communications LLC.

Is Microsoft #1?

From my point of view in lovely Harrod’s Creek, Kentucky, there are several items of information omitted from the Forbes’ analysis; for example:

How does Microsoft calculate its cloud revenue? Does the number include enforced cloud services?

What part of Microsoft’s cloud revenue is generated by accounting methods such as reallocating revenue and thinking really hard about attributing certain revenue to the cloud line items?

Using these accounting methods, how has Microsoft’s cloud revenue tracked over the last 12 quarters?

Analyses require more than accepting the rolled figure. But that’s in rural Kentucky, the rules may be different for PR experts in a real technology hotbed.

Now Amazon is no Mr. Clean when it comes to reporting its financial data. For years, AWS revenue was expressed as weird stuff like the number of things a complex network of computers does to complete work. Now Amazon generally reveals some numbers, and I assume these can be tweaked by figuring in some of the Amazon ecommerce magic into the cloud.

The larger question for me is:

Why is a former Oracle guy writing a pro Microsoft and pro IBM story about the cloud race among three firms?

The write up included this bit of “let’s not talk about the October update” offered up by Microsoft’s big dog:

CEO Satya Nadella offered this perspective on the centerpiece of the Microsoft cloud: “Azure is the only hyperscale cloud that extends to the edge across identity, data, application platform and security and management. We introduced 100 new Azure capabilities this quarter alone, focused on both existing workloads like security and new workloads like IoT and Edge AI.”

Yep, I believe this. Every. Word.

Perhaps nailing down the inclusions in the gross cloud revenue numbers would be a useful first step? Would it be helpful to learn why an Oracle PR pro is dissing Amazon?

The capitalist tool’s presentation of this analysis might have caused Malcolm Forbes to crash his motorcycle on the way to brunch in Manhattan on Sunday morning.

Quite an “analysis.”

Stephen E. Arnold, November  7, 2018

Bing: Getting More Visual

October 27, 2018

Bing Gets Visual, But Stays Behind The Curve

Microsoft’s red-headed step child of the search world is slowly, and steadily attempting its next stab at greatness. While the little search engine that could has been trying valiantly to overtake Google for years, it is making concrete steps in the right direction with news we discovered in a recent Android Community story, “Bing Update Brings Text Transcription, Education Carousel, Visual Search.”

The update that has us most excited is its visual search:

“Bing also lets you copy and search the actual text that you see on your camera. For example, you take a pic of the menu in the restaurant, tap the text and search how to pronounce it and what it actually is. You can use it to take pictures of phone numbers, serial numbers, email addresses, navigate to an address, etc.”

As expected, Bing is a little behind the curve. While Bing is just beginning to blossom in the world of visual search, Google is already there and also adding greater visual cues aimed at retaining visitors. By incorporating more pictures and videos, and less text, the king of the mountain is looking to hold its grip on users. We would love to see Bing outduel Google someday, but we don’t see it on the horizon.

Patrick Roland, October 25, 2018

Microsoft Edges into AI Applications

October 26, 2018

If Microsoft’s history as a late bloomer in the search world with Bing is any indicator, we don’t think Uber and Lyft are too worried about the tech giant’s recent foray into ride hailing. However, some indications point to a novel idea that Microsoft might actually be able to disrupt an industry that is not so close to its vest. We learned more from a recent TechCrunch story, “Microsoft Invests In Grab to Bring AI and Big Data to On-Demand Services.”

According to the story:

Microsoft has made a strategic investment in ride-hailing and on-demand services company Grab as part of a deal that includes collaborating on big data and AI projects.

We noted:

“Under the agreement, Singapore-based Grab will adopt Microsoft Azure as its preferred cloud platform Azure cloud computing service.”

We’re not saying this will never take off. In fact, there are a lot of optimistic signs that point to this partnership flourishing. For example, Microsoft India has begun to deploy its AI solutions into agriculture and healthcare fields with success. If this technology can help crop rotations, it might just streamline ride sharing apps. We’ll be monitoring this one closely.

Patrick Roland, October 26, 2018

Quote to Note: Microsoft and Scrutiny

October 11, 2018

Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on Tech Industry Spotlight: ‘Having the Scrutiny Is Actually Good’” called my attention to an interesting idea. The article states:

Nadella told The Post that Microsoft learned from earlier cyberattacks during the Bill Gates era and has since designed products and services with revamped security protocols. He added that “having the scrutiny is actually good, I think,” in regard to the extra attention being placed on tech companies.

Ah, Windows and security. Didn’t Microsoft’s update service fail again. Deleted data for some I heard.

Scrutiny is good as long as it doesn’t get in the way of what the company does best: Great quality processes and verbal arabesques seem to be scrutiny free.

Stephen E Arnold, October 11, 2018

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