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Data breaches forced governments and enterprises to focus on cyber security

In the first major attack of the year, the world reeled under “WannaCrypt” that locked files on computers.

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Cyber attack has effected millions of people globally. Wikimedia Commons
Cyber attack has effected millions of people globally. Wikimedia Commons
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Mega cyber attacks such as “WannaCrypt” and “Petya” this year forced governments and enterprises globally, including in India, to focus and invest more in bolstering their security networks. In the first major attack of the year, the world reeled under “WannaCrypt” that locked files on computers. Hundreds of thousands of computers were infected with the malware in May. The primary reason for this attack being successful was not the software but human error.

On March 14 this year, Microsoft released a security update which addressed the vulnerability in the 16-year-old Windows XP operating system. Once the patch for the vulnerability was released, hacker group “Shadow Brokers” exploited this loophole and wreaked havoc in 150 countries. Those who installed the update were saved, while several who did not, fell prey to the attack.

Soon after the “WanaCrypt” attack, tens of thousands of computers globally were affected by the “Adylkuzz attack” that shut down SMB networking to prevent further infections with other malware (including the WannaCrypt worm). While Europe and major parts of the world struggled with another big ransomware attack called “Petya”, India also bore the brunt. Some Indian servers were down owing to the Petya attack.

WanaCrypt, Judy, Locky and Petya are some of the malware attacks in the recent times. Wikiimedia Commons
WanaCrypt, Judy, Locky and Petya are some of the malware attacks in the recent times. Wikiimedia Commons

The Shipping Ministry said operations at one of the container terminals at Mumbai’s Jawaharlal Nehru Port Trust (JNPT) was affected by Petya. Companies like Genesis BM, a public relations firm, had to shut down systems in India after their international servers were attacked. The month of May saw another cyber attack when a malware called “Judy” hit over 36.5 million Android-based phones, making its way through Google Play Store.

In August, the “Locky” ransomware, once considered almost defunct, sent over 23 million emails with the malware to the US workforce in just 24 hours. It scrambled the contents of millions of computers and demanded payment to unlock it.

A group of hackers leaked the “Game of Thrones” script, along with 1.5TB of HBO data that included other popular TV shows. The hacking group demanded approximately $6.5 million worth of Bitcoins from HBO. A group of hackers also penetrated Equifax — one of the largest credit bureaus in the world — and stole personal data of 145 million people. Accountancy firm Deloitte was also targeted by a sophisticated hack that compromised the confidential emails and plans of some of its blue-chip clients and the attack went unnoticed for months.

In November, Yahoo agreed that it was attacked in 2013 wherein criminals had information about all three billion accounts. In another massive attack, hackers stole the personal data of 57 million customers and drivers from Uber Technologies. The breach was concealed for more than a year.

Most companies fall victim to cyber attackers either because of unpatched software with known vulnerabilities or because of the human factor like people falling victim to phishing emails, Finland-based cybersecurity firm F-Secure said.

Microsoft's system are effected globally by the cyber threats. Wikimedia Commons
Microsoft’s system are effected globally by the cyber threats. Wikimedia Commons

Later in the year, the enterprise cybersecurity company FireEye said Chinese advanced persistent threat (APT) groups that have allegedly been creating cyber havoc internationally will shift their focus in 2018 to countries like India and Hong Kong and groups seen as a threat to Beijing’s influence over global markets.

Slowly becoming aware of emerging cyber threats, organisations worldwide will spend $96.3 billion on security in 2018 — an increase of eight per cent from 2017, according to a Gartner forecast. More than 60 per cent of organisations globally will invest in multiple data security tools by 2020 — up from 35 per cent today, it added.

“Cyber attacks such as WannaCry and NotPetya, and most recently the Equifax breach, have a direct effect on security spend because these types of attacks last up to three years,” the market research firm said. To ward off future attacks, the Indian government set up NIC-CERT centre to monitor, detect and prevent cyber attacks on government networks.

NIC-CERT will work in close coordination and collaboration with sectoral CERTs and CERT-In. Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the fifth edition of the Global Conference on Cyber Space (GCCS) in New Delhi in November that witnessed top global security experts deliberating on ways to fight cybersecurity. IANS

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Microsoft To Acquire Conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI)

The acquisition of Semantic Machines in May brought a revolutionary new approach to conversational AI

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Microsoft acquires conversational AI and bot development firm. Pixabay

Microsoft has announced to acquire a conversational Artificial Intelligence (AI) and bot development company XOXCO for an undisclosed sum.

Texas-based XOXCO has been paving the way in conversational AI since 2013 and was responsible for the creation of Howdy, the first commercially available bot for Slack that helps schedule meetings.

“It also developed Botkit which provides the development tools used by hundreds of thousands of developers on GitHub. Over the years, we have partnered with XOXCO and have been inspired by this work,” said Lili Cheng, Corporate Vice President, Conversational AI at Microsoft on Thursday.

Conversational AI is quickly becoming a way in which businesses engage with employees and customers — from creating virtual assistants and redesigning customer interactions to using conversational assistants to help employees communicate and work better together.

According to Gartner, “by 2020, conversational artificial intelligence will be a supported user experience for more than 50 percent of large, consumer-centric enterprises”.

The Microsoft Bot Framework, available as a service in Azure and on GitHub, today supports over 360,000 developers.

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A sign for Microsoft is seen on a building in Cambridge. VOA

“With this acquisition, we are continuing to realise our approach of democratising AI development, conversation and dialog, and integrating conversational experiences where people communicate,” said Cheng.

Over the last six months, Microsoft has made several strategic acquisitions to accelerate the pace of AI development.

The acquisition of Semantic Machines in May brought a revolutionary new approach to conversational AI.

In July, it acquired Bonsai to help reduce the barriers to AI development by combining machine teaching, reinforcement learning and simulation.

Also Read- YouTube Premium Service Expands to 7 New Countries

In September, Microsoft acquired Lobe, a company that has created a simple visual interface empowering anyone to develop and apply deep learning and AI models quickly, without writing code.

“The acquisition of GitHub in October demonstrates our belief in the power of communities to help fuel the next wave of bot development,” Microsoft said. (IANS)