Mimecast says SolarWinds hackers breached its network and spied on customers

A chain and a padlock sit on a laptop keyboard.

Enlarge / Breaking in the computer. (credit: Getty Images)

Email-management provider Mimecast has confirmed that a network intrusion used to spy on its customers was conducted by the same advanced hackers responsible for the SolarWinds supply chain attack.

The hackers, which US intelligence agencies have said likely have Russian origins, used a backdoored update for SolarWinds Orion software to target a small number of Mimecast customers. Exploiting the Sunburst malware sneaked into the update, the attackers first gained access to part of the Mimecast production-grid environment. They then accessed a Mimecast-issued certificate that some customers use to authenticate various Microsoft 365 Exchange web services.

Tapping Microsoft 365 connections

Working with Microsoft, which first discovered the breach and reported it to Mimecast, company investigators found that the threat actors then used the certificate to “connect to a low single-digit number of our mutual customers’ M365 tenants from non-Mimecast IP address ranges.”

Read 7 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#biz-it, #certificate, #microsoft-365, #mimecast, #solarwinds, #supply-chain-attack, #tech

0

Microsoft Office 2021 is on its way

A screenshot of Microsoft Office.

Enlarge / The new version of Office will offer easy-toggle Dark Mode settings in many if not all applications. (credit: Microsoft)

If Microsoft had its way, Office 2021 probably wouldn’t be news at all—the Redmond giant would almost certainly prefer that everyone simply subscribe to Microsoft 365, pay a small monthly or annual fee, and get new features and fixes as they’re rolled out. For many if not most Office users, the subscription-based service is the most convenient way to get Office, even when they want to use it as locally installed software rather than doing their work in the browser and in the cloud.

For the rest of us—and for those who don’t want to put up with the Byzantine procedures necessary to install Microsoft 365 apps on Remote Desktop Servers—there’s Office 2019 now, and there will be Office 2021 later this year. There will also be a new Office LTSC (Long Term Service Channel), which trades a 10 percent price hike for a guarantee of longer support periods… longer than the consumer version of Office 2021, that is.

In reality, the “Long Term Service Channel” version of Office 2021 will still have a shorter support life cycle than that enjoyed by previous versions of Office. Office 2019 had a seven-year support window—Office 2021 LTSC will only offer five. There’s no official word yet on the support life cycle of the presumably shorter-lived consumer version of Office 2021.

Read 2 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#microsoft, #microsoft-365, #office, #office-2019, #office-2021, #office-365, #tech

0

Microsoft announces the next perpetual release of Office

If you use Office, Microsoft would really, really, really like you to buy a cloud-enabled subscription to Microsoft 365 (formerly Office 365). But as the company promised, it will continue to make a stand-alone, perpetual license for Office available for the foreseeable future. A while back, it launched Office 2019, which includes the standard suite of Office tools, but is frozen in time and without the benefit of the regular feature updates and cloud-based tools that come with the subscription offering.

Today, Microsoft is announcing what is now called the Microsoft Office LTSC (Long Term Servicing Channel). It’ll be available as a commercial preview in April and will be available on both Mac and Windows, in both 32-bit and 64-bit versions.

And like with the previous version, it’s clear that Microsoft would really prefer if you just moved to the cloud already. But it also knows that not everybody can do that, so it now calls this version with its perpetual license that you pay for once and then use for as long as you want to (or have compatible hardware) a “specialty product for specific scenarios. Those scenarios, Microsoft agrees, include situations where you have a regulated device that can’t accept feature updates for years at a time, process control devices on a manufacturing floor and other devices that simply can’t be connected to the internet.

“We expect that most customers who use Office LTSC won’t do it across their entire organization, but only in specific scenarios,” Microsoft’s CVP for Microsoft 365, Jared Spataro, writes in today’s announcement.

Because it’s a specialty product, Microsoft will also raise the price for Office Professional Plus, Office Standard, and the individual Office apps by up to 10%.

“To fuel the work of the future, we need the power of the cloud,” writes Spataro. “The cloud is where we invest, where we innovate, where we discover the solutions that help our customers empower everyone in their organization – even as we all adjust to a new world of work. But we also acknowledge that some of our customers need to enable a limited set of locked-in-time scenarios, and these updates reflect our commitment to helping them meet this need.”

If you have one of these special use cases, the price increase will not likely deter you and you’ll likely be happy to hear that Microsoft is committing to another release in this long-term channel in the future, too.

As for the new features in this release, Spataro notes that will have dark mode support, new capabilities like Dynamic Arrays and XLOOKUP in Excel, and performance improvements across the board. One other change worth calling out is that it will not ship with Skype for Business but the Microsoft Teams app (though you can still download Skype for Business if you need it).

#cloud, #cloud-computing, #computing, #jared-spataro, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-office, #office-365, #operating-systems, #software, #subscription-services, #windows-10

0

Microsoft announces its first Azure data center region in Taiwan

After announcing its latest data center region in Austria earlier this month and an expansion of its footprint in Brazil, Microsoft today unveiled its plans to open a new region in Taiwan. This new region will augment its existing presence in East Asia, where the company already runs data centers in China (operated by 21Vianet), Hong Kong, Japan and Korea. This new region will bring Microsoft’s total presence around the world to 66 cloud regions.

Similar to its recent expansion in Brazil, Microsoft also pledged to provide digital skilling for over 200,000 people in Taiwan by 2024 and it is growing its Taiwan Azure Hardware Systems and Infrastructure engineering group, too. That’s in addition to investments in its IoT and AI research efforts in Taiwan and the startup accelerator it runs there.

“Our new investment in Taiwan reflects our faith in its strong heritage of hardware and software integration,” said Jean-Phillippe Courtois, Executive Vice President and President, Microsoft Global Sales, Marketing and Operations. “With Taiwan’s expertise in hardware manufacturing and the new datacenter region, we look forward to greater transformation, advancing what is possible with 5G, AI and IoT capabilities spanning the intelligent cloud and intelligent edge.”

Image Credits: Microsoft

The new region will offer access to the core Microsoft Azure services. Support for Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform. That’s pretty much Microsoft’s playbook for launching all of its new regions these days. Like virtually all of Microsoft’s new data center region, this one will also offer multiple availability zones.

#artificial-intelligence, #austria, #brazil, #china, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #cloud-storage, #computing, #internet-of-things, #iot, #japan, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-azure, #taiwan

0

Microsoft Azure announces its first region in Austria

Microsoft today announced its plans to launch a new data center region in Austria, its first in the country. With nearby Azure regions in Switzerland, Germany, France and a planned new region in northern Italy, this part of Europe now has its fair share of Azure coverage. Microsoft also noted that it plans to launch a new ‘Center of Digital Excellence’ to Austria to “to modernize Austria’s IT infrastructure, public governmental services and industry innovation.”

In total, Azure now features 65 cloud regions — though that number includes some that aren’t online yet. As its competitors like to point out, not all of them feature multiple availability zones yet, but the company plans to change that. Until then, the fact that there’s usually another nearby region can often make up for that.

Image Credits: Microsoft

Talking about availability zones, in addition to announcing this new data center region, Microsoft also today announced plans to expand its cloud in Brazil, with new availability zones to enable high-availability workloads launching in the existing Brazil South region in 2021. Currently, this region only supports Azure workloads but will add support for Microsoft 365, Dynamics 365 and Power Platform over the course of the next few months.

This announcement is part of a large commitment to building out its presence in Brazil. Microsoft is also partnering with the Ministry of Economy “to help job matching for up to 25 million workers and is offering free digital skilling with the capacity to train up to 5.5 million people” and to use its AI to protect the rainforest. That last part may sound a bit naive, but the specific plan here is to use AI to predict likely deforestation zones based on data from satellite images.

#artificial-intelligence, #austria, #brazil, #cloud, #cloud-computing, #cloud-infrastructure, #computing, #europe, #france, #germany, #italy, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-azure, #ministry-of-economy, #subscription-services, #switzerland

0

Microsoft updates its Endpoint Manager with improved macOS support and more

At its Ignite conference today, Microsoft announced a number of new features for the Microsoft Endpoint Manager, the company’s unified platform for managing and securing devices in an enterprise environment. The service, which combines the features of the Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager with the cloud-based tools of Intune, launched just under a year ago. Today’s updates build on the foundation the team created at the time and add improved macOS and iPad support, as well as new tools for connecting mobile devices to on-premises apps and additional productivity tools based on the date the company gathers from the service. The company is also making it easier for corporate IT departments to provision devices for employees remotely.

If anything, the pandemic has only accelerated both the growth of this business for Microsoft and the need for companies to manage their remote devices.

“It really is about bringing this cloud and all the intelligence that we had in Intune together with Config Manager and making it act as one,” Brad Anderson, Microsoft corporate VP for the Commercial Management Experiences team, told me. “And it’s been so fascinated to see how the pandemic accelerated people wanting and needing to use that. When the pandemic first hit – and as I go back to March 8th or 10th, in the US, the calls that I was having almost every day with CIOs centered around, ‘my VPN is overwhelmed. How am I going to patch on keep all my systems updated?’”

Today’s announcements build on the work Microsoft has done on this service over the course of the last year. After launching support for scripting on macOS earlier this year, for example, the company today announced a new “first-class management experience on macOS” that brings deploy scripts, but also improved enrollment experiences and app lifecycle management feature to the platform.

Endpoint Manager now also supports Apple’s Shared iPad for Business functionality and will help businesses deploy iPads to their users and allow them to log in with Azure Active Directory accounts. This gives users two separate portions on the device: one for work and one for everything else.

Another new feature is Microsoft Tunnel. This gives businesses a VPN that can cover the entire device or single apps to ensure that their employees’ devices are secure and compliant with their internal policy to access their networks.

“The key thing [with Microsoft Tunnel] is that this is all integrated into our conditional access,” Anderson explained. “And so when that VPN comes up, before access is granted to the data or to the apps, the conditional access engine that we’ve built inside of Microsoft 365 has that point of view on the trust of the identity and the trust of the device. That really is the key differentiator on that. I’ll tell you, between you and I, that one feature is probably the single feature that customers who are running another MDM and then the Microsoft Endpoint Manager — that’s the one they’re waiting for.”

Endpoint Manager now also supports the Windows Virtual Desktop (WVD) environment. That’s been a massive growth area for the company — one that has only been accelerated by the COVID-19 pandemic. As Anderson told me, the company saw 10x growth for WVD through the pandemic. “Now, Windows Virtual Desktop is that first-class citizen inside Microsoft Endpoint Manager. So you can manage your virtual endpoints just like you manage your physical endpoints. All your policies are applicable, all your apps are clickable. And it just makes it easier to be able to use that as one of the tools you have to empower your users,” he said.

Another area of Endpoint Manager, which may only seem tangentially related at first, is Microsoft’s Productivity Score. There are two aspects to this service, though: employee experience and technology experience. Productivity Score is meant to help businesses better understand how their employees are working — and identify areas where companies can improve. On the technology side, that also means understanding which apps crash, for example, or why laptops slow down.

“Here’s one of the key scenarios,” said Anderson. “We’ll get a call every once in a while that says, like, ‘hey, my users are all having a great experience with Office 365 but I’ve got a handful of users for whom it’s slow.’ More often than not, that’s a networking issue. And so every time a user, for example, opens a file or saves a file, opens an attachment, we get telemetry back that helps us understand the operations of that. We probably know when an ISP in the south of France sneezes, because Office 365 is so ubiquitous now.”

The other new feature here is what Microsoft calls Endpoint Analytics. With this, Microsoft can now provide businesses with details information about when apps on their employees’ devices crash – no matter whether that’s an internal app, a third-party service — or a Microsoft app.

In addition to these technology scores, Productivity Score is also getting new categories like meetings, so managers can see how many meetings their employees have, as well as a new teamwork category.

#chrome-os, #computing, #enterprise, #ipad, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-ignite-2020, #mobile-devices, #network-management, #software, #system-administration, #tc

0

Microsoft brings transcriptions to Word

Microsoft today launched Transcribe in Word, its new transcription service for Microsoft 365 subscribers, into general availability. It’s now available in the online version of Word, with other platforms launching later. In addition, Word is also getting new dictation features, which now allow you to use your voice to format and edit your text, for example.

As the name implies, this new feature lets you transcribe conversations, both live and pre-recorded, and then edit those transcripts right inside of Word. With this, the company goes head-to-head with startups like Otter and Google’s Recorder app, though they all have their own pros and cons.

Image Credits: Microsoft

To get started with Transcribe in Word, you simply head for the dictate button in the menu bar and click on ‘transcribe.’ From there, you can record a conversation as it happens — by recording it directly through a speakerphone and your laptop’s microphone, for example — or by recording it in some other way and then uploading that file. The service accepts .mp3, .wav, .m4a and .mp4 files.

As Microsoft Principal Group PM Manager for Natural User Interface & Incubation, Dan Parish, noted in a press briefing ahead of today’s announcement, when you record a call live, the transcription actually runs in the background while you conduct your interview, for example. The team purposely decided not to show you the live transcript, though, because its user research showed that it was distracting. I admit that I like to see the live transcript in Otter and Recorder, but maybe I’m alone in that.

Like with other services, Transcribe in Word lets you click on individual paragraphs in the transcript and then listen to that at a variety of speeds. Since the automated transcript will inevitably have errors in it, that’s a must-have feature. Sadly, though, Transcribe doesn’t let you click on individual words.

One major limitation of the service right now is that if you like to record offline and then upload your files, you’ll be limited to 300 minutes, without the ability to extend this for an extra fee, for example. I know I often transcribe far more than 5 hours of interviews in any given month, so that limit seems low, especially given that Otter provides me with 6,000 minutes on its cheapest paid plan. The max length for a transcript on Otter is 4 hours while Microsoft’s only limit for is a 200MB file upload limit, with no limits on live recordings.

Another issue I noticed here is that if you mistakenly exit the tab with Word in it, the transcription process will stop and there doesn’t seem to be a way to restart it.

It also takes quite a while for the uploaded files to be transcribed. It takes roughly as long as the conversations I’ve tried to transcribe), but the results are very good — and often better than those of competing services. Transcribe for Word also does a nice job separating out the different speakers in a conversation. For privacy reasons, you must assign your own names to those — even when you regularly record the same people.

It’d be nice to get the same feature in something like OneNote, for example, and my guess is Microsoft may expand this to its note-taking app over time. To me, that’s the more natural place for it.

Image Credits: Microsoft

The new dictation features in Word now let you give commands like “bold the last sentence,” for example, and say “percentage sign” or “ampersand” if you need to add those symbols to a text (or “smiley face,” if those are the kinds of texts you write in Word).

Even if you don’t often need to transcribe text, this new feature shows how Microsoft is now using its subscription service to launch new premium features to convert free users to paying ones. I’d be surprised if tools like the Microsoft Editor (which offers more features for paying users), this transcription service, as well as some of the new AI features in the likes of Excel and PowerPoint, didn’t help to convert some users into paying ones, especially now that the company has combined Office 365 and Microsoft 365 for consumers into a single bundle. After all, just a subscription to something like Grammarly and Otter would be significantly more expensive than a Microsoft 365 subscription.

 

#artificial-intelligence, #enterprise, #head, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-word, #microsoft-office, #office-365, #operating-systems, #software, #speech-recognition, #subscription-services, #tc, #transcribe, #transcription

0

Slack has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft Teams in the EU

Workplace instant messaging platform Slack has filed an antitrust complaint against Microsoft in the European Union accusing the tech giant of unfairly bundling its rival Teams product with its cloud-based productivity suite.

A spokeswoman for the Commission’s competition division confirmed receipt of a complaint, telling us via email: “We confirm that we received a complaint by Slack against Microsoft. We will assess it under our standard procedures.”

We’ve also reached out to Microsoft and Slack for comment.

Per the FT, which has a statement from Slack, the company is accusing Microsoft of illegally abusing its market power by tying its competing product, Teams, to its dominant enterprise suite, Microsoft 365.

“Microsoft has illegally tied its Teams product into its market-dominant Office productivity suite, force installing it for millions, blocking its removal, and hiding the true cost to enterprise customers,” Slack said in the statement.

In further comments to the newspaper, Slack executives said they’re asking EU regulators to move quickly to “to ensure Microsoft cannot continue to illegally leverage its power from one market to another by bundling or tying products”.

Slack told the newspaper it wants the Windows maker to be forced to sell Teams separately to Microsoft 365 at a separate price, rather than bundling it with the existing suite and absorbing the cost.

The complaint is not a surprise given Microsoft and Slack have been at odds for years, ever since the Redmond-based software giant announced its Teams product back in 2016. At the time Slack took out a newspaper advertisement sardonically mocking Microsoft and welcoming the competition. In the ensuing years, Microsoft’s Teams product has also grown from also-ran to legitimate competitor.

Teams most recently announced that it had reached 75 million daily active users (DAU) in April of this year, a gain of 70% from a March number of 44 million DAUs. Like many remote-work friendly products and services, Slack and Teams have seen usage gains in the wake of COVID-19 and its economic disruptions. (Both services are also rolling out new features, combating for media attention, user mindshare, and new customer accounts).

Slack’s last shared DAU number that TechCrunch could find came from March, when Slack’s CEO reported 12.5 million daily actives.

Microsoft’s competing Teams product has managed to transition from dismissed upstart, to rival, to perhaps leading competitor in the space of a few years — but with the advantage of being bundled with a dominant office suite product. Slack’s business is still growing nicely, but with the power of Microsoft’s enterprise sales channel stapled to its growing Microsoft 365 product suite, it’s not surprising to see Slack seek regulatory relief against the larger company.

Whether you agree with Slack’s antitrust take, the move is likely good business. Slack’s shares dropped after its most recent earnings report after its growth and future guidance failed to meet investor expectations (in fairness, Slack did grow 50% on a year-over-year basis, even if Wall Street was unimpressed). If Microsoft’s Teams product is eating into its famed business expansion, Slack could see its share price suffer further. So, heading off Microsoft in a region famed for active government intervention into business appears savvy.

EU competition chief Margrethe Vestager is famed for her relative alacrity in grappling with complex digital cases. Though her record when judged by outcomes remains contested.

Also noteworthy: EU lawmakers are consulting on whether to give regional antitrust regulators greater powers to intervene in digital markets when they suspect a market might be being tipped unfairly in favor of one player.

For long time tech watchers, Microsoft being accused of unfairly bundling in the EU will of course bring back plenty of memories. Although, most recently, the tech giant has been making hay out of Apple being put under formal antitrust probe in the region — with president Brad Smith claiming in a Politico video interview last month that Cupertino’s app store walls are “higher” and “more formidable” than anything it threw up in years past.

Reminder: All the way back in 2004 EU antitrust regulators slapped Microsoft with the (then) biggest ever fine — around a half billion euros — for abusing a near monopoly position with its desktop OS, Windows, to try to crush competitors in the digital media player and low end server market. So, er…

#antitrust, #apps, #brad-smith, #competition-law, #europe, #european-union, #instant-messaging, #margrethe-vestager, #microsoft, #microsoft-365, #office-365, #slack, #teams

0

Microsoft announces Microsoft 365, a service to replace personal Office 365

Starting April 21, Microsoft’s Office 365 personal and family subscription suite will be renamed Microsoft 365 in a move that heralds an effort by the company to win over more consumer users.

Seeking to make a point with the rebranding, Microsoft calls it “a subscription service for your life,” which might conjure visions of Amazon Prime. Microsoft 365 will cost $6.99 per month, and a six-user, $9.99 family plan will also be offered. Its apps will be available on Windows, macOS, iOS, and Android.

It will include Office applications like Word and Excel as Office 365 has, but it comes with a promise of new apps and services both today and in the future. In a blog post describing the new service, Microsoft wrote that Microsoft 365 will offer “new artificial intelligence (AI), rich content and templates, and cloud-powered experiences.”

Read 6 remaining paragraphs | Comments

#microsoft, #microsoft-365, #microsoft-office, #office-365, #productivity, #saas, #subscriptions, #tech

0