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Microsoft unveils ICECAPS to power chatbots with multiple personas

Microsoft Research team has open sourced a new toolkit for conversational modelling that will allow developers and researchers to power their chatbots with multiple personas.

Called Intelligent Conversation Engine: Code and Pre-trained Systems, or ICECAPS, the new toolkit is built on top of TensorFlow to enable chatbots generate different responses depending on the environment or situation.

The new solution can be used to train multi-persona conversation systems on multi-speaker data using personality embeddings. With this functionality, the AI assistants can speak in multiple ways in order to match with specific scenarios.

“Several of these tools were driven by recent work done here at Microsoft Research, including personalization embeddings, maximum mutual information–based decoding, knowledge grounding, and an approach for enforcing more structure on shared feature representations to encourage more diverse and relevant responses,” wrote Vighnesh Leonardo Shiv, Microsoft researcher in a blog post.

Microsoft said that the pre-trained models will be released in the coming months.

It further explained that the pre-trained systems are planned to be included with the ICECAPS launch, but due to the chances of the system producing toxic responses in some contexts, the tech giant decided to work on more and better techniques for content filtering first, and then release these systems in public.

The new toolkit provides a wide range of features to the community which include “personalization, knowledge grounding, diverse response modeling and generation, and more generally a multi-task architecture for inducing biases in conversational agents.”

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Australian Signals Directorate open sources its in-house data visualization tool

ASD (Australian Signals Directorate) has open sourced its in-house data visualization and analysis app on the code repository, GitHub.

Dubbed as Constellation, the software is framed with powerful analytics to enable data access,  identify patterns in massive and complicated datasets, and can allow billions of inputs – all in a simple and intuitive way. With this, users can import data in multiple formats and present the information in many different graphic views for deep analysis.

This NetBeans Java application tool is designed to run on both Windows or Linux desktops.

“Putting this powerful software into the open source community is ASD’s way of giving back to the community. The sky really is the limit with Constellation,” said Mike Burgess, Director-General of ASD, soon to be the new head of security for ASIO.

“I hope this tool will help generate scientific and other breakthroughs that will benefit all Australians,” he added.

According to ASD, the tool can further be used by trade, academia, governments, research facilities or people in Australia to resolve the greatest data-driven challenges such as analyse the spread of diseases or help predict the properties of chemicals.

During the transition process, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation’s (CSIRO’s) Data61 assisted ASD in moving Constellation to an open source version, the security agency acknowledged.

The ASD’s decision to provide the application on GitHub will allow the open source community to expand and develop the software while meeting their individual needs. Overall, this will also improve the software’s capability throughout that will develop and benefit the whole community.

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Serious security issue found in 40+ device drivers from 20 vendors

At the DEF CON 27 security conference in Las Vegas, Eclypsium security research team uncovered serious security flaws in more than 40 device drivers from 20 different vendors. These flaws could allow attackers to deploy malware on the vulnerable devices.

“Drivers that provide access to system BIOS or system components for the purposes of updating firmware, running diagnostics, or customizing options on the component can allow attackers to turn the very tools used to manage a system into powerful threats that can escalate privileges and persist invisibly on the host,” Eclypsium wrote in its report.

These drivers can provide an attacker the most privileged access that can be used to launch malicious actions within all versions of Windows including Windows Kernel. All the affected drivers are certified by Microsoft.

In a statement to ZDNet, Mickey Shkatov, Principal Researcher at Eclypsium noted that the design flaw in Windows device drivers have a functionality that can be misused to perform read/write of sensitive resources without any restriction from Microsoft. Shkatov blamed bad coding practices as the major cause of this issue.

Below is a list of some of the affected vendors and hardware manufacturers as published by Eclypsium researchers:

  • American Megatrends International (AMI)
  • ASRock
  • ASUSTeK Computer
  • ATI Technologies (AMD)
  • Biostar
  • EVGA
  • Getac
  • GIGABYTE
  • Huawei
  • Insyde
  • Intel
  • Micro-Star International (MSI)
  • NVIDIA
  • Phoenix Technologies
  • Realtek Semiconductor
  • SuperMicro
  • Toshiba

“Microsoft will be using its HVCI (Hypervisor-enforced Code Integrity) capability to blacklist drivers that are reported to them,” Shaktov said.

However, the HVCI feature is available on 7th gen Intel CPUs and newer processors only. For older operating systems, manual installation would be needed, as well as the newer ones where HVCI can’t be enabled.

Furthermore, Microsoft recommends its users to use a Windows Defender Application Control or turn on memory integrity for supported devices in the Windows Security to block malwares in software and drivers.

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Microsoft rolls out major improvements to Windows Terminal

At Build 2019 conference, Microsoft had announced a number of new offerings for developers. One of the biggest announcements among them was Windows Terminal– a modern and fast terminal application delivered through Microsoft Store in Windows 10.

The tech giant has now released an improved version of it – Windows Terminal Preview v0.3.

In the latest version, the window can now be dragged to anywhere on the screen using the cursor on the title bar. The title bar has been improved with resized drop-down button and new colors. The dark mode is now adjustable.

Here’s a quick look at the improvements in this release:

  • Draggable title bar: Users can now place the mouse pointer in the title bar and drag it anywhere.
  • New layout of drop-down button: The title bar drop-down button now has a different size and color with new arrangement – now to the right next to the last opened tab. The minimize, maximize and close buttons have been recolored to provide a uniform appearance.
  • Accessibility: Microsoft has re-integrated assistive technology that was added to Windows Console in update 1703 into the Terminal app.
  • Set tab title: Users can customize the tab title in profiles by setting “tabTitle” property in a profile.
  • Additional background options: Users can now add an image on the acrylic background “using the properties “backgroundImage”, “useAcrylic”, and “background”!” Also, users can align the background image anywhere on the screen.
  • Selection: The texts can now be selected even outside the Terminal window, by dragging the mouse to continue selecting text above/below.
  • Azure cloud shell connector: Terminal users can now connect to Azure cloud shell within the app. Microsoft has added more details on Azure cloud shell connector.

Windows Terminal can be downloaded from the Microsoft Store and GitHub. The users who download it from GitHub will need to manually update it whenever Microsoft publishes a new release.

READ NEXT: Microsoft simplifies blockchain development with new features in Azure Blockchain dev kit

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Microsoft simplifies blockchain development with new features in Azure Blockchain dev kit

At the TruffleCon 2019, Microsoft has introduced a number of new features for Azure Blockchain Development Kit which will make it easier for developers to build blockchain apps.

“We’re constantly looking and listening to feedback for areas where we can lean in and help developers go further, faster,” says Marc Mercuri, Microsoft’ Principal Program Manager of Blockchain Engineering in a blog post.

Earlier this year, Microsoft had launched the fully managed Azure Blockchain Service to simplify the formation, management, and governance of consortium blockchain networks. Going ahead the tech giant also introduced Azure Blockchain development kit for Ethereum.

The Azure Blockchain development kit is delivered through Visual Studio Code and is compatible with all the popular operating systems. It comes integrated with OSS tools from Truffle and other open source blockchain tools which allows developers to create, compile, test, and manage smart contract code before deployment.

And now, Microsoft has come up with more innovative features for Azure Blockchain development kit:

Interactive debugger:

Interactive debugger will bring together Truffle Debugger and Visual Studio Code so that the developers get all the key debugging features required to identify, debug, and resolve issues in Ethereum smart contracts. Developers will be able to use all the debugging features like breakpoints, step in/over/out, watch windows, and Intellisence pop ups, using a single solution.

Auto-generated prototype UI:

The Azure Blockchain dev kit now comes with an auto-generated UI that is rendered inside Visual Studio Code. The latest graphical user interface (GUI) allows developers to interact with their deployed Ethereum contracts right in the IDE environment without building a dummy UI or custom software to test out if the smart contracts are working properly.

The tech giant has introduced a huge improvement in productivity with the addition of interactive debugger and auto-generated prototype UI. By bringing all the major components of software development, Microsoft has added new strengths to its blockchain development kit among other cloud companies.

READ NEXT: New Azure service to allow enterprises run VMs on single-tenant physical servers

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New Azure service to allow enterprises run VMs on single-tenant physical servers

Microsoft has announced the preview of a brand-new Azure service called Azure Dedicated Host, that will allow Windows and Linux virtual machines (VMs) to run on single-tenant physical servers.

The new service will provide users the full control and visibility over everything that goes on the server without sharing its resources.

“With an Azure Dedicated Host, you can control all host-level platform maintenance initiated by Azure (e.g., host OS updates). An Azure Dedicated Host gives you the option to defer host maintenance operations and apply them within a defined maintenance window, 35 days,” explained Ziv Rafalovich, Principal Program Manager, Azure Compute, Microsoft, in a blog post.

“During this self-maintenance window, you can apply maintenance to your hosts at your convenience, thus gaining full control over the sequence and velocity of the maintenance process.”

Azure Dedicated Host enables enterprises to place Azure VMs on a specific and dedicated physical server. This will help them to meet compliance requirements in terms of physical security, data integrity, and monitoring. Host-level isolation is yet another benefit of this capability.

The Azure Dedicated Host can be created easily using the Azure portal. The tech giant has also extended the Azure Hybrid Benefit to Azure Dedicated Hosts which will allow organizations to use the existing Windows Server and SQL Server on-premise licenses.

Previously, Microsoft’s Azure offered similar services, but the latest version seems to offer more flexibility to its users. The preview version of this service is already been launched in most Azure regions.

In a recent study by Gartner, Microsoft has secured the second position in worldwide infrastructure as a service (IaaS) market segment with 15.5 percent share in 2018.

ALSO READ:  Microsoft buys BlueTalon to address data privacy and governance challenges

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New Chrome 76 doesn’t allow websites to detect anything in Incognito Mode

Google has released the Chrome 76 for Windows, Mac and Linux users. The new update brings improved Incognito mode that will prevent websites from checking private browsing as well as block flash by default.

Google will no longer allow websites to detect if a user is browsing a website in Chrome’s Incognito mode. There are some sites that put a soft paywall where the users need to log in to their accounts to read articles. From now, visitors can use Incognito mode to avoid it and read the contents of the website they want for free.

What actually happens is some websites count the number of free articles that users can read, and then ask for login. It is done using enabling cookies. But the Incognito Mode will eliminate this by not allowing websites to count anything.

“Sites can check for the availability of the FileSystem API and, if they receive an error message, determine that a private session is occurring and give the user a different experience,” said Barb Palser, Partner Development Manager, Google in a blog post.

“With the release of Chrome 76, the behavior of the FileSystem API will be modified to remedy this method of Incognito Mode detection. Chrome will likewise work to remedy any other current or future means of Incognito Mode detection.”

Also, Google has announced that it will by default block Flash plug-in completely by the end of 2020. If users want to switch back to ‘Ask first’ option, they can go to Settings >> Content >> Flash and go back to the previous version.

Google has also added an ‘Install’ shortcut button for Progressive Web Apps in Omnibox that can be navigated through ‘plus’ icon next to the star bookmarking. Clicking on this will show a small ‘Install’ button that will include PWA details and the app icon.

Apart from these major improvements, Chrome 76 update includes 43 security fixes and a few modifications for developers.

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Quest releases new KACE SDA and SMA to meet growing endpoint demands of IT teams

The leading systems management, data protection and security software provider Quest has made the KACE Systems Deployment Appliance (SDA) 7.0 generally available. The new release will help IT users to automate large-scale system deployment and simplify migrations of multiple operating systems.

The SDA version 7.0 will provide support to manage broad endpoint devices with new support for Linux devices.

Following are the new features of KACE SDA 7.0:

  • Added support services for Linux, involving Red Hat, CentOS and Ubuntu. Plus, automated fast installation services for Linux.
  • There are new WIM file capabilities added in the latest version where users can import files as an image. For admins, the system will provide clear details on where the WIM files have been deployed.
  • The new Windows Media Manager is rewritten in C# language that also include KBE manipulator features.
  • With updated SAMBA, there are fewer touches in the password update process now. The passwords that users share will be automatically updated in every boot environment on the appliance.
  • The operating system has been upgraded to the most advanced and secured version of FreeBSD.

Apart from this, Quest has also released the KACE Systems Management Appliance (SMA) 9.1. The KACE SMA 9.1 is an automated approach to addressing the ongoing systems management needs. This approach is effective in protecting the users from cybercrime by automating the patching process.

The KACE SMA 9.1 also brings support for Service Desk and Microsoft Azure to the platform infrastructure.

The update to KACE SDA and SMA is primarily about improving the endpoint management strategies and enabling users to proactively “provision, manage, secure and service their growing endpoint environments.”

“IT departments struggle with managing and securing all devices connected to the network, and just can’t afford to spend time with issues around one-off systems imaging. KACE SDA and SMA address these challenges by arming teams with the solutions necessary to address every organization’s growing endpoint needs,” said Ken Galvin, Senior Product Manager at Quest Software.

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VMware acquires Bitfusion to virtualize hardware accelerators

VMware has unveiled its plan to acquire the US-based startup Bitfusion to help enterprises more efficiently use artificial intelligence (AI) on-premises and in hybrid cloud environments.

Founded in 2015, Bitfusion provides virtualization software for AI infrastructure, with a strong focus on GPU technology.

Hardware accelerators like GPUs (graphic processor units), FPGAs (field-programmable gate arrays), and ASICs (application-specific integrated circuits) provide efficiency and flexibility into the AI space. But the hardware accelerators generally used are deployed with bare-metal practices, which aren’t much efficient. Virtualizing the hardware accelerators can speed up the sharing of resources and optimize costs.

With Bitfusion acquisition, VMware will be well-positioned to support AI workloads by virtualizing hardware accelerators. Its solution brings more sophisticated management by “sharing of graphics card resources between isolated GPU workloads.”

Bitfusion’s software platform decouples physical resources from the servers that are connected to the cloud.

“In many ways, Bitfusion offers for hardware acceleration what VMware offered to the compute landscape several years ago. Bitfusion also aligns well with VMware’s “Any Cloud, Any App, Any Device” vision with its ability to work across AI frameworks, clouds, networks, and formats such as virtual machines and containers,” wrote VMware in a blog post.

While Bitfusion focuses on GPUs, it can also be extended to support FPGAs and ASICs. VMware said that Bitfusion also aligns well with its “Any Cloud, Any App, Any Device” vision with its ability to work across AI frameworks, clouds, networks, and formats like VMs and containers.

Following the closure of acquisition, VMware will integrate Bitfusion into its vSphere platform. The software virtualization giant will work the Bitfusion team to close the gap between traditional CPU-only infrastructure and the hardware that features accelerators.

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Microsoft Defender ATP gets new Threat & Vulnerability Management functionality

Microsoft has announced the general availability of Threat & Vulnerability Management solution. The tech giant says the solution was made available on June 30 and provides real-time vulnerability management to the organizations.

The new solution is a built-in capability in Microsoft Defender ATP (Advanced Threat Protection). The Microsoft Defender ATP uses a risk-based approach to discover, prioritize, and mitigate endpoint vulnerabilities and misconfigurations.

While designing the solution, Microsoft worked with a dozen of enterprise customers including Telit, a global leader in IoT enablement, to understand the limitations and complications of the existing processes.

During the process, Microsoft found that the current approaches being used to scan vulnerabilities are slow and periodical. This could lead to security blind spots between scans, flooding the organizations with vulnerabilities. Further, manual mitigation of vulnerabilities sometimes takes days, weeks, or months to complete. Hence, attackers have a window to attack the enterprises.

Threat & Vulnerability Management solution is aimed to address these issues.

“Our goal is to empower defenders with the tools they need to better protect against evolving threats, and we believe this solution will help provide that additional visibility and agility they need,” wrote Rob Lefferts, Corporate Vice President at Microsoft Security, in a blog post.

The new offering will provide several benefits to customers, like enabling continuous discovery of vulnerabilities and misconfigurations, and business-context based prioritization and dynamic threat landscape. It will provide correlation of vulnerabilities with endpoint detection and response (EDR) alerts to expose breach insights.

Customers will also get machine-level vulnerability context during incident investigations, built-in remediation processes through integration with Microsoft Intune and Microsoft System Center Configuration Manager.

The new TVM solution is now generally available. Existing customers can find it in Microsoft Defender ATP portal. New customers can take a free trail here.

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