All posts by Sabina Weston

Two thirds of UK organisations facing digital skills gap

Sabina Weston

24 Nov, 2020

Over two thirds (69%) of surveyed UK leaders believe that their organisation is currently facing a digital skills gap, according to a new report conducted by Microsoft and Goldsmiths, University of London.

Additionally, 44% of the 600 leaders surveyed indicated that they fear the current lack of digital skills in their organisation will have a negative impact on their organisation’s success.

This feeling is shared across other tiers of the organisation, with 63% out of the 2,000 surveyed employees saying that they believe they do not have the appropriate digital skills to fulfil new and emerging roles in their industry.

The report found that the most significant barriers faced by organisations when addressing the skills gap were cost (37%), a lack of skills investment strategy (28%), and a lack of knowledge on which skills initiatives to focus on (23%).

Microsoft’s chief learning officer Simon Lambert described digital skills as “the currency of digital transformation”.

“For individuals, organisations and the UK as a whole, they will play a vital role in unlocking the way forward,” he added.

“At a time when digital innovation is accelerating, we see it as our responsibility to help people acquire the right skills to succeed – be that for their own benefit, to boost the performance for the organisations they work for or to future-proof the UK’s competitiveness on the global stage,” said Lambert.

Investment in digital skills will be important to the country’s economic recovery following COVID-19, according to 80% of UK leaders, while 78% said that a large pool of digital talent will be essential to driving UK competitiveness.

The findings, which were revealed during Microsoft’s Digital Skills Week, come weeks after the tech giant launched a new campaign that aims to help 1.5 million UK citizens build careers in technology over the next five years.

Get On 2021, which is supported by KPMG, Unilever, and the Department of Work and Pensions (DWP), aims to address the widening digital skills gap in the UK tech sector as well as accelerate technology adoption, drive productivity, and enhance competitiveness.

Google to test end-to-end encryption following global RCS rollout

Sabina Weston

20 Nov, 2020

Google has announced the completion of the global rollout of its Rich Communication Services (RCS) for Android phones, which will now be followed by the testing of end to end encryption (E2EE) on some messages.

The RCS feature allows users to share high-resolution photos and larger files, make video calls, chat within groups, as well as find out when messages are read.

The announcement of the successful global RCS rollout comes days after a leaked document suggested that the European Union inches closer to banning E2EE.

The leaked memo, addressed to the representatives forming the Council for European Union, makes it clear that policymakers stand firmly behind the notion of ‘strong encryption’ as a means of protecting the data and rights of individuals, but that E2EE makes it too easy for criminals to evade justice.

This could directly impact Google as the tech giant is expected to begin testing E2EE in one-to-one conversations on Google Messages. This means that the contents of a message between two users will not be able to be read by Google or other third-parties while it is transmitted between the sender and receiver.

The new feature is now available to anyone who has the latest beta version of Messages and has the enabled Chat features over data or Wi-Fi. When two users meet these requirements, their direct messages will be automatically encrypted with E2EE by default. Users will be able to see if their messages are encrypted by checking for a lock symbol next to the timestamp of the conversation’s latest message, or on the send button.

In a statement announcing the more general RCS rollout, Google stated that E2EE will not be available for SMS/MMS nor group messages, but it is not certain whether this will be enough to evade any future EU ban on encrypted messaging.

Earlier this month, digital privacy expert at ProPrivacy, Ray Walsh, warned that the EU’s “move to ban encryption from messaging platforms like WhatsApp and Signal would be a massive threat to data privacy as we know it”.

“It is a disappointing change in approach from the EU which has previously been pro-privacy for European citizens,” he told IT Pro before adding that “not only is breaking encryption a threat to national security, but the ability to communicate privately is a vital part of any free society”.

macOS Big Sur is bricking some older MacBooks

Sabina Weston

16 Nov, 2020

A new macOS update released last week is reportedly bricking older MacBook Pro laptops, according to a number of dissatisfied Apple customers.

Big Sur, which was first unveiled during the Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC) last June, is rendering some devices unresponsive, causing them to display a static black screen without any way of bypassing or resolving the issue.

The problem with Apple’s latest operating system update is said to be affecting mostly 13-inch MacBook Pros released between late 2013 and mid-2014, according to MacRumors. However, the models have been listed as compatible with the update.

Apple’s engineering team is reportedly aware of the issue and Big Sur has become a popular topic of discussion on the Apple Support forum, with users describing how their MacBooks are stuck on a black screen with keyboards “completely disabled”.

Apple is reportedly telling users to bring their laptops in for repair, according to a discussion on forum site Reddit. However, this might not be possible for many living in regions under government-imposed lockdowns, such as England.

This is not the only issue facing Big Sur. On 14 November, when the macOS update was released, Apple users reported server outages that caused iMessage and Apple Pay to go down and performance issues for users running macOS Catalina and earlier, according to 9to5Mac. The issue also caused Big Sur downloads and installations to fail, as well as security and privacy concerns.

IT Pro has contacted Apple for comment but has yet to hear back from the company.

Last week, the Cupertino-based tech giant announced a new lineup of its flagship laptops powered by its all-new M1 chip. Nearly one month after launching the iPhone 12, the company held another “One More Thing” event to show off the new hardware, which includes updates to the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini.

The Apple-built M1 chip is the first-ever personal computer chip built by the company in-house, and the announcement marks the first time since 2006 that new Macs will be powered by anything other than Intel processors.

AWS launches visual data preparation tool DataBrew

Sabina Weston

12 Nov, 2020

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has announced the general availability of its new visual data preparation tool that lets users clean and normalise data without having to write code.

Built as part of its AWS Glue service, the new DataBrew tool aims to make visual data preparation more accessible for a greater number of users.

According to AWS, DataBrew facilitates data exploration and experimentation directly from AWS data lakes, data warehouses, and databases. Its users will be able to choose from over 250 built-in functions to combine, pivot, and transpose the data, with the tool also providing transformations that use advanced machine learning techniques such as natural language processing.

DataBrew is serverless and fully-managed, the claim being that users will never need to configure, provision, or manage any compute resources directly.

“AWS customers are using data for analytics and machine learning at an unprecedented pace”, commented Raju Gulabani, AWS vice president of Database and Analytics. “However, these customers regularly tell us that their teams spend too much time on the undifferentiated, repetitive, and mundane tasks associated with data preparation. Customers love the scalability and flexibility of code-based data preparation services like AWS Glue, but they could also benefit from allowing business users, data analysts, and data scientists to visually explore and experiment with data independently, without writing code.

“AWS Glue DataBrew features an easy-to-use visual interface that helps data analysts and data scientists of all technical levels understand, combine, clean, and transform data,” he added.

AWS Glue DataBrew is generally available starting today in Ireland and Frankfurt, Germany, as well as select parts of the United States, including Ohio and Oregon, and the Asia Pacific Region. AWS said that it will announce the availability in additional regions “soon” but has yet to confirm when the tool will arrive in the UK.

When it comes to pricing, AWS said that the DataBrew users will not be faced with any “upfront commitments or costs” to use the tool, but will be expected to pay for the ability to create and run transformations on datasets. AWS did not immediately respond to IT Pro’s query regarding specific pricing.

McAfee: 7.5 million attacks on cloud accounts recorded in Q2

Sabina Weston

5 Nov, 2020

Approximately 7.5 million external attacks were recorded against cloud accounts during the second quarter, with over 200,000 of those against UK business, security firm McAfee has revealed.

The findings were based on the aggregated and anonymised cloud usage data from more than 30 million McAfee MVISION cloud users worldwide from all major industries, detailed in a new McAfee Labs Threats Report for 2020.

The UK has been ranked seventh on a top ten list showing the most cloud attacks by region, with just over 200,000. This is followed by Brazil and the Netherlands, at around 250,000, Russia and New Caledonia at just under 300,000, and India at 450,000. Thailand currently experiences the highest number of attacks against cloud accounts, with 625,000.

The report also found that Q2 saw a 605% increase in COVID-19-themed attack detections, following the trend of hackers exploiting the pandemic for criminal activities. Overall, during this past quarter, McAfee managed to observe an average of 419 new threats per minute.

Commenting on the findings, Nigel Hawthorn, data privacy expert for cloud security at McAfee, said that “the fact that there have been nearly 7.5 million attacks on users via cloud services in the second quarter of this year highlights how criminals have been quick to pivot attack methods to take advantage of the pandemic”.

“The move to widespread remote working has required many industries to adopt new cloud services to maintain staff productivity, communication and collaboration. When managed correctly, however, the cloud is the most secure place to do business and an incredible driver of business growth, innovation and resiliency. Incorporating cloud into strong data governance policies and regular staff training are the keys to making this a reality,” he added.

Hawthorn recommended that IT teams should be “able to quickly identify, prioritise and respond to these targeted attacks – across both device and cloud”.

“Technology can play a key role in helping security professionals understand whether their organisation is at risk, what specific threats they are susceptible to, and how they can pre-empt an attack,” he added. “This must go hand-in-hand with a shared responsibility security model. Everyone is accountable in some way and must play their part to protect data against cybercriminals.”

Microsoft Teams meetings will soon support 1,000 participants

Sabina Weston

2 Nov, 2020

Microsoft Teams users will soon be able to hold interactive meetings with up to 1,000 participants.

The update, which was first announced in August, is now scheduled to become available in December 2020. It will allow users to add up to 1,000 participants in a meeting, allowing greater online collaboration across enterprises as numerous countries, including the UK, head for another lockdown.

Users will also be able to hold Teams meetings for 1,000 participants while also enabling up to 20,000 participants in a view-only meeting experience.

According to Microsoft’s 365 Roadmap, the feature is currently “In Development” and will be ready by the end of the year.

Users will be able to access the feature using the Advanced Communications add-on which was launched on 1 August 2020. The license costs $12 (£9.28) per user a month and is available as a free trial for 60 days.

With a 20,000-participant capacity, the plan made it possible for large enterprises to host meetings for the entirety of their staff, allowing Microsoft to take advantage of the heightened demand for video conferencing.

Microsoft Teams general manager Nicole Herskowitz said that the tech giant put emphasis on users’ meeting experience when developing the capability, “making sure that even as the meeting scales it is still easy to manage and listen to the speakers”

“Therefore, we limited the size of interactive meetings to 1,000 participants, with a seamless shift to a ‘view only’ mode after the limit is met,” she added.

Microsoft Teams has enjoyed an exceptional increase in popularity since the start of the pandemic, as many organisations moved to remote working environments due to lockdown restrictions.

On 28 October, Microsoft announced that the platform’s number of daily active users surpassed 115 million, a staggering increase of 95 million since the year prior.

Commenting on the announcement, corporate VP for Microsoft 365 Jared Spataro said that the growth “reflects the continued demand for Teams as the lifeline for remote and hybrid work and learning during the pandemic, helping people and organizations in every industry stay agile and resilient in this new era”. 

BT ditches Yammer in favour of Facebook Workplace

Sabina Weston

27 Oct, 2020

BT has rolled out Facebook Workplace to enable enterprise-wide internal communications for 80,000 employees, as businesses put emphasis on new ways of interaction due to lockdown restrictions.

The telecoms giant told IT Pro that it previously used various social networking platforms, including Microsoft’s Yammer, before deciding to unify and simplify its communications channels. It started the deployment of Workplace in July 2019.

Facebook Workplace, which was launched in 2016, now connects 80% of BT employees through chats, Groups, and video across all parts of the organisation in 54 countries.

The B2B communications platform is being used to connect BT employees, including external employees at Openreach and engineers, enabling them to stay informed while working in the field. 

BT’s director of Internal Communications Helen Willett said that “Workplace was a simple choice for BT”, describing it as “mobile-friendly, easy to use and intuitive”.

“But more than that, it’s culture-enhancing. Leaders can talk to their teams in a matter of seconds and the peer-to-peer benefits include enabling a sense of belonging, instant access to news and a way to solve problems collaboratively.

“Perhaps most importantly, having Workplace has made it so much easier for us to stick to our principle of ‘inside out’ – letting our colleagues know what’s happening, increasing trust and, in turn, advocacy. Sometimes we have a matter of minutes to reach our people – Workplace allows us to do that, and to do it well,” she added.

So far, BT has seen an avalanche of involvement from its employees, with three million reactions and a further 970,000 comments on Workplace.

BT CEO Philip Jansen said that the platform is allowing the company to aim for a “fast-paced, inclusive and empowering” future. 

“We’ve seen many benefits including being able to share news instantly, gather feedback on subjects that our people care about, and enabling more authentic leadership communications,” he said, adding that the platform has also “strengthened” the company’s communities across BT and Openreach.

“Through Workplace, colleagues connect with each other on the things that matter, sharing ideas and problem-solving together in real time. That is hugely beneficial to our colleagues and customers, and therefore to BT as a whole.”

Zoom adds support for in-meeting apps and live events

Sabina Weston

15 Oct, 2020

Zoom users will soon be able to enjoy in-meeting apps from the likes of Trello, Dropbox, Slack, and many other collaborative tools.

The video-conferencing platform has announced the launch of ‘Zapps’ – apps made just for Zoom which will power workflows during and in between meetings.

According to Zoom, Zapps was designed to provide developers with a fast and flexible web view canvas to create apps, viral distribution, as well as IT deployment and manageability.

So far, 36 platforms have announced demos of their ‘Zapps’, including popular collaborative tools such as Trello, Docket, and Slack, as well as Dropbox and Salesforce.

Zapps are to become generally available by the end of the year and will be open to developers soon after.

The announcement was made during Zoom’s virtual conference Zoomtopia 2020, where the company also revealed that it would be launching an online event platform for Zoom users to create and host free, paid, and charity events. Called OnZoom, the new platform will become available internationally from 2021. It is currently available as a public beta for US users.

Additionally, Zoom has added new enhancements to its SDKs, aiming to help developers and companies enrich their own custom video-based applications with Zoom’s platform. The feature is now available on Android, iOS, and web.

The company also developed new functionalities for its core unified communications platform, such as enhanced voice command options and a suite of whiteboarding enhancements.

Lastly, Zoom said that it will begin rolling out Phase 1 of 4 of its end-to-end encryption (E2EE) offering, almost four months after first committing to the technology, which will first be available as a technical preview from next week.

Zoom users, regardless of whether they pay for the platform or not, will be able to host up to 200 participants in an E2EE meeting on Zoom, providing increased privacy and security for your Zoom sessions.

Speaking at Zoomtopia 2020, CEO Eric S. Yuan said that the “one thing we’ve learned in this challenging time is that remote work does work”.

“The future will bring a hybrid of the best of in-person and virtual communications. The announcements we make today at Zoomtopia demonstrate that Zoom is built for this moment and beyond. We have the platform to support what the world needs – today, tomorrow, and well into the future,” he added.

Nokia embraces Google Cloud as it shifts to “cloud-first” strategy

Sabina Weston

14 Oct, 2020

Nokia has signed a five-year deal with Google which will see the Finnish telecom giant migrate its on-premise IT infrastructure to Google Cloud

Although the terms of the deal have not yet been disclosed, the migration, which includes data centresservers, and various software applications, is already underway and is expected to take between 18 months and two years.

The decision is said to be driven by Nokia’s operational shift to a “cloud-first IT strategy”, which aims to “enhance collaboration and innovation” among its staff as well as accelerate the delivery of its services to customers.

According to the company, the deal with Google Cloud will see Nokia lower its energy consumption as well as new hardware costs.

Nokia’s VP of Global IT Infrastructure Ravi Parmasad said that the company is “on a digital transformation path that is about fundamentally changing how we operate and do business”. 

“This is crucial for how our employees collaborate so that we continue to raise the bar on meeting the needs of our customers. We are very pleased that Google Cloud, with its engineering and operational excellence, is joining our transformation work to help us deliver on the many goals we have set.

Given Nokia’s digital ambitions and plans, this is an ideal time for Nokia to be taking this step with Google Cloud to accelerate our efforts; and doing all of this in a secure and scalable way,” he added.

Meanwhile, Google Cloud’s president Rob Enslin said that it’s an honor to work with Nokia to help modernize its infrastructure on Google Cloud”. 

“We look forward to bringing our leading networking, data analytics, AI/ML, and other technologies to empower Nokia to deliver a cloud-first strategy and better serve its customers,” he said. 

“We are excited to help Nokia revamp its IT infrastructure with our backbone network and our approach to data security, using advanced software-defined networking. We look forward to providing the full menu of our capabilities to help Nokia deliver on its cloud-first strategy and reach its performance requirements.”

The announcement comes weeks after it was revealed that Nokia was chosen by BT to replace Huawei as its 5G radio access network (RAN) vendor, making the Finnish telecom its largest infrastructure partner and equipment provider. The partnership will also see Nokia replace Huawei in BT’s 2G and 4G networks.

IBM updates Cloud Pak with ‘industry-first’ security tools

Sabina Weston

14 Oct, 2020

IBM has announced updated capabilities for its Cloud Pak for Security platform, including an “industry-first” built-in data security hub.

Launched almost a year ago, Cloud Pak for Security focuses on delivering security solutions for multi-cloud and hybrid environments.

IBM has announced that the platform will soon receive a new built-in data security hub which aims to provide analysts with additional insight on the location of their sensitive data across hybrid cloud environments.

This “industry-first” tool will also show who has access to it, how it is used, and the best way to protect, and will facilitate data breach responses which, according to a new report by The Ponemon Institute and IBM Security, currently take over six months to identify and contain.

IBM also announced that Cloud Pak for Security will soon feature pre-built integrations for five additional threat intelligence feeds from third-party sources: AlienVault OTX, Cisco Threatgrid, MaxMind Geolocation, SANS Internet StormCenter, and Virustotal. This list is expected to be expanded further as early as 2021.

Additionally, IBM announced the launch of new dedicated security services that will aid organisations in updating their security operations using Cloud Pak for Security. This will include end-to-end threat management, managed security services, as well as strategy, consulting, and integration support.

All three features are expected to become available in the final quarter of 2020.

IBM Security VP Justin Youngblood said that the company “will be the first in the industry to bring together external threat intelligence and threat management alongside data security and identity, helping organizations to modernize their security operations and create the foundation for a zero-trust security strategy”.

“Complexity is the greatest challenge facing our industry, forcing resource-strapped security teams to manually connect the dots between disparate tools and sources of security data,” he said. “Cloud Pak for Security is built on open, cloud-native technologies from the ground up to connect any tool within the security ecosystem.”

The announcement comes days after IBM revealed plans to split its business in half by spinning off its infrastructure services unit into a separate public company.