Microsoft acquires security startup CloudKnox

Bobby Hellard

22 Jul, 2021

Microsoft has announced the acquisition CloudKnox, a security startup that helps businesses manage their cloud access credentials.

The terms of the deal have not been disclosed but it is another addition to Microsoft’s burgeoning security portfolio.

CloudKnox, which was founded in California in 2015, uses automated software to spot and remove cases of unused permissions and virtual identities. It can also be used to show alerts for unusual activity or attempts to use in-active or compromised employee credentials. The firm’s software is already compatible with Microsoft’s Azure, as well as Google Cloud and AWS.

According to Microsoft’s corporate vice president, Joy Chik, recent high-profile breaches have demonstrated just how quickly bad actors can infiltrate systems by exploiting “misappropriated privileged credentials”, a problem that has been exacerbated by a surge in demand for remote access over the past year.

“While organisations are reaping the benefits of cloud adoption, they still struggle to assess, prevent, enforce and govern privileged access across hybrid and multi-cloud environments,” Chik said in a blog post. “Even if they piece multiple siloed systems together, they still get an incomplete view of privileged access.

“Traditional Privileged Access Management and Identity Governance and Administration solutions are well suited for on-premises environments, however they fall short of providing the necessary end-to-end visibility for multi-cloud entitlements and permissions.”

The acquisition also highlights Microsoft’s current focus on securing its cloud services. Last week, the firm announced the takeover of RiskIQ, a startup that provides customers with cloud-based software as a service (SaaS) protection to detect phishing attacks, fraud attempts, and malware infections. Again, however, the terms of the deal were not disclosed.

The tech giant’s own security services have generated over $10 billion in revenue over the past 12 months, which is a 40% increase year-on-year, and one of its fastest-growing business segments.

Is it cloudy in manufacturing?

22 Jul, 2021

More than a quarter of IT directors in manufacturing are concerned about slow performance when running applications in the cloud, according to new research from label design and management software provider NiceLabel. However, eliminating issues around performance and legacy systems integration would spark a faster migration, with 50% ‘much more likely to move their applications to the cloud’ as a result.

How manufacturing approaches its use of cloud deployments will be subjective. As Rohit Gupta, senior product manager at Cognizant, tells IT Pro, some businesses are further along their cloud path than others: “Some manufacturers have taken Industry 4.0 very seriously and have made an effort to implement technologies at scale to adopt it. However, most manufacturers have taken Industry 4.0 one step at a time, first trying to prove the benefits of each technology they implement so they can scale up confidently further down the line. The era of scaling up will arrive when Industry 4.0 is truly realised but we’re not fully there yet.”

IoT and 5G will usher in a new level of connectivity all manufacturers can benefit from and cloud is an essential partner, albeit one that will need to be integrated with a range of new and legacy technologies.

The manufacturing cloud

In the past, manufacturing operations management (MOM) applications were deployed within a manufacturer’s site. With little network capacity, businesses had a very insular approach. As Industry 4.0 continues to develop, and a new age of connectivity expands, MOM applications can move to the cloud, if this is viable.

Speaking to IT Pro, Maddie Walker, Industry X practice lead at Accenture UKI, explains that bringing manufacturers increasingly into cloud environments is the future of their businesses. “Firstly, Industry 4.0 has brought connectivity to the factory floor,” she says. “For example, you have market leaders using digital monitoring and maintenance technologies and automating processes to speed up decision making. You also have leading companies deploying full robotic automation in production. By embedding AI and analytics into operations, and evolving with robotics and digital twin technologies, manufacturers are augmenting their human workforces with technology and providing greater insights.”

Another critical trend is composable IT architectures and how they connect with cloud and hybrid data centre deployments that might be in place. “By identifying available resource pools, the IT architecture will be able to assess, review and determine the availability and utilisation of all IT resource pools – ensuring that there is compute and storage space for operations,” explains Andreas Rindler, managing director at consultancy firm BCG Platinion. “Meanwhile, dynamic resource sharing will mean that the architecture can optimise the utilisation and provisioning of the right resources where and when needed, speeding up processes.”

And the use of digital twins is also expected to expand across manufacturing rapidly. Estimates from Juniper Research put spending on digital twin technologies to be over a third (34%) of total spending by manufacturers this year.

Smart manufacturing

The creation of the smart factory has been a long time coming. Today several technologies are converging to make the manufacturing landscape more intelligent. 

Walker explains that data and analytics are at the core of the smart factory: “Combining IoT with data analytics tools on the cloud allows manufacturers to receive key information at pace and provides them with a detailed picture of where efficiencies can be made across their suite of smart manufacturing products. It’s these insights that allow factories to be ‘smart’ – by linking humans, machines, and products across the value chain and decisions can be made quickly.”

Even with a range of mature and semi-mature technologies available, the manufacturing space can seem sluggish compared to other sectors or industries. Mark Yeeles, vice president of industrial automation at Schneider Electric UK&I, believes the slow pace of digitisation is not entirely the manufacturers’ fault. “Most accounts, several digitisation efforts have yet to achieve their anticipated benefits,” he says. “However, we can’t place all the blame on the technology for not reaching its full potential. The technology is there – frequently, the complexities that operate within running a business or factory that hold it back. 

“For example, many factories and the automation machinery within them aren’t always brand new, made by a singular brand and interconnected by a cutting-edge operating system. Embracing this fact and helping customers to connect by using [technologies] such as the Cloud can help them to scale up and garner greater intelligence to make better business decisions and improve operational efficiency.

There is little doubt that the cloud will have a profound and long-lasting impact on every aspect of manufacturing. As Gupta says, the future is cloudy: “The era of scaling up will arrive when Industry 4.0 is truly realised but we’re not fully there yet. The number of manufacturers currently using cloud in any sophisticated way is minimal because the industry has been slower to keep up with the digital world. However, this will very quickly change as the adoption rate of cloud in manufacturing is staggering – 94% of companies already use a cloud service in some form (according to Flexera). This tells us that there is a lot more to come, and soon, so watch this space.”

Manufacturers can see that the cloud will underpin their businesses, but cost and updating legacy systems are slowing the adoption of Industry 4.0. However, investments must be made to take advantage of the range of technologies integrated to create a smart factory. 

Eric Stoop, CEO of manufacturing software specialist EASE, implores leaders across manufacturing businesses to embrace the cloud now: “While this is understandable, especially as the pandemic continues, history shows us that those who take action in difficult times come out the other side stronger. Manufacturers should view any cloud technology spend as an investment in future profitability rather than a cost that impacts the bottom line in the short term. “

5G, IoT, AR and AI will all influence how a factory will operate not in the distant future but tomorrow. The manufacturing space has a range of new technologies to deploy. The hesitancy evident in some quarters is understandable as any change in the manufacturing industry has always been traditionally slower than in other sectors. However, change is accelerating and manufacturers who can embrace the new technologies and integrate them seamlessly will create next-generation factories.

ICO launches AI risk assessment toolkit for businesse

Bobby Hellard

21 Jul, 2021

The Information Commissioner’s Office (ICO) is launching a risk assessment toolkit for businesses so they can check if their use of artificial intelligence (AI) systems breaches data protection laws.

The AI and Data Protection Risk Assessment Toolkit, available in beta, draws upon the regulator’s previously published guidance on AI, as well as other publications provided by the Alan Turing Institute. 

The toolkit contains risk statements that organisations can use while processing personal data to understand the implications this can have for the rights of individuals. It will also provide suggestions for best practices that companies can put in place to manage and mitigate risks and ensure they’re complying with data protection laws. 

It’s based on an auditing framework, according to the ICO, which was developed by its internal assurance and investigation teams following a call for help from industry leaders back in 2019

The framework provides a clear methodology to audit AI applications and ensures they process personal data in compliance with the law. The ICO said that if an organisation is using AI to process personal data, then by using its toolkit, it can have high assurance that it is complying with data protection legislation.

“We are presenting this toolkit as a beta version and it follows on from the successful launch of the alpha version in March 2021,” said Alister Pearson, the ICO’s Senior Policy Officer for Technology and Innovation Service. “We are grateful for the feedback we received on the alpha version. We are now looking to start the next stage of the development of this toolkit.

“We will continue to engage with stakeholders to help us achieve our goal of producing a product that delivers real-world value for people working in the AI space. We plan to release the final version of the toolkit in December 2021.”

The ICO has urged anyone interested in testing the toolkit on a live AI application to get in contact with the regulator via email (

Google Cloud beefs up security following surge in ransomware attacks

Sabina Weston

21 Jul, 2021

Google Cloud has announced two new capabilities centred around bolstering cloud security measures, following the recent surge in ransomware attacks which many fear could lead to a global digital pandemic.

These include Cloud IDS, a managed intrusion detection system, as well as a stack of products, integrations and tools known as Autonomic Security Operations.

While Cloud IDS aims to help organisations detect malware, spyware, command-and-control attacks, and other network-based threats, the Autonomic Security Operations offers highly automated threat management and is marks the first stage in BT and Google’s new security partnership.

The UK operator will help roll out the new Google Cloud products to the managed security services market, the tech giant has announced, with BT Security managing director Kevin Brown adding that the company is “thrilled to partner with Google to bring Autonomic Security Operations to the global market through a managed security service offering”. 

“The deep experience we’ve gained from protecting the world’s largest brands and our networks across 180 countries will combine with Google’s technology vision and capabilities through ASO, providing our customers with world-class security capabilities,” he added.

Meanwhile, for Cloud IDS, Google Cloud has enlisted Palo Alto Networks to power the tool within its advanced threat detection technologies. The stack, which targets regulated industries such as financial services, retail, and healthcare, aims to be easy to operate and deploy, with Google being in charge of managing scaling, availability, and threat detection updates.

These sectors are especially vulnerable to ransomware attacks, with hackers recently targeting both Irish and US health services, as well as US department store retailer Kmart late last year. 

Google Cloud Security VP and general manager Sunil Potti said that the new products have been launched due to the fact that cyber security has “risen to the forefront of concerns for enterprises and governments around the globe.

“Attacks ripping across the software supply chain, zero-day issues in widely used email services, and ransomware attacks on critical infrastructure industries all provide evidence that adversaries are getting bolder, more successful and more prevalent,” he added.

Cloud IDS is available for free for the duration of the public preview, while those interested in Autonomic Security Operations have been asked to contact Google Cloud’s Sales team.

AWS shuts down NSO Group infrastructure

Sabina Weston

20 Jul, 2021

Amazon Web Services (AWS) has shut down infrastructure and accounts linked to Israeli firm NSO Group.

The news comes after an investigation found that the company’s Pegasus spyware was used to target at least 50,000 journalists, government and union officials, human rights activists, business executives, religious figures, academics, NGO employees, and lawyers.

Pegasus was used to extract messages, photos, and emails, as well as to record calls and activate microphones on iOS and Android devices.

NSO Group denied the accusations, stating that its tools are used “for the sole purpose of saving lives through preventing crime and terror acts”.

“Our technologies are being used every day to break up pedophilia rings, sex and drug-trafficking rings, locate missing and kidnapped children, locate survivors trapped under collapsed buildings, and protect airspace against disruptive penetration by dangerous drones,” the company announced.

However, AWS has branded NSO Group’s actions as “hacking activity”.

A spokesperson for the cloud computing provider told IT Pro that it had shut down NSO Group’s infrastructure as it “was confirmed to be supporting the reported hacking activity”.

This was “in accordance with [AWS’] terms of use”, they added.

Amnesty International, a partner of the Pegasus Project, a collective of 17 media organisations investigating the spyware, found evidence to suggest that NSO Group had only been an AWS customer for a few months.

One Pegasus-infected phone that was dissected by the organisation sent data “to a service fronted by Amazon CloudFront, suggesting NSO Group has switched to using AWS services in recent months”.

Amazon CloudFront is a content delivery network (CDN) that provides customers with the ability to deliver content, including data, videos, and APIs, securely with low latency and at a high speed.

“Amnesty International suspects the shutting down of the V4 infrastructure coincided with NSO Group’s shift to using cloud services such as Amazon CloudFront to deliver the earlier stages of their attacks,” said the human rights NGO, adding that “the use of cloud services protects NSO Group from some Internet scanning techniques”.

AWS didn’t elaborate on whether the decision to ban NSO Group from its services could be reconsidered in the future.

SAP to launch UK cloud service as part of £200 million investment

Keumars Afifi-Sabet

20 Jul, 2021

SAP will launch a secure UK-based cloud service and set up new offices in London and Manchester as part of a five-year investment package worth €250 million (approximately £212 million).

SAP UK Data Cloud, a new cloud infrastructure for the public sector, will combine the firm’s hyper-scale partnerships with AWS, Azure and Google Cloud with UK data centres to launch an in-nation cloud.

This will be designed to meet the tight regulatory needs of the public sector, while also supporting the UK’s critical national infrastructure in healthcare, transport, education, policing, utilities as well as central and local government operations.

Working with SAP National Security Services (NS2), SAP will ensure that all personal data is safeguarded and resides within the UK. 

The capability to handle official sensitive data will go live in early 2020, with a host of SAP cloud services available at launch. These include SAP S/4HANA Cloud, SAP Success Factors, SAP Business Technology Platform and SAP Analytics Cloud. 

It follows the company’s decision to go “all-in” on cloud computing in October last year. This announcement, however, saw the firm’s valuation drop by €25 billion (£27.8bn). 

“The impact of this for public services can’t be overstated,” SAP said in an explainer on what its UK Data Cloud is and how it works. 

“By modernising and transforming systems through cloud transformation, time after time we’ve seen services simplified, unnecessary costs removed and capacity created for staff, such as frontline workers, freed up to carry out crucial roles – without being waylaid by cumbersome and time-intensive administrative systems. 

“In addition to driving significant efficiencies, harnessing public cloud with sensitive data will facilitate better insights, driving faster and improved decision making to transform citizen services.”

As part of the five-year investment, SAP will also open offices this year to accommodate flexible working arrangements and serve its widespread customer base. 

There’ll also be a customer experience centre built into the new London offices, which will offer facilities for customers and partners to identify and pursue innovation opportunities with SAP. The facility near Manchester, which will be completed later this year, will allow SAP to work and engage more closely with companies around the country, the firm claims.

“It’s great to see SAP demonstrating its commitment to the UK and investing heavily to create new jobs and helping ensure long-term digital prosperity is evenly spread across the entire country,” said UK digital infrastructure minister, Matt Warman. 

“Tech is at the heart of our plans to power Britain’s recovery full speed out of the pandemic and we are backing the sector with world-class infrastructure and skills training to make sure the UK is the best place to start and grow a digital business.”

By 2026, SAP additionally hopes to support an additional 250 interns through its internship programme, alongside plans to scale up its apprenticeship programme to grow the number of skilled workers across the industry.

IBM records strongest revenue growth in three years

Bobby Hellard

20 Jul, 2021

IBM beat analyst expectations after reporting that revenues increased by 3% year-on-year revenue growth in the second quarter of 2021 to $18.7 billion, its fastest increase for three years.

The tech giant also reiterated that its revenues will continue to grow across the full year.   

IBM CEO Arvind Krishna attributed the increase to “strong performance” in the company’s Global Business Services and software segments, but its revenues for cloud services and Red Hat also saw significant increases. 

“At the same time, we continued to help clients infuse our AI-based technology offerings into their core business workflows,” said Krishna. “We are pleased with our progress and we remain on track to deliver full-year revenue growth and meet our cash flow objective.”

The Cloud and Cognitive Software unit, which includes Red Hat, brought in $6.1 billion in revenue, a 6% increase compared to 2020, while revenues from IBM’s Global Business Services increased by 12%. System revenues, which includes hardware, contributed $1.71 billion, which was a 7% decline year-on-year.

The company is preparing to split its business in two with an infrastructure-focused unit called Kyndryl launching later in the year. This will include IBM’s Global Technology Services unit, which includes as outsourcing and support which brought in $6.34 billion in the second quarter.

“While our performance with existing clients remains strong, as we would expect, the sales cycles for new logo clients is elongating as they await further information related to Kyndryl,” said Jim Kavanaugh, IBM’s finance chief.

The second quarter also saw IBM spend $1.75 billion spent on acquisitions, the most in a single quarter since it splashed $34 billion on Red Hat in Q3 of 2019. It is currently working on a deal for process-mining software company myInvenio, application management firm Turbonomic and a Salesforce consulting spin-off called Waeg

This was in addition to the unveiling of its “breakthrough” 2-nanometer chip technology, which IBM claims will vastly improve energy efficiency and performance of various kinds of devices.

Zoom buys Five9 for $14.7 billion in largest acquisition yet

Bobby Hellard

19 Jul, 2021

Zoom has announced that it is spending $14.7 billion to acquire a company called Five9, which provides cloud contact centre software.

The all-stock transaction is the first billion-dollar takeover for Zoom and the second-biggest tech deal of the year, following Microsoft’s $19.7 billion acquisition of Nuance Communications

Five9, much like Zoom, is another pandemic success story. The firm has seen rapid growth since early-2020 as demand increased for call centre technology that allowed people to do their jobs from home. The company’s business model is known as a ‘contact centre as a service’, or ‘CCaaS’, with the firm considered a pioneer in the field. It offers a “comprehensive” suite of easy-to-use applications that allow management and optimisation of customer interactions across different channels.

Zoom will combine the service with its communications platform and offer it as a way for businesses to connect with their customers as an engagement platform of the future. The video conferencing giant hopes the acquisition will enhance its presence with enterprise customers and allow it to accelerate its long-term growth by entering the contact centre market, which is thought to be worth around $24 billion. 

“We are continuously looking for ways to enhance our platform, and the addition of Five9 is a natural fit that will deliver even more happiness and value to our customers,” said Zoom CEO, Eric S. Yuan. “Zoom is built on a core belief that robust and reliable communications technology enables interactions that build greater empathy and trust, and we believe that holds particularly true for customer engagement. 

“Enterprises communicate with their customers primarily through the contact centre, and we believe this acquisition creates a leading customer engagement platform that will help redefine how companies of all sizes connect with their customers. We are thrilled to join forces with the Five9 team, and I look forward to welcoming them to the Zoom family.”

The deal is expected to close in the first half of 2022, the two firms said. 

Google opens its second cloud region in India

Zach Marzouk

15 Jul, 2021

Google Cloud has opened a new cloud region in Delhi National Capital Region (NCR), its second in India after the launch of its Mumbai region in 2017.

The company said the new region would better support customers and the public sector in India and across Asia pacific.

“We have seen enormous growth in demand for Google Cloud services in India so expanding our footprint in a new cloud region gives us the ability to offer more capacity for growth over many years,” Thomas Kurian, CEO at Google Cloud, said at a news conference this week, as reported by Reuters. “It’s a large commitment from us in capital and infrastructure investment and it’s designed to allow us to capture the opportunity that we see around growth.”

Bikram Singh Bedi, managing director of Google Cloud India, said in a blog post that the region will open with three “availability zones” to protect against service disruptions.

“With this new region, Google Cloud customers operating in India also benefit from low latency and high performance of their cloud-based workloads and data,” added Bedi.

Delhi NCR joins 25 existing Google Cloud regions connected via a high-performance network throughout the globe.

The other Google Cloud region in India is located in Mumbai, around 883 miles towards the south-west of Delhi, which the tech giant opened in 2017. At the time of its launch, the company claimed that hosting applications in the new region could improve latency from 20-90% for end users in Chennai, Hyderabad, Bangalore and Mumbai, compared to hosting them in the closest region, Singapore.

Last month, Google Cloud revealed it was partnering with Reliance Jio to provide 5G technology for enterprise customers and consumers across India. This would involve the creation of a complete end-to-end cloud offering for a fully automated lifecycle of Jio’s 5G network and services.

Furthermore, Google and Jio also announced they were jointly developing a new smartphone, the JioPhone Next, which will launch on 10 September 2021. This will use a bespoke version of Android and will have access to the Play Store.

IBM acquires hybrid data firm Bluetab Solutions

Bobby Hellard

15 Jul, 2021

IBM has announced it will be acquiring Spanish hybrid cloud consultancy firm Bluetab Solutions as it continues to flesh out its new hybrid cloud and AI strategy.

The financial details of the deal have not been revealed, but it’s expected to be completed by Q4 of 2021.

Bluetab will become a key part of IBM’s hybrid cloud and AI strategy as a data services consulting practice. The firm, which is based in Madrid, was founded in 2005 and has brand partnerships in banking, telecommunications, and energy and utilities industries across Spain, Mexico, Peru, and Colombia.

It works with enterprises by migrating their on-premise systems to hybrid multi-cloud data platforms using a combination of public cloud providers and technologies, such as Red Hat OpenShift.

“The outside-in digital transformation of the past is giving way to the inside-out potential of using company-owned data with AI and automation to generate business value and create intelligent workflows,” said Mark Foster, senior vice president of IBM’s Services and Global Business Services.

“Our acquisition of Bluetab will fuel migration to the cloud and help our clients to realise even more value from their mission-critical data.”

Bluetab’s expertise in data and cloud migration services includes specialised data strategy, data fabric, and advanced analytics, according to IBM.

The firm’s data experts will also be joining IBM’s Global Business Services to capitalise on opportunities in the rapidly growing market for data services, which is estimated to reach $232 billion by 2024, according to Gartner. That’s double the $123 billion it reached in 2020.

“The key to solving data challenges for our clients has been the exceptionally talented and experienced team we have been able to build as well as the value-added accelerators we have developed,” said José Luis López, co-founder of Bluetab. “We could not be more excited by the opportunity that IBM offers us to continue to grow our team, to build on our accelerators and to help more clients achieve leadership positions by leveraging their data.”