The lawsuit filed by Amazon challenging a $10 billion US military cloud computing contract awarded to Microsoft will not delay implementation of the project, a senior Pentagon official said Tuesday.
Amazon has alleged that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office to deny the company the massive contract in late October.
“We will deal with Amazon’s legal actions. I cannot comment on those right now,” said Under Secretary of Defense for Acquisition and Sustainment Ellen Lord.
“But I will tell you we are moving right now forward with the JEDI contract.”
The 10-year contract for the Joint Enterprise Defense Infrastructure program, better known as JEDI, ultimately will see all military branches sharing information in a system boosted by artificial intelligence.
“We actually have a kick-off event with Microsoft tomorrow [Wednesday] morning,” Lord said.
A heavily redacted court filing by Amazon detailed alleged errors that ended with Microsoft being chosen over its Amazon Web Services (AWS) cloud computing division, part of the technology group led by Amazon chief Jeff Bezos.
Bezos, who also owns the Washington Post, is a frequent target of the US president.
Amazon was considered the lead contender to provide technology for JEDI, with AWS dominating the cloud computing arena and the company already providing classified servers for other government outfits including the CIA.
In court documents released Monday, Amazon alleged “improper pressure from President Donald J. Trump, who launched repeated public and behind-the-scenes attacks to steer the JEDI contract away from AWS to harm his perceived political enemy — Jeffrey P. Bezos.”
The Pentagon’s mistakes in the contract were “hard to understand and impossible to assess” when separated from Trump’s “repeatedly expressed determination to, in the words of the president himself, ‘screw Amazon.'”
The bid protest filed in US Court of Federal Claims urges that the rival JEDI bids be re-evaluated and a new decision reached.
The tough sanctions imposed on Huawei by President Donald Trump could deal a blow to the many US firms that make up the Chinese tech giant’s supply chain.
American firms last year sold an estimated $11 billion worth of components to Huawei, which was put on a blacklist last week by Washington over national security concerns as trade frictions grow between the US and China.
Trump’s executive order could effectively ban makers of US hardware and software from selling to Huawei by requiring a special license from Washington.
The Commerce Department on Monday delayed the sanctions on Huawei for 90 days, saying the additional time was needed to allow for software updates and other contractual obligations.
The agency said it was granting Huawei a “temporary general license” through August 19 allowing for transactions “necessary to maintain and support existing and currently fully operational networks and equipment, including software updates and patches, subject to legally binding contracts and agreements” signed before May 16.
Hardware and software
Bloomberg News reported that US-based chipmakers Intel, Qualcomm, Broadcom and Xilinx have indicated they would halt shipments to the Chinese firm which is the world’s number two smartphone maker and a leader in telecom infrastructure and super-fast 5G networks.
Google said it would comply with the US order, leaving Huawei without access to critical services for the Android operating system such as Gmail and Google Maps.
Microsoft, which supplies the Windows operating system for many Huawei devices, did not respond to an AFP query on how the order might impact the Redmond, Washington-based firm.
Bob O’Donnell of the consultancy Technalysis Research said any ban would almost certainly affect Microsoft.
“If it affects Google I don’t see why it wouldn’t affect Microsoft,” O’Donnell said.
“Any version of Windows comes from Microsoft, since there is no open-source version.”
Moving toward independence
Roger Kay, founder and analyst at Endpoint Technologies Associates, said the ban is likely to accelerate efforts by Huawei and other Chinese firms to develop their own sources of microprocessors and other components.
“The short-term effect on both American and Chinese companies are inevitably negative,” Kay said.
“The longer-term effect is that Huawei and other Chinese companies turn away more sharply from American suppliers.”
Neither Intel nor Qualcomm responded to queries on how they would respond to the order on Huawei.
Avi Greengart, founder of the research firm Techsponential, said a ban on sales to Huawei could hit a wide range of large and small US firms including Corning, which makes the popular Gorilla Glass for smartphones, and Dolby, a producer of video and audio software for handsets.
“When you think about all the software and hardware components you get a pretty big list,” Greengart said.
“The US is a big part of the global supply chain.”
Few firms offered public comments on their response to the Huawei executive order.
But one, California-based Lumentum Holdings, a maker of optical and laser applications, said it would comply with the executive order and that Huawei accounted for 15 percent of its revenue so far in the current fiscal year.
Risks to Apple
Greengart said Apple could also suffer from any protracted crisis over Huawei, estimating the iPhone maker gets about 17 percent of its revenues from China.
Even though Apple might benefit in the premium smartphone market in Europe, “I think the risks are higher than the rewards for Apple,” Greengart said.
“If there is a backlash against Apple in China, that could have damaging long-term effects.”
Greengart said that Google might not see a major impact for the moment.
“Ironically (the ban) won’t affect Google much because Google doesn’t make money selling Android.”
Patrick Moorhead, of Moor Insights & Strategy, said he sees a limited impact on US firms in the short run.
“The impact to the US companies depends on the length of the ban but also how indexed they are in sales to Huawei,” Moorhead said.
“Neither Intel, Google or Nvidia do more than three percent of their business with Huawei, so short-term, it shouldn’t be an issue.”
O’Donnell said a bigger risk is that Huawei and other Chinese firms step up efforts to develop software and hardware that allows them to break free from Silicon Valley.
“The longer-term question is: does this drive Huawei to develop a third mobile platform?” O’Donnell said.
“China is already developing its own technology infrastructure, and this plays into the whole notion of a separate internet in China, which would be a big deal.”
Billionaire Paul Allen, who founded US software giant Microsoft with Bill Gates in 1975, revealed on Monday he is in a new battle with cancer.
Allen said in a tweet and at his website that non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma he fought into remission nine years ago has returned.
Incurable cancer affects white blood cells.
“My team of doctors has begun treatment of the disease and I plan on fighting this aggressively,” Allen said.
“My doctors are optimistic that I will see good results from the latest therapies, as am I.”
Allen planned to remain active in Vulcan Inc., which manages his business and charitable endeavors, as well as in the Allen Institutes and his professional US sports teams the Seahawks and the Trail Blazers.
Allen, 65, is among the wealthiest people in the world, with a net worth estimated at more than $20 billion.
Allen left Microsoft in 1983 and is the founder and chairman of Vulcan Inc.
He owns the National Football League team the Seattle Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers of the National Basketball Association and is a part owner of the Major League Soccer team the Seattle Sounders.
Allen is also a major philanthropist, supporting the environment, education, science and more.
Russian government hackers tried to hijack the websites of conservative US think tanks, Microsoft said Tuesday, raising fresh alarms over widening efforts by Moscow to sow discord in US politics.
The tech giant announced that it had shut down last week six fake internet domains that were set up by the notorious “Fancy Bear” hacking shop, controlled by the Russian armed forces’ GRU intelligence agency, that mimicked the pages of two think tanks as well as the US Senate.
The fake, lookalike websites were aimed at diverting users from the real ones in order to siphon off email and passwords, Microsoft said.
It was a significant expansion of the “Fancy Bear” activities, which, since the 2016 presidential race, had targeted mainly candidates and their campaigns, political parties, and voting systems.
It came amid heightened concerns that Russians are attempting to meddle in the upcoming congressional elections in November, in which President Donald Trump’s Republican Party’s lock-hold on the legislature is under threat.
Cybersecurity consultants including Microsoft have already identified several attempts to penetrate individual candidates’ campaigns.
“We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith in a blog post.
“It’s clear that democracies around the world are under attack,” he said.
The move came as US political institutions and government agencies have stepped up their defenses against hacking and social media manipulation after Russia’s deep interference in the 2016 presidential election.
US intelligence chiefs said President Vladimir Putin presided over the effort by the GRU and another intelligence body, the Federal Security Service, the successor to the KGB, to break into computers of the Democratic Party and the campaign of Democrat Hillary Clinton, in an ultimately successful effort to damage her run for the White House.
In July, Russia meddling investigator Robert Mueller indicted 12 GRU agents over their hacking actions in the 2016 election.
Several Western European government, including Sweden, Germany, France and the Netherlands, have documented efforts by the same bodies to interfere in their politics in the past three years, sparking a broader effort to fight back.
Microsoft said one of the think tanks targeted by Fancy Bear, also known in cybersecurity circles as APT28, was the International Republican Institute, which promotes democratic principles and whose board includes Republican senator John McCain, a strong critic of Putin.
The other was the Hudson Institute, which supports keeping up economic and political pressure on Russia and strengthening NATO — positions that leaves it generally at odds with US President Donald Trump.
Last month US Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats said in a talk at the Hudson Institute that, among cyber threats, “Russia has been the most aggressive foreign actor -– no question. And they continue their efforts to undermine our democracy.”
The GRU hackers also set up fake internet domains that were purportedly for the US Senate, according to Microsoft.
84 fake sites closed in two years
Microsoft obtained a court order to shut down the six websites. That took to 84 the number of fake sites set up by Fancy Bear that the company has taken down over the past two years, Smith said.
In the most recent case, Microsoft said it has no evidence the fake domains were used in any successful hacking attack, and that it did not know of any specific people who may have been GRU targets in the operation.
Experts said the aim was to go after anyone who opposes Putin.
“This is another demonstration of the fact that the Russians aren’t really pursuing partisan attacks. They are pursuing attacks that they perceive in their own national self-interest,” Eric Rosenbach, the director of the Defending Digital Democracy project at Harvard University, told the New York Times.
The Kremlin dismissed the fresh allegations, with spokesman Dmitry Peskov saying he did not know “which hackers are being talked about, what influencing of elections.”
“We do not understand what Russian military intelligence has to do with this. What are the basis of such serious accusations? They should not be raised without some foundation,” he told journalists.
Hackers linked to Russia’s government tried to target the websites of two right-wing U.S. think-tanks, suggesting they were broadening their attacks in the build-up to November elections, Microsoft (MSFT.O) said.
The software giant said it thwarted the attempts last week by taking control of sites that hackers had designed to mimic the pages of The International Republican Institute and The Hudson Institute. Users were redirected to fake addresses where they were asked to enter usernames and passwords.
There was no immediate comment from Russian authorities, but the Kremlin was expected to address the report later on Tuesday. It has regularly dismissed accusations that it has used hackers to influence U.S. elections and political opinion.
Casting such allegations as part of an anti-Russian campaign designed to justify new sanctions on Russia, it says it wants to improve not worsen ties with Washington.
“We’re concerned that these and other attempts pose security threats to a broadening array of groups connected with both American political parties in the run-up to the 2018 elections,” Microsoft said in a blog post overnight.
The International Republican Institute has a roster of high-profile Republican board members, including Senator John McCain of Arizona who has criticised U.S. President Donald Trump’s interactions with Russia, and Moscow’s rights record.
The Hudson Institute, another conservative group, has hosted discussions on topics including cybersecurity, according to Microsoft. It has also examined the rise of kleptocracy, especially in Russia and has been critical of the Russian government, the New York Times reported.
“They (the Russians) are pursuing attacks that they perceive in their own national self-interest,” Eric Rosenbach, the director of the Defending Digital Democracy project at Harvard University, told the New York Times.
“It’s about disrupting and diminishing any group that challenges how Putin’s Russia is operating at home and around the world.”
The US Supreme Court on Tuesday threw out a suit over Microsoft’s refusal to comply with a US warrant for emails stored outside the country, concluding the case had been rendered moot by a new law.
The court case arose in 2013 when the US government served a notice on Microsoft seeking access to an email account that it believed was being used for drug trafficking.
Microsoft challenged the warrant on the grounds that email data stored in another country, in this case, Ireland, does not fall under US law.
In the meantime, however, the US Congress responded by passing the “Cloud Act,” signed into law March 23 by US President Donald Trump, which requires providers of email services to produce the email in response to warrants even if the data is stored outside the US.
“This case, therefore, has become moot,” the Supreme Court said, throwing out lower court rulings in the case.
The Cloud Act was backed by Microsoft and other tech giants as a compromise that would allow them to challenge warrants if they violate the laws of the country where the data is stored.
Shen Yan-lin can mix music by computer. His fingers whip across the panel of a smartphone from app to app, changing settings at the same high speed.
The faithful Windows user who studied PCs mostly by himself just wants more precision when using Narrator, a built-in Microsoft tool that literally reads things aloud, voicing text and describing notifications or calendar appointments.
Shen, 18, is in his third year at Taipei School for the Visually Impaired, which partners with Microsoft to provide feedback on Narrator and other accessibility features of its operating system.
Shen is “totally blind,” to use his own words. The screen readers are crucial.
“Only direct users of the screen readers will understand the challenges on the frontlines,” Shen said.
“Because Microsoft and my school cooperate, I’ve been paying attention to accessibility matters.”
Shen grew up in a rural, mountainous part of Taiwan where local schools for the visually impaired offered little computer education. He was supposed to take his first course in computers in third grade but didn’t start until sixth grade because the schools fell short of resources.
“Curiosity” about the outside world that he cannot physically see piqued an interest in the internet in middle school, Shen said. It was then that he memorized the keyboard by touch and sound. Thanks largely to his self-education to date and daily voluntary use of PCs, Shen can now use Windows to do his high school homework.
Shen, 11 other students and three teachers from the Taipei School for the Visually Impaired have met twice with members of Microsoft’s Taiwan staff since May 2017 to pass on feedback based on their routine interaction with computers. Some ideas collected get sent back to Microsoft’s head office in the United States.
Shen signed up separately, at Microsoft’s request, for the company’s Insider program, allowing him to submit ideas regularly. “I raised ideas to Microsoft,” Shen said, “and I hope they will become part of a later development update.”
Skype, which Microsoft acquired in 2011, should make it easier for PC users with standard keyboards – the best kind for the visually impaired – to type in mobile phone numbers, telephone extensions and Chinese characters, he said.
Another area of improvement identified by Shawn Chi, Shen’s teacher: Narrator “sometimes might misplace the meaning” that users are looking for, he said, and might announce the wrong results when users go from file to file on a PC.
Microsoft, which uses that feedback to improve its Windows accessibility features, says it’s now working on three “fixes” based in part on the Taipei school’s feedback: supporting Chinese-language typing on Skype for a desktop Narrator, allowing more adjustments in Narrator’s volume, and letting Narrator read pictures.
Microsoft and the Taipei school of just 20 students found each other in May through Taipei city council member Wang Wei-chung.
It occurred to Wang that Microsoft would want to know how the students were faring with accessibility, while the students could use the experience to take a lead in shaping computer technology.
“I think the visually impaired school’s kids need more platforms and shouldn’t just be people who always need help,” Wang said.
“Accessibility features in Windows operating system are a first step. What I hope is that the kids can use the accessibility features and study those tools, and then make more inventions and do more things to help people around the world.”
School principal Tsai Ming-tsang sees engagement with Microsoft as a chance to give voice to a “weak group.”
“That a child can be on his own and independent is a moment of pride for us,” she told at a November ceremony for Microsoft’s Computer Science Education Week Kick off campaign in Taiwan.
Shen said he may study computer science further after graduation, but fears a lack of instructors who are qualified to teach him. He leans instead toward jazz drumming, something he has practiced since middle school.
At the Microsoft event in November, Shen showed his use of software to mix music from the official school song with vocals and sound effects for the school’s 100th anniversary.
The wife of the Nigerian President, Aisha Buhari, has urged Nigerians to understand their rights as consumers, in order to stand up to market abuses that undermine those rights.
She said the rights of the consumer must be protected and those on the wrong side of the law should be made to understand that.
“Their rights come to an end where the rights of the consumers begin”, Aisha said.
Mrs. Buhari made the remarks in Abuja, during her appointment as Consumer Ambassador of Nigeria, by the country’s Consumer Protection Council, as part of activities to mark the World Consumer Rights Day 2017.
Represented by the wife of Nasarawa State Governor, Mairo Tanko Almakura, she thanked the Management of the Consumer Protection Council for the honour bestowed on her.
She said: “The campaign for consumer rights is a noble cause and I assure the Commission of my support and commitment towards driving the campaign embarked by the council.”
The Director General of the Consumer Protection Council, Dupe Atoki, said digital technology, though beneficial, has exposed consumers to online threats such as cybercrime, data theft and invasion of privacy.
Atoki stated that this year’s theme tagged ‘Building a Digital World Consumers Can Trust’ is intended to call attention to these consumer issues.
The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah and the Minister of Science and Technology, Ogbonnaya Onu in their goodwill messages highlighted the important role of the Council in protecting the rights of consumers.
The agency said the stakeholders workshop, which is scheduled for Thursday, March 16, 2017 will feature presentations from Google, Microsoft, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigeria Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU), among others.
Philanthropist and Founder of Microsoft, Mr Bill Gates, says the power of the youths in Africa should be harnessed and their ability to drive innovation must be encouraged and given an opportunity to thrive.
He was the keynote speaker at the 14th Annual Nelson Mandela Foundation Lecture in Pretoria, South Africa, where he acknowledged some young Africans who have created groundbreaking innovations.
Mr Gates identified economic, social and health challenges prevailing in the continent as some of the factors that could hinder their development and that of the future of Africa.
He emphasized the need for African leaders to multiply the talents for innovation by the whole of Africa’s growing population, and that depends on whether all of Africa’s young people are given the opportunity to thrive.
“Nelson Mandela said poverty is not natural, it is man-made and it can be overcome and eradicated by the actions of human beings.
“We are the human beings that must take action and we have to decide now because this unique moment won’t last.
“We must clear away the obstacles that are standing in young people’s way so that they can seize all their potential.
“If young people are sick and malnourished, their bodies and brains will never fully develop. If they are not educated well, their minds will lie dormant. If they do not have access to economic opportunities, they will not be able to achieve their goals,” he said.
The U.S President, Barack Obama, is expected to sign an executive order on Friday which is aimed at encouraging companies to share information about cyber security threats with the government and each other, a response to attacks like that of Sony.
Obama will sign the order at a day-long conference on cybersecurity at Stanford University in the heart of Silicon Valley.
The order of the summit sets the stage for new private-sector led “Information Sharing and Analysis Organizations” (ISAOs) – hubs, where companies share cyber threat data with each other and with the Department of Homeland Security.
Mr Obama, who will be joining at the summit with top US security officials, is planning to call on private tech firms to share more information with law enforcement, potentially placing him at odds with the companies.
A senior member of Britain’s National Crime Agency is also due to appear, along with executives from Microsoft, Facebook and Google.
Mr Obama “wants to build support for efforts to better protect against cuber-threats and share more information about cyber-attacks”, the White House said.
Michael Daniel, Obama’s cyber coordinator, in a conference call with reporters said: “We believe that by clearly defining what makes for a good ISAO, that will make tying liability protection to sectoral organisations easier and more accessible to the public and to privacy and civil liberties advocates”.
Cybersecurity industry veterans said that Obama’s anticipated order would be a modest step in one of the president’s major priorities which is the defense of companies from cyber attacks.
Obama has proposed legislation to require more information-sharing and limit any legal liability for companies that share too much. Only Congress can provide the liability protection through legislation.
In the last summit, Obama said cybersecurity was a “challenge that we can only meet together, adding that ”it’s going to bring everybody together – industry, tech companies, law enforcement, consumer and privacy advocates, law professors who are specialists in the field, as well as students – to make sure that we work through these issues in a public, transparent fashion.”
Other dignitaries are microsoft vice-president Scott Charney and Chief Executives from Visa, MasterCard and American Express.