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By Usama Jawad96
Microsoft shares stats about its security business
by Usama Jawad
Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recently announced the company's earnings for the second quarter of its 2021 fiscal year, driven by Office, gaming, and the cloud. Another sector that reported major growth throughout the 2020 calendar year is its security business, which exceeded $10 billion in revenue, a 40% year-over-year (YoY) increase. Now, Microsoft has shared further statistics on this particular topic.
Microsoft CVP of Security, Compliance and Identity Vasu Jakkal emphasized that the revenue increase is due to the company's "Zero trust mindset", which it believes to be the future of cybersecurity. Jakkal claimed that what set Microsoft apart from other competitors is its approach of using AI and automation in an integrated manner. The executive stated that this was possible due to the large number of customers using Microsoft security mechanisms who share their security signals with the company every daya. Some statistics that she shared are:
400,000 customers across 120 countries use Microsoft security solutions 90 of the Fortune 100 use four or more security, compliance, identity, and management solutions offered by Microsoft 8 trillion security signals absorbed by Microsoft solutions and security mechanisms 24 hours 2.5 billion daily cloud-based detections blocked almost 6 billion threats on endpoints in 2020 More than 30 billion authentications are processed across Azure AD's 425 million users daily More than 30 billion email threats were blocked by Defender for Office 365 in 2020 Compliance solutions process more than 5 billion document classifications each month Azure Sentinel analyzes over 4 petabytes of data each month from Azure, AWS, on-prem, and more Jakkal went on to say that the security Microsoft offers to customers is possible because it invests in managing seamless solutions across all major cloud and on-prem platforms. Furthermore, it offers customers secure solutions that are easy-to-use but handle complex attack vectors. Lastly, the company has a rich ecosystem which includes partnerships with various security organizations and researchers.
Moving forward, Microsoft aims to develop its security ecosystem further, and share knowledge that will enable everyone to bolster their security defenses against potential threats that may arise in the future.
By Ather Fawaz
Gooseberry: A dive into Microsoft's new quantum control chip to handle thousands of qubits
by Ather Fawaz
Image via Microsoft Research Quantum computers provide a promising new model of computation that enables exponential speedups over certain classical algorithms. But their Achilles' heel is a qubit's penchant for decoherence. That is, contemporary qubits are sensitive to changes in their environment and tend to lose their superposition because of it. Quantum superposition, as it turns out, is the central tenet of quantum computation and is vital for achieving the said exponential speedups.
Researchers have been working towards making these qubits more robust to changes in the environment without losing their controllability. A common solution is keeping these qubits in cryogenic environments where temperatures are tantalizingly close to absolute zero (0K), but this mechanical setup becomes a significant limitation in scaling up quantum computers for commercial use-cases. As a result, this remains an open research problem.
To this end, Microsoft in collaboration with a team from the University of Sydney has developed a cryogenic quantum control platform that uses specialized CMOS circuits to address the problem of qubit control and decoherence. In the paper "A Cryogenic Interface for Controlling Many Qubits", the researchers present Gooseberry, a CMOS chip that takes digital inputs and generates many parallel qubit control signals thereby allowing scaled-up support for thousands of qubits—a feat Microsoft deems a "leap ahead from previous technology".
Gooseberry enables this by operating at 100mK while dissipating sufficiently low power so that it does not heat up the qubits themselves. This means that the entire setup does not exceed the cooling capacity of commercially available quantum computing refrigerators. The team also used Gooseberry to create what it is calling the novel general-purpose cryo-compute core.
The proposed setup (shown above) uses a special breed of qubits called Topological Qubits. These qubits are more resilient to decoherence and have hardware-level error protection baked into them, reducing the overhead needed for software-level error correction and enabling meaningful computations to be done with fewer physical qubits. Taking a deeper look into the setup above, the Quantum-Classical interface layers are where the meat of the communication happens. Gooseberry sits abreast with the qubits in the lower stage due to its cryogenic requirements. It is thermally isolated from the qubits and its dissipated heat is drawn into a mixing chamber. Once ensconced near the qubits, Gooseberry converts classical instructions from the cryo-compute core into voltage signals which are then sent to the qubits.
(Left) A simplified version of the thermal conductance model of the Gooseberry chip. (Right) Gooseberry chip (red) sits close to the qubit test chip (blue) and resonator chip (purple). Together the chips manage communication between various parts of a quantum computer. Essentially, they are used to send and receive information to and from every qubit, but in a way that maintains a stable cold environment, which is a significant challenge for a large-scale commercial system with tens of thousands of qubits or more. The stack itself operates at 2K, a temperature that is 20 times warmer than the temperature at which Gooseberry operates. This frees 400 times as much cooling power, allowing the stack itself to dissipate 400 times as much heat. Due to this, Microsoft believes that the stack is capable of general-purpose computing.
Putting Gooseberry to the test, the researchers connected with it a GaAs-based quantum dot (QD) device. Temperature of the components of the chip were measured as the control chip was powered up. As expected, the temperatures remained below 100mK, within the necessary range of frequencies and clock speeds. These results were extrapolated, showing the total system power needed for Gooseberry as a function of frequency and the number of output gates.
Though at present the proposed core can only handle some data and triggering manipulation, temperature freedom opens vital room for more technologies and ideas to work with.
The team at Microsoft and the researchers from the University of Sydney believe that Gooseberry and the bundled cryo-compute core are big steps forward quantum computing. The cryo-compute core, acting as an interface between source code written by developers, Gooseberry, and qubits, shows that it’s possible to compile and run multiple types of code in a cryogenic environment, allowing for software-configurable communication between qubits and the outside world.
By Jay Bonggolto
Microsoft announces general availability of Application Guard for Office
by Jay Bonggolto
Microsoft unveiled a couple of security features for Microsoft 365 early in 2020, which included Application Guard. Today, the company announced that Application Guard for Office has hit general availability.
The feature basically puts documents from untrusted sources in a container before opening them in order to ward off malicious threats. Microsoft also noted that it analyzes every malicious attack contained by Application Guard to bolster its threat intelligence. Your files are also protected from kernel-based attacks since it uses Hyper-V-based containers.
Unlike Protected View which opens documents in read-only mode, Application Guard opens files in a virtualized sandbox where you can still edit and print documents in a limited capacity without leaving the container. These files include those coming from untrusted sites, files stored in potentially unsafe folders or network, and documents blocked by File Block.
That said, you can still choose to disable protection for a specific file if necessary, provided you're confident that it's safe. Prior to opening that file, it will be scanned with the Safe Documents feature if it's enabled. In addition to documents, emails are protected as well with combined security from Application Guard and Microsoft Defender for Office 365.
The new feature is turned off by default and administrators will need to set the right policy for each user in an organization. It's available to customers on Current Channel and Monthly Enterprise Channel while a rollout in Semi-Annual Enterprise Channel is scheduled later this year.
By Abhay V
Microsoft releases Edge Dev 89.0.774.4, the final build for version 89
by Abhay Venkatesh
As is the case every week, Microsoft has released a new Edge build for users in the Dev channel. Today’s build bumps the version up to version 89.0.774.4, which is the last build from major version 89 making it to the Dev channel. The firm is planning to promote this build to the Beta channel next week, pending any small bug-fixing updates.
As for the build itself, there are a couple of new features, bringing improvements to Collections and the Read Aloud function for PDFs, along with the host of fixes to reliability and changed behavior. Additionally, the firm highlights the completion of features such as History and Open Tabs sync, something that has been rolled out to all versions of the browser. It also adds that builds across channels now sport support for Apple Silicon natively.
Here are the two new features added with this build:
As usual, there are a bunch of fixes to improve the reliability of the browser. Here is the complete list:
And here are the fixes to address changed behavior:
Lastly, there are a few known issues, some of which have been on the list from the last few releases. Here is the complete list:
With this version making it to the Beta channel, the first version 90 build might make it to the Dev channel as early as next week. Guessing from this week’s Feedback Summary, one of the features that might make it to that version is the ‘Tab Previews’ option from Edge Legacy.
As is the case always, today’s release should automatically be downloaded and installed. However, you can head into Settings > About Microsoft Edge to manually check for updates.
By Abhay V
Surface Duo begins receiving its first firmware update for 2021
by Abhay Venkatesh
Microsoft is rolling out a new firmware update for the Surface Duo, making it the first update in over two months. While the firm had been serving monthly updates for the dual-screened Android device, it skipped the December update owing to the holidays and reportedly due to a tricky bug. Today’s release brings with it a bunch of improvements along with the December and January Android security patches. What it does not bring is the Android 11 update, of which there is no information from the company.
As has been the case for the past few months, the Duo is getting improvements to address stability issues with touch, possibly still ironing out issues pointed out by early reviewers. There are also improvements to the UI stability, likely to fix crashes or issues with features like App Pairs and the overall stability of the software when moving apps across screens. The changelog is generic in nature and does not divulge much information about the details of the updates.
Here is the complete changelog of the January 2021 update that brings software version 2020.1211.85:
As usual, this release only applies to the unlocked version of the device and is rolling out gradually, meaning it will be a while before all users see the update hit their devices. Users that own the AT&T version of the Duo might have to wait slightly longer for these updates. Usually, updates for the carrier variant are served within a week, so the wait should not be too long.
The company is also slated to make the Surface Duo available to more markets soon. It will be interesting to see what the timeline is for the release, and if the device gets an update to Android 11 by then or even ships with the updated software in those regions.